Blogs, Systems Thinking

Seeing Food Systems as the Source of the Solutions We Need

The world seems resistant but carries within it forever the desire to be transformed into something higher. The world may seem unyielding but, like invisible forces in the air, it merely awaits imagination and will to unloosen the magic within itself.
Ben Okri. A Way of Being Free.

On the heels of a global pandemic, the world is now afraid of, and devastated by, the war in Ukraine. Our fear rides high at an existential level: nuclear war, mass migration and homelessness, pointless suffering, and loss of life. These two crises, of course, are accompanied by the harsh impacts of the climate emergency unequivocally caused by human activities.

For those of us working on food systems, the fear touches down into the possibility – some would say the inevitability – of what the headlines point to food inflation leading to escalating food prices and a growing hunger crisis, shortages of staple crops, and in particular wheat, more relaxed regulations on harmful inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers, and the threat of encroachment into precious forested areas as a means to deal with the immediate threats. 

But it’s not inevitable. 

There are opportunities to think and act differently. This starts with seeing food systems as the source of the solutions we need.

Just this week, the Global Alliance has just launched Untapped Opportunities for Climate Action: Food Systems in Nationally Determined Contributions which comprehensively assesses how 14 countries – including China, Germany, Senegal, the UK, and the US – have incorporated food systems in their national climate plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The majority of climate change analysis and measures in the 14 NDCs assessed did not realize the full potential of including food systems.

And, yet, the research invites us to embrace food systems transformation as a means to deliver on indivisible ecological, biodiversity, health, economic, social, and cultural goals, thereby unlocking a suite of co-benefits like improved food security, resilient livelihoods, better health and wellbeing. Perhaps even greater global security.   

For those holding the pen on the next NDCs being prepared for COP27 in Egypt in November, and the others planning to submit in 2025, the findings and accompanying guide are a call to action: there’s no time to lose. 

The recent IPCC Sixth Assessment Report asks the global community to take heed that nature and food are not only victims of climate change but also hold solutions to it. A safe climate is impossible without radical action in our food systems and nature. Changing how we produce, process, package, ship, and eat food could provide 20% of the cut needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. And in doing so may well mitigate future pandemics and contribute to political stability. 

Sound audacious? It is. But we must tap deep into our desire to be transformed into something higher; activate our extraordinary imagination, human will, and agency; and, translate it into radical action here and now. If not us, then who?

Ruth Richardson
Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food (2012 – 2022).