Blogs, Economics


Food is central to our daily lives. Through culture, tradition, identity, and pleasure, food has been the life force for our families, communities, and societies for millennia. Yet, at the same time, some food systems practices are generating large, unacceptable impacts on the environment and on vulnerable populations, from driving biodiversity loss to enabling unhealthy, unsustainable diets.

Current metrics for agricultural performance do not recognize or account for most, if any, of these costs or benefits. In fact, the narrow focus on productivity and “yield-per-hectare” distorts what we see as the true cost of food. In doing so, it also warps what we value in our assessments of how our food is produced, sourced, processed, traded, sold, and eaten. The mistake is the belief that there is no alternative.

In June, FoodSIVI (an Oxford project involving several academic, industry and civil society partners) launched a new report, entitled Valuing the Impact of Food: Towards Practical and Comparable Monetary Valuation of Food System Impacts, which marks an evolution in true cost accounting (TCA) — both a movement and a tool to measure what matters in our food systems. This new report, supported by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, encourages the broad uptake and utilization of TCA frameworks, and provides practical guidance on comparative valuation approaches. As we strive to “measure what matters” in food systems, this kind of important work better informs our thinking, planning, and decision-making for the future.

The Global Alliance has been advocating for TCA as a way to transform food systems since we were founded over seven years ago. We have supported the development of the UN Environment TEEBAgriFood Framework and taken part in a host of exploratory studies to advance applications of the Framework, taking us from Mexico to the Mississippi Basin. We’ve also worked on a number of strategic research projects with pioneering partners like TMG ResearchSoil & More, and The Institute for Development of Environmental-Economic Accounting demonstrating that it is possible and necessary to evaluate, measure, and value eco-agricultural systems in more thoughtful and comprehensive ways. The work is ongoing for us, and ever more urgent.

To mark the launch of the FoodSIVI report, against the backdrop of this moment of great transformation and change, we wanted to share our top five resources for anyone looking to find out more about TCA:

  1. UNEP’s TEEBAgriFood Scientific and Economics Foundation report
  2. Smarter metrics will help fix our food system by Pavan Sukhdev in Nature
  3. Global Alliance: Case Studies on corn in Minnesota and Malawi
  4. Natural Capital Coalition’s Natural Capital Protocol: Food and Beverage Sector
  5. John Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future: “True” costs for food system reform: An overview of true cost accounting literature and initiatives