Author : Shoba Suri

Expert Speak Health Express
Published on Oct 17, 2022 Updated 12 Days ago
The circular economy plays a pivotal role in tackling the climate crisis and achieving the SDGs
Sustainable food value chains for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals ‘The full range of farms and firms and their successive coordinated value-adding activities that produce particular raw agricultural materials and transform them into particular food products that are sold to final consumers and disposed of after use, in a manner that is profitable throughout, has broad-based benefits for society, and does not permanently deplete natural resources’.....Sustainable Food Value Chain as defined by the Food and Agricultural Organization. As per the 2022 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, “the world is moving in the wrong direction on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets to end hunger, food insecurity, and all forms of malnutrition”. The pandemic saw a rise in hunger with 828 million affected, 46 million more than 2020 and 150 million more than 2019. Food insecurity impacted nearly 924 million people in 2021, a nearly 207 million increase form 2019. According to the joint child malnutrition estimate 2021, 149 million children under-five are stunted, 45 million are wasted, and 39 million are overweight. The Ukraine conflict has further aggravated the challenge by pushing 95 million people into extreme poverty. Malnutrition has affected various parts of the world differently, with the impact of the pandemic still unfolding even now. With the world population estimated to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, food security and sustainability are imperative to overcome hunger and reduce the impact of climate change. The sustainability of the food system depends on ensuring that food produced and consumed leads to as little wastage as is possible. This will not only protect the environment from the impact of unsustainable food systems, but will increase food security for people across the globe.

With the world population estimated to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, food security and sustainability are imperative to overcome hunger and reduce the impact of climate change.

Food systems are failing to meet the complex global environmental, social, and economic challenges of the 21st century. Various factors determine the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed, namely poverty, malnutrition, land degradation, water scarcity, social inequalities, and climate change. Advanced agricultural methods impact human and ecosystem health with associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions leading to freshwater pollution, soil degradation, and biodiversity loss. To fulfil the nutritional demands of the world's population and ensure food security by 2050, food output will have to increase by 70 percent. Meeting this goal raises questions regarding the ecological effect of food systems and food production, both of which contribute considerably to the human-caused carbon footprint and environmental degradation. This is also emphasised by Goal 12 of the SDGs, which clearly states, “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. The idea of sustainable and inclusive food value chains tackles the challenge of improving food security by addressing sustainability issues encompassing food availability, accessibility, consumption and wastage on three fronts: Economical, Environmental and Social (see fig below) that directly impacts poverty and hunger. The Concept of Sustainability in Food Value Chain Development The food industry employs 1.1 billion people worldwide, accounting for 31 percent of global employment. This practically means that approximately 300 and 500 million waged workers depend on the food industry, where most of the workforce comes from developing countries. Smallholder farmers are not just food providers, but also preserve vital ecosystem functions while also providing climate services through carbon sequestration. According to the Asia- Europe Environment Forum, family farmers have the potential to promote social equity and community well-being by creating higher levels of social engagemen while avoiding static gender roles. Family farms and smallholders also generate employment and income growth, especially in rural areas, which leads to poverty reduction, and improvement in dietary diversity and sustainable use of resources. These benefits of family farming could strengthen the food value chain and future food security. According to Malak-Rawlikowska et al., short food supply networks are more sustainable and socially feasible for small- and medium-scale producers who have difficulty accessing long, conventional food chains. Gender balance promotion is also seen as a result of increasing employment of women in logistical operations as opposed to long chains, where women's participation in distribution is quite restricted. The European Organic Action Plan, which builds on the Farm to Fork approach, is also promoting short supply chains and small-scale food processing units. Creating a value chain is a social process as well, in which players from various firms must pool their interests and resources as inter-organisational collaboration is a crucial aspect of ensuring sustainability in the food sector. Social sustainability depends on good traceability, which is assessed as a connection factor in food supply chains, particularly during the manufacturing phases. A traceable system may be obtained from the earliest step of manufacturing using technologies such as Blockchain, RFID, and barcode systems.

Gender balance promotion is also seen as a result of increasing employment of women in logistical operations as opposed to long chains, where women's participation in distribution is quite restricted.

During the processing phase, information sharing is key for sustainability in food supply chains along with collaboration with supply chain stakeholders. New technology advancements such as Industry 4.0 can be advantageous in providing better information exchange to decrease food loss and waste in the processing phases of food supply chains. Digital agriculture systems, like those found in African nations, have speeded up the deployment of agricultural services for farmers and other value chain players, resulting in improved access to information, expertise, financial services, markets, and farm tools. The Global Food Supply Chain can be broadly classified into five phases—agricultural production, post-harvest handling, processing, distribution, and consumption. The pandemic has severely impacted food security and global food supply chains, with disruptions being caused by weakening economies, shortage of farm workers, limited food accessibility, restriction on transport, change in consumer demands, and restrictions on food trade etc. One study indicates poor management and supply chain interruptions as factors responsible for food loss and waste along the food supply chain. An interconnection of economic, environment, and social aspects is required to ensure social sustainability in the food value chain. Economic sustainability brings in a profitable value chain that creates and captures value. An economic transformation can be achieved by enhancing processes and productivity, along with an expansion of market opportunity. With a growing population, understanding consumer trends, social conventions, behaviour, and lifestyles requires a multidisciplinary approach, which involves the interdependency of economic, social and environmental factors. This method aids in the development of acceptable transitions to decrease waste, reduce ecological footprints, and cut carbon emissions to establish food ecosystems for sustainable urbanisation. Unfortunately, in a linear supply chain model, approximately 8 percent of all food produced in the world is lost at the farm itself, 14 percent is lost between the farm gate and the retail sector, and 17 percent is wasted at retail outlets, food service providers, and in households, all of which have a substantial influence on sustainability. The circular economy plays a role in tackling the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, food waste and pollution and is crucial for achieving sustainability across the food supply chain. Going further, food production is directly linked to the environment, and is directly impacted by factors like climate change, global warming, water scarcity and pollution, deforestation, air quality etc. In turn, environmental sustainability is dependent on actors across the value chain working together to reduce the carbon footprint of the food production, distribution, and consumption system.

New technology advancements such as Industry 4.0 can be advantageous in providing better information exchange to decrease food loss and waste in the processing phases of food supply chains.

Unsustainable practices as well as wastages inside the food supply chain highlight areas where further attention may be required to achieve sustainable food supply networks. Some of the key takeaways and recommendations include resource management, sustainable processing, improved food delivery methods, utilising alternative energy sources, incorporating sustainable practices into food preparation and processing, and influencing behaviour and developing consumer trust. There is a need for a more productive, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable food system to end hunger, reach food security, and achieve the SDGs.
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Author

Shoba Suri

Shoba Suri

Dr. Shoba Suri is a Senior Fellow with ORFs Health Initiative. Shoba is a nutritionist with experience in community and clinical research. She has worked on nutrition, ...

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