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Food Systems: Seven Approaches To Curtail Global Hunger & Preserve the Planet

Increasing agricultural and food research and development to boost productivity in a sustainable way, reducing food waste and losses, and incorporating income and nutrition components into social protection programs. New types of packaging that use recycled materials, nano-material coatings, and even edible films would keep foods fresher for longer.

Shivam Dwivedi
Food Security
Mother feeding her Child (Pic Credit: UNICEF)

The Food Systems of the entire world are not in good condition right now. One out of ten people are undernourished, and one in four is overweight. Over one-third of the world's population can't afford a nutritious diet. There's also sudden disruption in food supplies due to extreme weather events like cyclones, floods, droughts, heatwaves, and sometimes wars.

Our habitats also suffer as the food sector releases about 30 percent of global greenhouse gases. Furthermore, expanding pastures, cropland, and tree plantations drive about two-thirds of the damage in forests (5.5 Million hectares per year), mainly in tropical regions. Lousy farming practices deteriorate soil quality, pollute water supplies, and reduce biodiversity.

What Needs To Be Done?

  • Right now, the entire global food system needs a rejuvenation at all levels, for instance, at policy and institutions as well as a social,  business & technological levels. However, the task is challenging and requires a strong political will and support from all stakeholders.

  • Food incorporates various disciplines- agriculture, climate change, health, AI, Digital Science, Political Science, and Economics. The adverse effects of improper policies on climate change, health & biodiversity need to be categorized into the actual cost of food.

  • The Scientific Groups are engaging with hundreds of experts across civil society, including Indigenous peoples, producer and youth organizations, and the private sectors. Therefore, scientists must take key roles to accelerate the transformation to more sustainable, healthier, equitable & resilient food systems.

Seven Priorities or Focus Areas:

Below discussed are the seven priorities that reflect the Scientific Group’s evidence base, including more than 50 reports and briefs about how the United Nations should harness science & technology to improve nutrition and safeguard the environment. Science-driven approaches are required to address the following challenges:

1. End Hunger Through Improved Diets:

  • The scientific community needs to find opportunities for judicious investments to make healthy, nutritious, and sustainable diets more accessible and available to everyone globally. Solutions that can jointly improve more than one of these are effective.

  • For instance, improved irrigation, especially on small and medium farms in Tanzania & Ethiopia, has increased productivity, dietary diversity, and, ultimately, the farmers’ incomes.

  • Increasing R &D in agriculture and food to enhance productivity in a sustainable way, cutting food waste and losses, and incorporating income & nutrition components to social protection programs. New types of packaging using recycled materials, coatings of nano-materials, and even edible films would keep foods fresh for a longer duration.

  • Behavioral barriers also need to be studied by researchers to healthy eating. They must formulate policy guidelines for educational food labels and re-model the impacts of cutting taxes and regulations on unhealthy foods (such as sugar and trans-fats).

2. De-Risk Food Systems:

  • With the passage of time, food systems become more dynamic & complex, that's why they are more open to new risks. Scientists must improve how they understand, monitor, analyze & communicate these vulnerabilities.

  • For instance, the expansion of biofuels, droughts, and financial speculation after the sudden imposition of trade barriers resulted in food price hikes in the past year.

  • Policies and economic solutions are required. For instance, new insurance products aided by remote sensing and weather forecasts would provide cover for lost crops & livestock. Solar-powered irrigation would decrease the risk of drought. Various smartphone apps would provide farmers with information on local crop pests, weather risks, and market opportunities; these are already used in Kenya, Senegal, India, and Bangladesh.

3. Sustain Aquatic Foods:

  • Most of the focus on food has been on soil-based agriculture. That's why aquaculture, which includes various aquatic plants such as seaweed, has much to offer nutritionally and sustainably. Aquatic foods require to be better integration into the understanding of food systems.

  • Researchers must discover newer ways to increase nutritional diversity in aquatic foods and sequester carbon in marine and freshwater environments.

4. Protect Equality & Rights:

  • Inequalities & Poverty associated with gender, ethnicity, and age restrict many people’s access to healthy foods. Therefore, socio-economic researchers should provide inclusive approaches to transform more than 400 million smallholder farms globally.

  • They have to identify newer ways to curtail inequitable and unfair arrangements over land, credit, and labor, and empower the rights of women & youth. Protection of land rights of smallholders, women & indigenous people is crucial.

  • Technology can make sure transparency & efficiency. For example, using block-chain ledgers of ownership rights to allocate land could be a wonderful opportunity for the farming community.

5. Revamp Bioscience:

  • Restoring soil health is crucial for the improvement of the efficiency of cropping, crop breeding, and re-carbonizing the soil and biosphere. Connectivity among all Earth systems must be considered altogether- known as a 'One Health Approach' to realize the full potential.

  • Newer sources of healthy proteins need to be advanced, such as insect-derived proteins and plant-based. Plant-breeding techniques that could absorb nitrogen from the air to reduce the need for fertilizers and increase nutrients must be investigated.

  • Genetic engineering & biotechnology should be considered to enhance crops' productivity, quality, and resistance to pests and drought.

6. Protection of Resources:

  • The latest agricultural tools are required to help people sustainably manage soils, land, and water. For example, hand-held digital devices and remote sensing can detect and track soil carbon concentrations and other nutrients.

  • AI systems and drones empower farmers to detect areas that need irrigation, fertilization, and protection from pests. Soil microbes can also be harnessed to improve soil structure, carbon storage, and yields. That's why researchers need to adapt and scale up such technologies.

  • Biodiversity and genetic bases, along with seed varieties, must be preserved, and their phenotypes and genotypes explored in the contexts of climate change & nutrition. The traditional food culture of Indigenous peoples needs to be better understood and supported in national agricultural research systems.

7. Harnessing Digital Technology:

  • Nowadays, AI, Robots, and various sensors are increasingly used on farms to harvest crops, milking cows, etc. Sensors can effectively monitor the quality of ingredients and products along the food-processing chain to decrease losses and guarantee food safety. But the sad part of the story is that most farmers and producers still don’t have access.

  • To spread the benefits of the latest technological innovations, agri-technologies & equipment need to become cheaper and easier to purchase and use. Rental services equivalent to Uber for farm machinery must be developed, as has been done with tractors in India. Rural electricity supplies, along with IT training and education, will have to be expanded further. 

To achieve all this, Multisectoral & Intersectoral Cooperation is Needed for Greater Benefits!!

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