Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Unsustainable food systems: can we reverse current trends?

3 April 2020. The impact of global crises underscores the fragility of food systems. In addition to short-term acute shocks, long-term global demographic changes like urbanization and population growth may be obstacles to improving food system sustainability.

As rural masses migrate to urban areas, populations grow, and people work toward better living standards, global food system sustainability pays a high price, according to a new analysis spanning low- to high-income countries.

The study, published April 3 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, shows that only one major global driver, the increase in international trade, appears to have a net positive effect on global food systems sustainability. All other major drivers (population growth, urbanization, lifestyle change, and changes in land use) seem to have negative effects.
“Trade seems to be good for food systems – but only up to a point. Beyond a certain level, the positive effect of trade tends to plateau. High-income countries simply don’t continue to benefit.” Steven Prager, a study co-author from the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. 
The study builds on a global map of food system sustainability published in November in Scientific Data, a Nature journal. That study showed that high-income countries tend to have a higher level of food system sustainability (despite all the junk food they consume) than lower-income countries. Those findings were one of the motivations behind the new study. Its authors wanted to understand what drives those different levels of sustainability and what can be done to improve the situation.

One of the most direct countermeasure that is garnering attention is the consumer shift toward more sustainable diets; but the attempts to cultivate sustainable diet-related behavioral changes are still in their infancy and their impacts yet to be realized.

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