Food is at the center of human lives. Not only is food is condition for our existence, it is also at the basis of our cultural norms and social lives. Food production is provides the livelihood for the 883 million people employed in the agriculture sector. As nature provides the foundation for plants to grow and animals to live, food is intrinsically connected to the environment. However, unsustainable food production and consumption practices have led to environmental degradation and exacerbated climate change. In return, food systems suffer from climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Learn more about these issues and the role of Geneva-based organizations to foster sustainable food systems below.
About Food Systems
The term “food system” refers to the constellation of activities involved in producing, processing, transporting and consuming food. Food systems touch every aspect of human existence. The health of our food systems profoundly affects the health of our bodies, as well as the health of our environment, our economies and our cultures. When they function well, food systems have the power to bring us together as families, communities and nations.
But too many of the world’s food systems are fragile, unexamined and vulnerable to collapse, as millions of people around the globe have experienced first-hand during the COVID-19 crisis. When our food systems fail, the resulting disorder threatens our education, health and economy, as well as human rights, peace and security. As in so many cases, those who are already poor or marginalized are the most vulnerable.
The good news is that we know what we need to do to get back on track. Scientists agree that transforming our food systems is among the most powerful ways to change course and make progress towards all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Rebuilding the food systems of the world will also enable us to answer the UN Secretary-General’s call to “build back better” from COVID-19. We are all part of the food system, and so we all must come together to bring about the transformation that the world needs.
Food and the SDGs
As the prime connection between people and the planet, food and agriculture can help achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of course, SDG 2 is the first one that comes to mind. This goal calls for the end malnutrition and ensure access to safe and nutritious food across the world by 2030. In 2019, an estimated 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030, or 9.8% of the global population.
Nature provides direct sources of food and a series of ecosystem services (e.g. pollination, soil formation, nutrient cycling, and water regulation) supporting agricultural activities and contributing to food security and nutrition. Targets 2.4 and 2.5 recognize the important of the environment to achieve zero hunger. While we need to produce food for an additional two billion people by 2030 due to increasing world population, preserving and enhancing the natural resource base upon which the well-being of present and future generations depends is crucial. The unsustainable expansion of agriculture has created serious environmental problems such as soil erosion, water pollution through agrochemicals, and emission of greenhouse gases. Disasters such as droughts, landslides and floods greatly affect food security, and these will become more frequent and intense due to climate change.
Thus, environmental considerations are essential to achieve all targets of SDG2. In the long-run, only resilient food systems that work in harmony with nature will be able to provide the healthy, safe and reliable food source that we need. Food and agriculture are also intimately connected to all other SDGs. Sustainable agriculture is key to feed a growing population, while revitalizing rural landscapes, delivering inclusive growth to countries and drive positive change right across the 2030 Agenda.
World Food Day
Each year on 16 October, World Food Day reminds us that we all have a role to play to realize the vision of a world without hunger and malnutrition. We must not let sustainable habits fall by the wayside in times of crisis. We can make healthy food choices and do our part to reduce food waste. In addition, governments, enterprises, and organizations can share their knowledge and support sustainable, resilient food systems and livelihoods. Together, we can grow, nourish, and sustain our world. Find more information and related events for each edition:
- World Food Day 2022 | Leave NO ONE behind
- World Food Day 2021 | Our actions are our future. Better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.
- World Food Day 2020 | Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together. Our Actions are our Future
Food and the Triple Planetary Crisis
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the impacts of climate change are already causing stress to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture and hindering efforts to meet the global demand for food products (AR6, WGII, Chap. 5). Warming temperatures are changing the conditions for plants and insects to live, thus impacting food quality and harvest stability. Climate-related disasters, such as droughts and floods, are also affecting the productivity of the food systems, with negative consequences for food security and livelihoods. The IPCC warns that these impacts will become stronger as climate change accelerates, with some areas of the globe becoming unsuitable for agriculture. Climate change will negatively impact food safety, as it will induce changes in weeds, insect pests, pathogens, disease vectors, toxigenic fungi, and harmful algal blooms. Under worst case scenarios, climate change could put 80 million people at risk of hunger by 2050. Find the latest science on the impacts of climate change on food systems in the AR6 WGII report (2022) and the Special Report on Climate Change Land (2018).
Therefore, agrifood systems must become more resilient to the current and future impacts of climate change, learning from good practices to promote transformative adaptation policies, plans and actions, as outlined in the FAO Strategy on Climate Change. The way we produce and consume food also contributes to climate change due to the greenhouse gas emitted from the field to the plate. Farming, land use, and food supply chains are indeed large contributors to the world carbon balance. According to FAO, food systems account for more than a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Further resources on food and climate change
- Climate change and your food: Ten facts | FAO
- Climate-Smart Agriculture | FAO
- Climate change and food systems | OECD
- Food and Climate Change: Healthy diets for a healthier planet | UN
- Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered | The New York Times | 15 April 2022
- Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability | IPCC | April 2022 | See chapter 5 for impacts on food systems
- New FAO analysis reveals carbon footprint of agri-food supply chain | UN News | 8 November 2021
- Agriculture and climate change | European Environment Agency | May 2021
- Food systems account for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions | FAO | 9 March 2021
- The share of agri-food systems in total greenhouse gas emissions – FAOStat Analytical Brief | FAO | 2021
- Special Report on Climate Change Land | IPCC | 2018 | See chapter 5 on food security
- Climate change and food security: risks and responses | FAO | 2015
According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), around 1 million species already face extinction worldwide, with the global rate of species extinction today being higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years. Our global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone being the identified threat to 24,000 of the 28,000 (86%) species at risk of extinction. While intensification of agriculture, conversion of land for agricultural purposes, and high use of fertilizers and pesticides have allowed to produce more food at a lower cost, it also came with an significant environmental cost. Therefore, fostering sustainable food systems are essential. This means moving away from monocultures, supporting agroecology and Nature-based Solutions, adopting more plant-heavy diets, and other solutions which reduce the pressure of food production on the planet.
Food production also relies on nature itself, and thus is deeply affected by biodiversity loss. Biodiversity plays an important role in underpinning ecosystem functions and services that are essential for the productivity and sustainability of our food systems. According to the latest IPBES Global Assessment report, the loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, poses a “serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change”. Additionnally, the decrease in pollinators across the world has been identified as a key challenge for the future of food security.
Further resources on food and biodiversity
- Biodiversity | FAO
- Agricultural Biodiversity | Convention on Biological Diversity
- Replanting Agricultural Biodiversity in the CBD | Friends of the Earth International | 15 March 2022
- The UN Food Systems Summit and the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15 | Convention on Biological Diversity | September 2021
- Our global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss | UNEP | 3 February 2021
- Food system impacts on biodiversity loss | UNEP, Chatham House and Compassion in World Farming | 3 February 2021
- Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 – Agriculture Highlights | Convention on Biological Diversity | 18 August 2020
- The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture | FAO | 2019
- Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services | IPBES | 2019
- Assessment Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production | IPBES | 2016
Modern agriculture practices rely heavily on novel substances to increase productivity and reduce the costs of production. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and plastic materials used in agriculture, livestock production, fishing and aquaculture are major drivers of water and soil pollution. The discharge of pollutants into the environment is not only a great concern for ecosystem health, but also for human health. Such pollutants include pathogens from livestock, pesticides, nitrates in groundwater, trace metallic elements and toxic chemicals, as well as antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant genes excreted by livestock. Some of these substances are regulated at the international level, for instance the Stockholm Convention reviews and bans persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as the infamous insecticide DDT.
More recently, the impacts of plastic use in agriculture has been under scrutiny, as new research revealed that these plastics are contaminating soils and thus impacting soil health, biodiversity, and productivity. Plastic substances are also used in chemical fertilizers, adding one more layer to the mix of substances that are leaking into the environment.
Further resources on food and pollution
- Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) | UNEP
- Pesticides – relevant information | Resources list by UNEP
- Pest and Pesticide Management | FAO
- Chemical Safety and Health – Highly hazardous pesticides | WHO
- Plastics and Agriculture – Plastics and the Environment series | Geneva Environment Network
- Pesticide residues in food | WHO | 15 September 2022
- Plastics in agriculture – an environmental challenge| 29th Foresight Brief | UNEP | 1 August 2022
- Industrial Agricultural Pollution 101 | Natural Resources Defense Council | 21 July 2022
- Sowing a Plastic Planet: How Microplastics in Agrochemicals Are Affecting Our Soils, Our Food, and Our Future | CIEL | 24 May 2022
- Global assessment of soil pollution | FAO & UNEP | 2021
- How plastic is infiltrating the world’s soils | UNEP | 3 December 2021
- Environmental and Health Impacts of Pesticides and Fertilizers and Ways of Minimizing Them | UNEP, FAO & WHO | 24 January 2021
- Soil pollution a risk to our health and food security | UNEP | 4 December 2020
- Stopping soil pollution is key for food security and safety | FAO | 4 December 2018
- Tackling the growing challenge of soil pollution | UNEP | 5 December 2017
- Pesticides are “global human rights concern”, say UN experts urging new treaty | UN OHCHR | 7 March 2017
- Pollutants from agriculture a serious threat to world’s water | FAO | 20 June 2018
- Agriculture: cause and victim of water pollution, but change is possible | FAO | 21017
- Water pollution from agriculture: a global review | FAO & IWMI | 2017
- Food Systems and Natural Resources | UNEP & IRP | 2016
Food Loss and Waste
According to the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), around 14% of food produced is lost between harvest and retail worldwide. Significant quantities are also wasted in retail and at the consumption level. According to UNEP, the world already produces enough food to feed everyone on the planet and according to the recent Food Waste Index Report 2021, over 17% of food in total is wasted.
Around 38% of total energy consumption in the global food system is also utilized to produce food that is either lost or wasted. In addition, it takes seeds, soil and the labor of farmers to produce food, not to mention the fuel that is needed to transport it. All of these resources are lost when food is wasted. Furthermore, the disposal of food loss and waste in landfills leads to greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Policymakers can improve the chances of achieving climate goals and limiting global warming to 1.5°C by making more specific commitments to transforming national food systems.
International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Reduction
Each year on 29 September, the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. Reducing food loss and waste is of significant importance as it contributes to the realization of broader improvements to agri-food systems toward achieving food security, food safety, improving food quality and delivering on nutritional outcomes. Reducing food loss and waste also contributes significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as pressure on land and water resources. Find more information and related events for each edition:
- International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste 2022
- International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste 2021
- International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste 2020 | The first edition
Action for Better Food Systems
Reducing food waste and shifting dietary patterns could reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from the food system by as much as 50%. In addition, restoring biodiversity could strengthen the resilience of food systems, enabling farmers to diversify production and cope with pests, diseases and climate change.
Nature-based Solutions (NbS)
Food production has a massive impact on our planet. Moreover, looking forward, global food production needs are expected to increase more than 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050, compared to average 2005-07 levels, according to OECD and FAO. With more than half of Earth’s habitable lands currently used for agriculture, farmers and food producers play an important role in maintaining and conserving biodiversity. The loss of healthy soils reduces agricultural yields and could result in a food production shortfall of 25% by 2050. In addition, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it is estimated that increasing soil biodiversity could contribute up to 2.3 billion tons of additional crop production per year, valued at USD 1.4 trillion.
Leading experts at the Nature-based Solutions and Food Dialogue conducted by the Geneva Environment Network and IUCN discussed why NbS represent a key pathway for achieving this goal while contributing to established international and global targets. Adopting NbS approaches to better our food systems is essential to meeting the fundamental human right to food and contribute to multiple imperatives of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Addressing Food Loss and Waste
According to UNEP, the world already produces enough food to feed everyone on the planet. As the recent Food Waste Index Report 2021 indicated, over 17% of food is wasted. Food waste accounts for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It can occur at the consumer end, where food is thrown away, or as post-harvest loss – in storage, transport, packaging, or other stages before food reaches the table. UNEP found that the global average of 74 kg per capita of food wasted each year is similar from lower-middle-income to high-income countries, which means that most countries have room to improve.
Dietary habits represent another intervention area. Over the past 50 years, diets have become increasingly homogenous, dominated by crops that are rich in energy but poor in macronutrients. Of the thousands of plants and animals used for food in the past, less than 200 currently contribute to global food supplies and just nine crops account for almost 70% of all crop production. In many cases –particularly in developing countries – people do not receive the full range of nutrients essential to human health. In fact, low dietary diversity has surpassed caloric insufficiency as the primary driver of death. According to WWF, eating a planet-based diet is high in human health benefits and low in environmental impacts. Adopting a planet-based diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30%, wildlife loss by up to 46%, agricultural land-use by at least 41% and premature deaths by at least 20%
Role of Geneva
Organizations are listed in alphabetical order
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
FAO is the leading organization on issues related to food and agriculture, with headquarters in Rome and a liaison office in Geneva. The Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment works to ensure that countries and stakeholders respond to the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation, keeping food and agriculture sustainability high on the agenda. FAO has produces authoritative reports on the status of food systems, environmental challenges and policy options. It also provides support to countries to transition to more sustainable food systems, adapt to climate change, and sustainably use and conserve biodiversity for food security. FAO also tracks the Food Loss Index and provides support to countries to reduce food loss and waste.
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Headquartered in Geneva, GAIN is a Swiss-based foundation that works closely with governments, businesses and civil society to tackle global malnutrition and to transform food systems to provide everyone better access to nutritious, safe and affordable food. Ahead of the Food Systems Summit, GAIN has launched a partnership with the World Wildlife Foundation to deepen thinking on food systems transformation and to accelerate adoption of new solutions, all while leading the Summit’s Action Track.
International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
Aiming to provide a world where people and the planet thrive work, the work of IISD focuses on accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resources, and fair economies. Recognizing the complexity of today’s challenges, they work on sustainable solutions on various fields such as food and agriculture, nature-based solutions, and climate change. In the run up to the Food Systems Summit, the IISD has been providing companies, investment funds, and philanthropies new evidence that show how their concrete investment can end world hunger. They are also taking a look at the intersection of food systems, climate change and nutrition, to provide policymakers pathways that address these issues together.
International Standard Organization (ISO)
ISO has more than 1,600 standards related to the food sector, with many more in development. The world population is growing rapidly and many food products repeatedly cross national boundaries to meet our rising demand for food. International Standards help to address this challenge in a safe and sustainable way, through guidance and best practice in food production methods and testing, to promote safety, quality and efficiency across the entire food industry.
International Trade Centre (ITC)
The work of ITC on Food and Agri-Business build sustainable agricultural exports and strengthen intraregional trade by assisting farmers, communities and agri-food enterprises while ensuring sustainability.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
The work of IUCN on Nature-based solutions (NBS) and Sustainable Land Management provide an array of approaches for sustaining food production while safeguarding the ecosystem services upon which agriculture depends.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
UNCTAD is active in responsible consumption and production and it’s BioTrade Initiative looks at products or services that sourced from biodiversity is commercialized and traded in a way that respects people and nature. The BioTrade Principles and Criteria (P&C) is a set of guidelines for businesses, governments and civil society wishing to support the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as the fair and equitable sharing of benefits through trade.
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
UNECE has addressed the food loss challenge since 2013 – including in view of enhancing the circular economy in its member states. Through the constant review of its quality standards for agricultural produce traded internationally and nationally, UNECE ensures that the quality of the produce used and traded is maintained along the entire supply chain. Food loss is therefore prevented and reduced. UNECE also focuses on the food lost in the trade process before it reaches the consumer and even retail. UNECE also provides insight into food systems transformation for sustainability.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
UNEP is the global authority that sets the environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. While working to address the triple planetary crisis, UNEP provides knowledge and support on issues related to food systems. Together with FAO, UNEP is leading the Think.Eat.Save initiative, which contributes to the Sustainable Food Systems Programme of the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP), also known as the One Planet Network. UNEP also lead the Food Waste Index, measuring waste that occurs in retail outlets, restaurants and homes
United Nations Human Rights (UNHCR)
The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food addresses the need for an integrated and coordinated approach to promoting and protecting people’s right to food, for example, climate change and the right to food. It outlines the adverse impact of climate change on the right to food and places particular emphasis on the geographic and socioeconomic vulnerabilities of those most affected. It also highlights the negative impact that current agricultural practices and food systems are having on climate change. The current Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is Michael Fakhri.
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
WBCSD Food and Nature Program leads business efforts to accelerate a system transformation in the areas of food, nature and water. WBCSD brings leadership standards and tools, advocacy and projects across the value chain – from production to consumption – which deliver impact at scale where the urgent agendas of climate, nature and food systems intersect. The program also tackles food and agriculture and its Guide to Food System Transformation identified seven pathways where business must lead to drive system transformation and ensure delivery of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.
World Economic Forum (WEF)
World Food Programme (WFP) Office in Geneva
WFP work on sustainable livelihoods and ecosystems helps countries and the most vulnerable and food insecure communities manage natural resources sustainably such as soil conservation and fertility measures; water harvesting and flood control; agro-ecological productivity to reduce biodiversity loss; irrigation schemes; forestry and agroforestry management; and, access to clean water in arid and semi-arid contexts results in more diversified food, thereby complementing nutrition efforts. The restoration of degraded ecosystems boosts public health and reduces hardship in general.
WWF works on projects that improve efficiency and productivity in food systems while reducing waste and shifting consumption patterns. WWF also builds public awareness on how we consider food.
Switzerland and Local Geneva
Canton and City of Geneva
The Canton of Geneva imports approximately 80% of the commodities consumed by its population. The transport of food products is the third-largest flow of resources consumed in Geneva after building materials and energy products. The Canton de Genève provides resources on food waste and the City of Geneva lists tools on learning how to adopt to a local and sustainable approach to eating.
Fédération Romande des Consommateurs (FRC)
FRC provides tools for consummers to avoid food waste.
Partage is a food bank created in 2005 by the Salvation Army, C.A.R.E., Caritas Genève, les Colis du Cœur and Emmaüs. It salvages food waste and provides them to different beneficiaries.
The Swiss organization of WWF provides resources and an app on food waste.
Zero Waste Geneva
Zero Waste Geneva is a community for those looking to reduce waste, preserve natural resources and create a more sustainable future. The organization offers workshops and resources on reducing food waste.
News & Articles
- World Food Day 2022: Call to leave no one behind comes at critical juncture for global food security | FAO | 14 October 2022
- World Food Day: Another year of global record hunger looms amid food and climate crisis | Un News | 13 October 2022
- The future of food: the diversity of food sovereignty systems at the local level is the backbone of global food security | ICCA Consortium | 13 October 2022
- How Biovision Is Counteracting the Global Food Crisis | Frank Eyhorn, Executive Director Biovision | 20 September 2022
- UN report calls for repurposing of USD 470 billion of agricultural support that distorts prices and steer us away from environment and social goals | FAO, UNDP, UNEP | 14 September 2021
- Food systems hold key to ending world hunger | UNEP | 14 July 2021
- Wasting food just feeds climate change, new UN environment report warns | UNEP | 4 March 2021
- Why sustainable food systems are needed in a post-COVID world | UNEP | 14 July 2020
- Lost food | Biovision | 30 December 2019
- Food for thought: dietary changes can improve our health, health of planet | UNEP | 25 November 2019
- A multi-billion-dollar opportunity: Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems | FAO, UNDP and UNEP | 14 September 2021
- Food waste index report 2021 | UNEP | 4 March 2021
- The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2021 | FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO | 2021
- Transformation of our food systems – the making of a paradigm shift | Hans R. Herren, Benedikt Haerlin and the IAASTD+10 Advisory Group | 28 September 2020
- Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for food systems | Climate Focus, EAT, UNEP and WWF | 2020
- Healthy diets from sustainable food systems | EAT-Lancet Commission | 2020
- Mitigating risks to food systems during COVID-19 | FAO | 2020
- What a waste 2.0 | World Bank | 2018
- Food wasted footprint: Impact on natural resources | FAO | 2013