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Arguing is not going to fix our broken food system

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

Realising that Governments doesn't have all the answers is probably the first step.

I am a farmer's daughter, a sustainability consultant and a pragmatist.

This week I have had my head in my hands over the reactions to the UK Government's Food Strategy, this follows last week's head in hands episode regarding reactions to the He Waka Eke Noa emissions pricing recommendations in New Zealand.

The British media has been packed with opinions on the UK Government's Food Strategy in the UK. The strategy has received a mixed reaction since it was published on Monday, 13 June, a year after restaurateur Henry Dimbleby's independent review of England's food system.

Understanding sustainable development is crucial to climate action

Looking at the issue from the point of the global challenges we face - health and wellbeing, decent work for all, education, climate resilience and water pollution - I think we all need to adopt a bit of pragmatism. We are in the Decade of Action, hurtling towards 2030. It is time to be transformative in our individual thinking and actions rather than constantly bickering about the Government's inaction or diluted policies.

Food fuels our bodies and plays a decisive role in human health, culture, productivity and potential. It is central to livelihoods, creating enjoyment and connection to family, community and natural ecosystems on land and water.

We all understand that globally the food system is broken. Economic inequality among nations and other factors like soil degradation have contributed to a global food system in which billions are hungry or lacking crucial vitamins. In contrast, billions are over consuming. Globally, more people are overweight or obese than underweight, spawning a public health epidemic involving diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The estimated cost to the world economy of illness and death from overweight and obesity is $2 trillion. In 2016, the IFPRI estimated the impact of under-nutrition on the gross domestic product (GDP) is 11% yearly – more than the annual economic downturn caused by the global financial crisis.

Education is core to understanding sustainability

We need more education on health and living sustainably generally, as well as policies to regulate the bad stuff like salt, sugar and pollutants. But we also need to understand and acknowledge that farmers and food producers in the UK and overseas are crucial partners in ensuring we all have healthy, affordable, sustainable food. And it is possible, if we take responsibility for our actions, to think outside the box. Realising that the Government doesn't have all the answers is probably the first step.

Whether on land or in the oceans, farming has received a lot of negative press. While I disagree with large-scale industrial farming practices; we must remember that most farmers are out to make a living to support their families.

Tackling food security involves working in partnership across a range of players

We also must remember that one sector or group cannot tackle the challenge of food security alone. It is a whole approach, collaboration of food producers, supermarkets and businesses, academics and Government. It also requires a clear understanding of sustainable development and sustainable business models. No business or organisation can function without being profitable. Farmers need to continue to make their companies more financially and environmentally sustainable wherever they are on the journey.

An essential piece of the puzzle is how food is produced. Innovation using data and tech is realising promising results from limiting methane production in dairy cows to urban vertical farms; these methods need to be scaled and more widely adopted. Combine this with regenerative farming methods, then we are starting to make progress.

The UK government has said it will invest £270 million in technology to increase productivity and profitability. Whether this is enough is another matter, but the prime concern should be ensuring this money reaches the right people and innovations to make an impact.

The impact of not getting our food security sorted is enormous, not only for poverty, hunger, health and livelihoods but also for mental health. A recent study on food insecurity in Ethiopia found that those facing food insecurity were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

The commitments to growing more of the UK's fruit and vegetables and sourcing more local food in the public food sector can only be good. Here at SDG Changemakers, we are also interested to see where the consultation on food waste reporting for larger businesses over a specific size goes and the focus of the framework for land use in England, due to be published next year. Part of that interest is seeing how we can contribute sensibly and positively to the conversation.

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SDG Changemakers work with SMEs, Associations and trade bodies to support the sector to transition to sustainable business models. We firmly believe that businesses of all sizes can Be Bold, Be Heard and Be the Change.

To learn more about what SDG Changemakers do and how we support organisations like yours, get in touch.


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