Have You Considered These 3 Food Sustainability Factors?

For humans beings, food has a direct impact on our social and economic spheres. Therefore, it’s important for us to understand and care about the issues related to food sustainability and its security. Food also affects our lives indirectly because of its impact on the environment and its contribution to climate change.

For these reasons, governments and international organizations, like FAO, WFP, and IFAD work to monitor and provide sustainable solutions to food issues around the world.

When discussing food sustainability, there are three factors to consider in order to create well-rounded global solutions.

1. Food Insecurity

The mainstream definition of food security comes from the World Food Summit of 1996, also known as the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. It states food security exists “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. These factors make up the four food dimensions.

4 Dimensions of Food Insecurity

1. Food Availability: is the food supply. It’s a necessary but not sufficient enough condition to guarantee food security.
2. Food Access: it involves two pillars – the economic and the physical access to food-production resources.
3. Food Utilization: it involves indicators of malnutrition and food quality, as well as health and preparation to determine how food can be utilized.
4. Food Stability: it involves the resilience against economic, political, and natural risks.

Today, according to “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013”, there are 842 million people around the world suffering from chronic hunger. This figure is 17% lower compared to 1992, and 26 million less than the 2010-2012 report. Nevertheless, there are still huge regional discrepancies and a lot must be done to solve this problem.


How climate change affects food sustainability. Image via CGIAR.

2. Climate Change

Scientific research has highlighted many aspects of our industrialized food production system which, directly or indirectly, affect food security and contribute to climate change

The food production chain is responsible for more than one third of GHG emissions. Agriculture is responsible for 75% of deforestation. Both of these factors have great impact on climate change. At the same time, climate change is one of the biggest threats to food production yields.


How food production impacts climate change. Image via CGIAR.

Promoting sustainable diet behaviors and optimizing the food supply chain can reduce food waste – which accounts for one third of the food produced – and alleviate impact on climate change, reducing the planet’s footprint.

Food production also impacts climate change through resource consumption, food for  livestock, and the need to produce energy. These business factors drive prices up and create economic food barriers for low-income people. Biofuel solutions can improve GHG emissions compared to traditional fuels which can drastically improve food production’s climate change contribution.

In order for climate change solutions to take hold in the food production industry, appropriate government policy is needed to educate people to reduce meat consumption, invest in urban agriculture, and encourage the development of new biofuel technology, while reducing food competition.

3. Global Population Increase

The factors of food insecurity and climate change will lead to another primary challenge in developing global food sustainability: how will we guarantee sustainable food supply to the growing demand for food? It’s expected that food demand will increase by 70% over the next few years. This growth in demand is due to the expected increase in global population which is projected to be at 9 billion by 2050. Additionally, the conversion to a more “occidental” diet in countries like China and India will also impact food demand.

China, with 1.35 billion people (+19% from 1990), increased its per capita meat consumption from 25 kg/year in the 90’s to today’s 55 kg/year.

The global status of agricuture

The global state of agriculture. Image via USAID.

Land availability will greatly impact our ability to produce enough food for the expanding population, as many countries and companies perform what’s called “land-grabbing” – large-scale land investments or acquisitions. Water supply and the resulting technological solutions are also factors that are needed to boost production. Other variables, like price volatility and government policies will also play a key role in guaranteeing access to resources.

The improvement to food production efficiency as well as innovation – especially in the non-OECD nations – is vitally important in reducing water and land waste and necessary in increasing sustainable yields.

Awareness regarding food sustainability factors must be improved, along with the incentivization of best practices. Individuals can make a difference through their diet and purchasing behaviors, as well as the consumer pressure they place on producers to adopt more sustainable production techniques. By promoting local solutions, like urban agriculture models, building-integrated vegetation, and hydroponic plant factories we can begin to achieve global food sustainability. These solutions improve food accessibility and nutrition, reduce environmental impact, and are scalable to produce greater yields more efficiently

About The Author

Adriano Pilloni
Adriano, 25 years old, is a Master Graduate in Environmental Economics and Development from Rome Three University (Italy). During his education he developed a deep knowledge on Economics and a keen interest on Economic Theory with particular regard to energy markets, sustainability, environmental and agricultural issues. He has been proactive during his university time doing many projects and being elected by the students as Advisor of the Economics Dept. of his University. With two other students he developed a project on Food Sustainability which has been selected in the top 30 of the international Barilla contest "BCFN YES! 2013". He did the 2014 European edition of Extreme Blue, IBM's premier internship program for both graduate and undergraduate students. Now he is working as Junior Power and Gas Analyst at GDF SUEZ Italy.