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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds The good news is that there are many options to make the current and future food systems more resource-smart I would like to show you some of these. Many of these options do not require huge innovations, such as scientific breakthroughs or large investments. With simple means, already, much can be achieved. And of course, we will use to food system lens again. This approach will not only look at its options at a production side, but also at options at the consumption side. And also at the stages in-between. Let us start with options for sustainable use of natural resources, such as land, water, and biodiversity. For land and soils, a sustainable use means no soil degradation.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds Pressures on lands can vary largely across the globe, as well as the solutions. Important components are often an adequate supply for organic material, providing soil cover, as well as the prevention of runoff. Also, for the sustainable use of water and biodiversity, the solutions are often site specific. And for fisheries, a catch which is in balance with the yearly growth of the fish stock will keep the fish stock at a sustainable level. The second important step, staying at the farm stage, is the efficient and productive use of the various resources, such as good crop yields, the efficient use of water, and low losses of nutrients.

Skip to 1 minute and 32 seconds One of the complexities is that we have to optimise the efficient use of all resources combined. For example, if we would not provide any fertiliser, one might say that we are very efficient with fertiliser. But in reality, crop yields can be very low. This would mean a very inefficient use of land, water, and also labour. But high rates of fertiliser would lead to inefficient use of nutrients. Therefore, farmers need to find the correct balance between the use and input of different resources. An important route to increase crop yields is sustainable intensification. This basically means higher crop yields without higher environmental impacts. Increasing feed efficiency in animal production is another important way to increase overall efficiency.

Skip to 2 minutes and 20 seconds And talking about animal production– a proper recycling of manure to croplands is very important. Manure contains organic matter as well as all the nutrients needed for crop production. What we often see, both in developed countries as well as in emerging economies, is the spatial separation of crop production and intense livestock production. This means that the animal feed is being transported from one area to another. Or even imported. As there are many animals on a small piece of land, this leads to high nutrient losses. And thus, inefficient use of nutrients. Coupling or re-coupling livestock and feed production is thus important. A last important aspect at the farm level is the reduction of food losses.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds Here is also a major task for all the actors in the food systems, as food losses occur due to inadequate storage for food processing at farm level. In activities such as food processing, there are often still many options to make more efficient use of resources, such as lower water use, wastewater treatment, optimal reuse of byproducts– for example, for feed or for energy production. And also, the reduction of energy use in food processing is very important. Finally, there are two major options at the consumption sides. The first is the reduction of food waste. Globally, an estimated 30% of all food being produced is wasted. Fortunately, there are already many governments and private actors taking action to reduce food waste.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 seconds But much more can be done. Partly, it is in the hands of the consumers who buy or cook too much foods. Traditionally, people were used to cooking with leftovers. For example, by making soup. But also in restaurants, offices, hospitals, and schools, much food is being wasted. The second important option at the consumption side is to limit the consumption of animal products such as meat, dairy, and fish. This also applies to ultra processed foods, such as soft drinks and all kinds of sweets. In many cases, there are co-benefits for health as well. It should be stressed, especially for poor people, a certain amount of meat and dairy can certainly be an important component of a balanced diet.

Sustainable and efficient options for food systems

What do sustainable food systems look like from a natural resource perspective? In this video, Henk Westhoek, of PBL, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, describes three principles and some options for implementing those principles.

Many trade-offs can arise in the effort to develop food systems that make sustainable and efficient use of natural resources and minimize negative environmental impacts. It is important to reiterate that food systems vary widely around the world. This means that there are large differences in the challenges and opportunities with regard to natural resources as well as in the ways to achieve progress in overcoming these challenges. From a natural resource perspective, Henk identifies three principles for sustainable food systems:

  • Sustainable use of renewable resources: no degradation;
  • Efficient use of all resources; and
  • Low environmental impacts from the food system activities.
  • Sustainable food systems are not only about sustainable and efficient food production – they must also ensure food security, support livelihoods, and promote good health.


    UNEP (2016). Food Systems and Natural Resources. A Report of the Working Group on Food Systems of the International Resource Panel. Westhoek, H, Ingram J., Van Berkum, S., Özay, L., and Hajer M.

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    This video is from the free online course:

    Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

    Stockholm Environment Institute