Those of you who are familiar with key issues in sustainability will no doubt already be well aware of the problems with our current agriculture and food systems.
- Millions go hungry while waste is enormous, and many people in developed nations have too much food rather than too little.
- Around the world, farmers struggle by on low incomes, often with poor quality of life.
- Ecosystems are degraded and crucial carbon sinks lost.
- Fresh water is squandered and polluted.
- Soil health suffers through tilling and poor management, creating a negative feedback loop in which more and more harmful pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are required to grow what we need.
- Consumers clamour for cheaper and cheaper, buying ready meals and junk in plastic packaging.
Agriculturally speaking, the solutions for sustainable food production are clear. Permaculture and regenerative farming practices have been shown, again and again, to be the right solution for people and planet. It all comes back to maximising photosynthesis through biodiverse planting, and protecting the soil.
But farmers are, understandably, often reluctant to change their ways. And are sometimes dubious about whether or not they can really make money from sustainably, organically managed land.
And consumers are reluctant too, to give up the instant-access to low quality but cheap food from supermarkets, and to pay just that little bit more for food that does not literally cost the earth.
In order to solve the complex problems of growing food and feeding humanity, we need to act fast. But we also need to make sure we do not over-simplify the problems, nor put the cart before the horse in policy and implementation.
Ultimately, changing food systems around the world will require a moral change. It will, quite simply, require people to think differently about food. We need to recognise what an important role food plays in all our lives.
We need to value it, and understand that access to real, fresh, healthy, sustainably grown food is a right, not a privilege. We need to make sure that food is at the heart of education, policy making, and climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. We need to reshape value discussions surrounding food. And shape a future where ecosystems thrive, and no one is left hungry.