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A Food Revolution to Spark a Sustainable Development Path towards 2050

Since late 2019, the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) health crisis has rapidly spread across the world devastating lives and exacerbating the ongoing food security and nutrition crisis. In a few months, COVID-19 revealed the underlying risks, vulnerabilities and inequities of the fragile global agri-food system. The impact of COVID-19 on food security and agricultural food systems is still to be fully discovered since the spread of the virus is evolving differently by continents and countries. But what is clear is that there will be significant effects on the whole agri-food value chain – from producers to processors, marketers, transporters and consumers.

Statistics show how environmentally impactful is the entire food supply chain from farm to fork. Considering a circular approach we have that 70% of the fresh water is used in the agri-food sector (3500 liters per person per day); around 75% of soil is degraded; there is an increasing biodiversity and ecosystem loss and up to 37% of the global greenhouse gas emissions are emitted along the whole value chain. The situation highlights the dramatic previsions of the Club of Rome in late ‘70s and the most recent IPCC Report.

Our agri-food systems have been sitting on a knife-edge for decades: before COVID-19 hit, 821 million people were suffering from malnutrition while 2 billion people were obese. Every year 1.3 billion tons of edible food is wasted and this represents a third of global food production and almost four times the amount needed to feed the undernourished people around the world. Global population is expected to reach over 9 billion people by 2050 while by 2020 the amount of food insecure people is expected to rise to 265 million.

The lockdowns and disruptions triggered by COVID-19 revealed the fragility of people’s access to essential goods and services especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized categories such as rural women, the youth, the elderly and poor people.

The crisis is also affecting the quality of diets. People are shifting towards greater consumption of heavily processed items (as a result of panic, people preferred long-life products) with fresh fruits and vegetables less available in some conventional supply chains. This could worsen the ongoing vicious cycles: diabetes (affecting over 422 million adults) and diet-related non-communicable diseases or NCDs (over 71% of all deaths are caused by NCDs), associated with increasing poverty are risk factors for COVID-19 mortality.

However, the crisis offered the opportunity to build a transition towards a more sustainable and resilient agri-food system.

This transformation could deliver huge benefits for human and planetary health by slowing the ecosystems destruction and biodiversity loss that drives the spread of diseases; reducing vulnerability to future supply shocks and trade disruptions; reconnecting people with the food value chain; making fresh, nutritious accessible, affordable and sustainable food to everyone reducing the diet-related health and environmental conditions that make people susceptible to diseases; providing fair wages and secure conditions to food and farmworkers by reducing their vulnerability to economic shocks and their risks of contracting and spreading illnesses.

Understanding complex dynamics and trends that guide changes of agricultural trade and along the supply chain is fundamental to analyze the effects of the agri-food sector on climate change, global agricultural markets and the links between food trade and food security.

Would You Change Your Daily Food Choices to Reduce the Carbon Footprint?

Food Impact Initiative at a glance

Food will be a defining issue of the 21st century and unlocking its potential will catalyze the achievement of the SDGs and Paris Agreement.

To let this happen, it is necessary to spread a science-based food sustainability education among people.

How do we reduce the environmental impact of the current global agri-food systems guiding a transformative shift in the people’s habits without radically change their traditional food culture, knowledge and wellbeing? 

– Creating awareness of the impact that food production and consumption has on the world’s resources;
– Building methods and tools for stimulating people, particularly young generations, to embrace recommended dietary practices.

With this action-oriented approach, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM) developed The Food Impacts Initiative (F2I) in 2019 under the cross-cutting area of research related to Agenda 2030.

F2I focuses on the development of a scientific evidence and data related to the agri-food systems and markets while providing different stakeholders – policy makers, business, civil society and academia – with possible circular economy and short-term strategies that might enable the balance between the agri-food markets itself and its environmental, economic and social impacts related to food.

As result of its scientific research, F2I developed the Trade Impact Index (TII).

The TII is almost one of a kind since for the first time an index provides an analysis of the world’s food choices not only based on “taste”, but also on the overall sustainability of the agri-food system, and it focuses on the environmental impact of the global trade in food commodities.

The aim is to engage citizens by raising their awareness about a sustainable and healthy diet through a deep understanding of the linkages between transportation of food and carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). The conclusion leads to the fact that seasonality and local food supply should be used as lever to act on global food sustainability.

Trade Impact Index can enable a more fair trade of food commodities and foster the global shift towards a more sustainable food system.