This year, more grain will be harvested than at any time in history. And yet, in this era of plenty, one in nine people do not have enough food to eat. Another two billion may eat, but their meals lack the nutrition necessary for proper health and development. Rapid population growth, dietary shifts towards meat and dairy products, and expanding food production are putting enormous pressure on our ecosystems. If these trends continue, we will be surpassing our planetary boundaries.
And yet, it is not too late to reshape agriculture and food systems to better feed the world and deliver sustainable development. No doubt, governments must play a critical role, but it is not their responsibility alone. It requires an unprecedented effort by all sectors in society, and business must be at the heart of this endeavour. I would like to highlight five priority areas where action is particularly urgently required to shift to more sustainable food systems.
First, we need greater investment, particularly in developing countries where the need and potential for increasing agricultural productivity and production are greatest. This would help feed growing populations sustainably, while creating jobs and incomes across rural areas.
Second, we have to make sure that smallholder farmers, who produce nearly 70% of all food consumed worldwide, are at the heart of all our efforts. Governments and the private sector can and must form innovative partnerships with farmers’ organizations, small farmers, and local agribusinesses, providing access to better seeds, sustainable farming techniques, and modern technologies.
Third, we must ensure that agriculture and food systems become nutrition-smart, because it’s not just about the amount of food we grow, it’s also about the type of food that we consume. Evidence shows that nutrition is crucial for economic growth as better nourished populations are more productive.
Fourth, we need food systems that produce more food but with fewer resources. This requires enforcing policies that promote responsible natural resource management and prevent the loss of natural habitats, forests and biodiversity. It is crucial that businesses source, process and manage resources efficiently to meet growing demand, while preserving our environment and climate.
Fifth, we must seize the moment to push for climate-smart agriculture and food systems. Cutting down agriculture’s climate footprint and shifting towards renewable energy sources will not only help avert climate catastrophe, but also create new opportunities for investment, growth and employment.
I have set out an ambitious agenda. With courage, vision, and bold leadership from every sector, we can move decisively towards truly sustainable food systems and agriculture. We have no time to waste. So let us turn aspiration into action and build a food secure, sustainable, and prosperous world for everybody.
Former UN Secretary-General, Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation