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Sustainable Food and Agriculture Ecosystems

Growing food to meet the demand of diverse types of nutritional requirements for increasing human population, in a way that is not detrimental to human health and the environment, is one of the top agendas around the world. One solution to achieve this is to integrate nature’s values into social and economic system in the context of agriculture and food systems. The global development goals of the United Nations, widely knowns as Sustainable Development Goals include eradication of hunger, poverty alleviation and achievement of health and well-being among other goals, for all by 2030. However, there is large gap in our understanding about the ways in which nutritional food can be produced in sufficient amount and distributed to the needy, without harming nature and human health. Therefore, an alternative approach is required to address the issue of food production, distribution (food and nutritional security) and consumption, by including all positive and negative externalities of the food and agriculture ecosystems, with a holistic view for global agriculture.

One such approach, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), is a United Nations initiative, which has been instrumental in internalizing the ecological and economic aspects of the biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation due to human activities, since 2010. Recent efforts of the TEEB project are focused on agriculture and food systems and aimed at highlighting the importance of all externalities of the agriculture production, distribution and consumption through the ongoing TEEBAgriFood study. This study seeks to understand and value links between agriculture, nature, and human well-being to inform public and private decision- making. It advocates that the social, human and natural capital in food and agriculture ecosystems should be identified, measured and valued by our economic system so that appropriate policies can be developed to minimise negative externalities ( ).

Some studies suggest that in the next few decades, food production would need to double to keep pace with projected demands from population growth, dietary changes, and increasing bioenergy use. This raises important questions of sustainability: questions such as where these increases would come from? what production systems would be used given the various resource constraints? and how these increases could translate into poverty alleviation strategies? It also raises fundamental questions of how systems could be evolved to reduce food waste (currently estimated at over 30% along the value chain) and how to better educate and manage food demand, given the inefficiencies of our current food and agriculture systems.

In response to some of the above questions, an upcoming TEEBAgriFood ( ) report seeks to address all positive and negative externalities and help shift policy environments towards long term sustainability of agricultural and food systems.

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