Food Sustainability Index presented at Cambridge Global Food Security Symposium

On April 8th and 9th I attended the Cambridge Global Food Security Symposium 2019, which focused on generating practical solutions for India and Africa. I presented the Food Sustainability Index on day 2 of the conference.

The event had three streams: 1) greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable agriculture; 2) food supply chains and trade; 3) gender, nutrition and policy. It also gave early-career researchers plenty of opportunities to present their latest research and appeal for support.

Delegates included students and academic staff from Cambridge and other universities.

Highlights from the conference:

  • Sustainable intensification in agriculture will not be enough to meet growing global food demand sustainably. A major shift to plant-based diets and food waste reduction are also required.
  • Recent evidence from rice in India and its greenhouse gas emissions highlights the need for interdisciplinary and multicriteria approaches. The economic, social and environmental context is often not taken into account in technology appraisal.
  • There is a need to account for the water footprint of food production. Each person’s indirect water use in the UK amounts to ~5,000 litres/day. The production of 1kg of chocolate requires around 17,000 litres of water. We may need a “carbon price” for water, but is society ready to pay for the true cost of water?
  • Looking at the food value chains, it becomes clear that business action is crucial to finding solutions to food security and food sustainability challenges.
Food security and corporate action
  • Digital technologies hold great potential for boosting food security and food sustainability in a developed-market context (e.g. personalisation in e-commerce), developing-market context (e.g. precision agriculture) and international-trade context (e.g. use of biomarkers to strengthen traceability).
  • Smallholders supply 80% of food produced in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. But how do socially responsible supply networks look like? Research into new digital farmer producer organisations (FPOs) sheds light on new opportunities for coalition-building in India.
  • An interesting study shows that trade (in this case inter-state trade in cereals within India) can reduce a country’s water footprint. This chimes with other studies showing positive effects of trade (including international) on efficient water use.
  • How to build sustainable food systems in Africa? Ethiopia has focused not only on high yields but also on political commitment, markets, nutritional value, crop diversity and clustering food systems.
  • Lack of data remains a challenge for measuring food-system progress and challenges in Africa. Data collection and analysis are improving, e.g. via the Africa Agriculture Transformation Scorecard.
  • The gender dimension of food security is crucial, highlighted for example by maternal (and child) malnourishment and underpaid/unpaid agricultural work in many countries. The “three Rs” to address the imbalances are Recognition, Redistribution and Representation.
  • Women’s group farms hold potential in reducing political and market failures in farming as well as boosting access to land, funds, inputs, skills, economies of scale, bargaining power and autonomy. But circumstances matter (politics, ecology etc). Wider tenancy reforms are required.

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