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UNEP report on sustainable food systems

A new report published by UNEP argues that the world needs to focus on maintaining and boosting the underlying ecological foundations that support food production to help ensure food security for a growing population. 

It says that the debate on food security so far has largely revolved around availability, access, utilization and stability as the four pillars of food security, barely touching on the resource base and ecosystem services that prop up the whole food system.

The report aims to increase the focus on these crucial environmental aspects, which are being undermined by overfishing, unsustainable water use and other human activities. It also frames the debate in the context of the Green Economy, calling for food production and consumption practices that ensure productivity without undermining ecosystem services.

The report outlines the many environmental problems resulting from the way agriculture and fisheries are currently practiced and managed and makes the following recommendations:

  • Build centralized storage and cooling facilities for small-scale farmers to help get their produce to market faster, thus avoiding food loss
  • Promote sustainable diets to avoid that the trend that as consumers become more affluent their diet often becomes unhealthier, in particular promoting lower consumption of meat and dairy products in developed countries
  • Re-consider quality standards for food that lead to unnecessary wastage
  • Design sustainable agriculture, not only on individual farms, but scaling up to the landscape and national level. Examples are improving soil management, making agricultural water use more efficient and integrated nutrient management

Sustainable agriculture can be scaled up by supporting farmers, extending land tenure rights to farmers to encourage stewardship and rewarding farmers and farming communities for ecosystem stewardship

Economic strategies consistent with green economy thinking are also fundamental to scaling up sustainable agriculture, such as:

  • Eliminating subsidies that contribute to overfishing (the global fishery sector receives up to US$25-30 billion) and habitat destruction, and redirecting funds into investment for sustainable fishery management and capacity building.
  • Providing incentives for sustainable fisheries such as subsidies for conversion of fishing gears to less-damaging alternatives
  • Introducing fiscal measures such as taxation and levies on harvest volume and increased fines on illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing
  • Draw small shareholders into the global food economy and make them part of the system of certifying sustainable practices in agriculture and fisheries
  • Where technically feasible, maximum sustained yields" of marine fisheries should be calculated and adhered to with enforcement arrangements and economic incentives. In poorer countries and for small-scale marine fisheries, a "comanagement" approach can work in which fishers might agree to fish size or species limitations, seasonal closures of fisheries
  • Establish networks of Aquatic Protected Areas
  • Conserve marine fisheries by reducing land-based pollution sources that lead to "dead zones" in coastal areas



UNEP, 2012. Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Foundation of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya.

You can download the report here.


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