From degrowth to a sustainable transformation of the food system

Scientists have explained the necessary steps to transform the food system towards a sustainable model.

Benjamin Bodirsky is a researcher at Potsdam and the World Plant Center in Tainan, Taiwan, and one of the study’s authors.

He believes that reducing the size of the current food system will not reduce emissions very much.

Grocery shopping amid inflation
People shop at a grocery store on May 12, 2022 in New York City. The prices of clothing, food, gasoline, and cars are just a few of the items hitting Americans’ pocketbooks despite historically low unemployment.
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But what is needed is to transform the very nature of that global food system.

“That means, on the one hand, that people consume what they need in terms of nutritional requirements, reduce food waste and eat a more balanced diet, with much more vegetables and fewer animal products.”

He added that food should be produced in a less polluting way, using smarter dosing of fertilizers or planting higher-yielding crops.

“Furthermore, carbon pricing could help steer farmers toward low-emission farming practices, because emitting less means paying less.

“Taken together, this could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Bodirsky also said that they “looked at what this system would look like in a hypothetical degrowth world.”

fresh market in turkey
People shop for fresh fruits and vegetables at an open-air market on May 5, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey.
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The world of degrowth is a world with less production and consumption, which means greater social and ecological well-being.

Bodirsky said: “Based on a review of degrowth proposals, we created a set of scenarios to feed into a computer simulation of food and land systems to explore their effect on the food system.”

David Chen, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and also an author of the study, explains: “What we found is that the current food system is basically unsustainable for any society, regardless of economic growth rates.”

The simulations showed that simply curbing growth in rich countries would not bring sustainability benefits to the food system.

Financial transfers from higher to lower income countries within the current development paradigm may even increase emissions.

However, when the scientists included consumption changes and efficiency gains incentivized by a carbon price, the results showed an improved nutritional outcome for all consumers.

These consisted of lower greenhouse gas emissions and consequently less economic activity in agriculture needed for food production.

Wheat and barley crops in Lebanon
Wheat and barley crops managed by ICARDA in the village of Terbol on May 10, 2022, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.
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A sustainable transformation of the food system that takes into account all costs to the environment would mean a slight increase in food prices.

That is why the transformation must be accompanied by a well-thought-out policy mix of smart tax schemes, social compensation for the price of CO2, and international transfers.

Also, making agriculture more climate-friendly requires huge investment, which is challenging.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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