World Food Day 2021: Recognising the Importance of Food Sustainability
15 October 2022
Written by Eva Thorshaug, Intern at Business for Peace Foundation
16th October is the World Food Day, an event marked worldwide to commemorate the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945 and to shine a light on the ways in which food systems affect our wellbeing and society. In 2021, the topic of food systems, agriculture and human rights remains as relevant as ever. The theme this year is therefore “Our actions are our future — Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life”.
One of the major challenges for humanity in the 21st century is to find ways to feed the world’s ever growing population in a sustainable manner and in consideration of human rights across the world. The main issue is to establish food systems that ensure that food value chains — from early production and all the way to consumption — are in line with the environmental limitations of our planet while at the same time guaranteeing adequate food for everyone.
What is the connection between food systems, human rights and business?
The relationship between food systems, business and human rights is complex and involves a host of different stakeholders. At its core, the interaction between these three elements covers a range of issues from food production and trade, to environmental impact, social justice and human wellbeing. As such, the necessary change can only come from a targeted effort covering all three elements.
Hunger and conflict are connected in what can only be deemed a vicious circle. Fighting and conflict drives large numbers of people from their homes, their land and their jobs, increasing the likelihood of them going hungry. But the opposite is also true.
Food deprivation can light the fuse of social tension, which may ultimately incite or exacerbate conflicts. In other words, food security, peace and stability go together.
Without peace, ending world hunger becomes impossible and while there is hunger, there cannot be a peaceful world. In light of this, the World Food Programme (WFP) was Awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” WFP’s mandate to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition is an essential element in breaking the cycle of poverty, showcasing how food security is essential for both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
The necessary rethinking of food systems to meet future challenges cannot happen without the full commitment of the business community. A growing consensus has emerged that the only way to feed current and future populations and at the same time not use up all resources is by reorienting food production, distribution and policies. In response to these challenges, the notion of food sustainability has emerged. In short, it proposes a holistic vision of food systems and assesses their impacts at social, economic, cultural and environmental levels.
It is also grounded in general principles that undergird sustainable development, notably democratic governance of natural resources and consideration of human rights standards. In the myriad of stakeholders that make up the supply chain in food systems, human rights considerations risk being discarded. And while governments hold the power to regulate business activity, the business community itself also has a responsibility to establish strong internal human rights policies, conduct the necessary due diligence and prevent human rights abuse at all levels of their supply chains. Without the full effort of the business community, the necessary changes of food systems will remain difficult.
Sustainable agriculture as a driver for peace
Hunger, unsustainable agriculture and malnutrition all pose major challenges to the full realisation of the right to food and by extension the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda underscores the need to approach food systems from a rights-based perspective. Specifically, SDG 2 commits states to: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. SDG 2 is outlined as such that it recognises the interconnectedness of sustainable agriculture, rural poverty, promotion of gender equality, tackling climate change and more. Tackling the issue of food sustainability is thus a multifaceted effort.
As the world population shows no signs of stopping its growth, an increased effort and innovation will be imperative in order to sustainably increase agricultural production to meet the needs of a growing population. The global supply chain also needs to be improved to take human rights into greater consideration at every step. Finally, a sustained effort needs to be made towards the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. Extreme poverty and hunger are predominantly rural, with smallholder farmers and their families making up a very significant proportion of the poor and hungry. Thus, eradicating poverty and hunger are integrally linked to boosting food production, agricultural productivity and rural incomes.
Especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need to pursue food systems and agricultural production from a holistic and integrated perspective has become clear. Not only does the scarcity of resources such as land, water and healthy soils make it imperative to use and manage them sustainably. Food security also needs to be viewed through the wider lens of stability in our societies.
An example of such an approach is Coffee for Peace (CFP) led by “Joji” Felicitas Bautista Pantoja, Business for Peace Honouree in 2020. Based in the Philippines, Coffee for Peace uses coffee production as a tool to address the economic, environmental and peace issues prevalent in conflict-affected communities. Through its work, CFP provides sustainable livelihoods for indigenous and migrant groups in rural areas, enabling over 880 farmers to escape poverty and build their coffee production capacity. By focusing on sustainable agriculture, peace and reconciliation between religious groups, environmental protection, and social entrepreneurship, CFP demonstrates how a holistic view of food production can be a vehicle for peace and sustainability.
What the future holds
Building resilient food systems worldwide will be a key focus to avoid future large-scale food shortages and ensuring food security for all, as well as the effects it will have on peace and sustainability efforts. The World Food Day on October 16th this year focuses especially on such efforts, highlighting how today’s production impacts future food security and its effects.
This article was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.