Inherent problems of global food systems :
- Too much energy consumed for cultivation, shipping, processing, packaging and marketing. Also the increasing demand with growing population requires more productivity out of the same piece of land with a reduced fertility. This is countered by fertilizers and pest sprays to increase the yield. This obviously increases the production of GHG, contamination of natural sources, but also ecological footprint of the food systems.
- Shift to Centralized food systems from decentralized traditional farming. Here implications are observed at various levels –
- Demand for produce exceeds the capacity of the land in terms of soil fertility and required water for irrigation (quantity and quality). So the quality deteriorates over time.
- Diet and health – Food is costly due to transport and processing and packaging and becomes unaffordable for poor, leading to major global issues like malnutrition. The issues get aggravated in food desserts. The lack of adequate supply of nutritious food may lead to illness – obesity, diabetes, antibiotic resistance due to pollution with chemical fertilizers.
- What if there are climatic abnormalities or natural disasters that impact the productivity in the region where this centralized food production occurs? Whole country or many countries who import from there get affected. Like the conditions in Mexico and South America impact the imports US gets from there. (local examples like the drought in California)
- Social Inequality in terms of how the workers in the farms and processing units are treated, their lower wages and unsanitary conditions all lead them to look for better jobs in cities. That makes it necessary to depend on machines, increasing the ecological footprint.
- Land use that converts farm lands adjacent to cities to be converted to residential/industrial, this further necessitates centralized farming requirement.
- Too much information – Suppose there is lot of research on the most nutritious natural foods like some varieties of exotic fruits and veggies. The entire world knows how healthy that particular food is and demand of that rises, again the same cycle of too much energy put into addressing that demand. Multinational food industries cash on that. But what about the drastic influences on the ecological footprint? Here one solution is encouraging research on local foods and supplement with a variety of local produce, than that single fruit from far of place.
- Food imported during non-growing seasons are also based on high energy inputs.
Possible solutions for making the food system more Sustainable:
- Learn from and implement the salient features of traditional farming – the principles of mixed farming, crop rotation and livestock being an integral part of farming lands. Here the waste generated from one part of the system can be used as an input to another part. For example, the excretory waste of the livestock can be used as a natural fertilizer for the crop.
- Shifting to natural processes of fertilizing the soil rather than the use of chemical fertilizers and pest control sprays that are harmful for health of all living things on the planet (like the case of DDT)
- Encouraging consumption and production of food locally both at regional as well as urban scale so as to reduce the footprint. This creates certain level of self-sufficiency with the regions.
- Farming at urban or city level using the unbuilt or waste land (vacant land, empty industrial land, public utility or railway properties etc.) which is fit for cultivation (clean the land maybe to make it fit). Also the bio-degradable waste, organic litter from parks generated locally can be used to fertilize soil.
- Less dependence on centralized food systems to reduce ecological foot print to a larger extent.
- The various cycles of food systems should be designed with due importance to ecology and environment. For this it is necessary to involve natural processes with in the food systems, so that the nature can function and support us within its carrying capacity.