By Sharon Atieno

Food experts at the UNEA side event

Poor food consumption and production patterns are the biggest threat to the environment, food experts revealed during an event in the fourth United Nations Assembly (UNEA).

While food production is a major driver of biodiversity loss at 70 percent, it is also the largest consumer of water. In addition, it is a leading source of soil degradation and greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture also leads in causing tropical deforestation.

The main sourcing areas of soy beans which are used as livestock feed especially for beef farming, are the areas with the biggest rates of deforestation in regions such as the Paraguayan Chaco and Brazil’s Cerrado.

Soy production which is mainly done through genetic modification favours external markets, where it is exported to feed livestock and displaces food crops that would otherwise contribute to local food security.

Despite agriculture being a major threat to nature, many people are not aware of it. In a global study conducted by the World Wide Fund for nature (WWF), 91 percent of the respondents did not know the extent of the threat the food system poses to nature.

The study further reveals that awareness is lowest in some of the world’s most populated countries including the United States of America and Indonesia.

“There is a limit to how much the government can do to put policies and regulations to address this issue,” said Zitouni Ould-Dada, deputy director, climate and environment division, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the event, “at the end consumers set the demand for particular food and food products.”

The number of obese and overweight people is on the rise at 2 billion. The increase is not only in developed countries but also in developing countries.

He notes that the rate of obesity is increasing in the developing countries due to improved living standards which makes people consume more meat and other products which come at an expense.

Ironically, as the number of obese and overweight people is increasing, the number of hungry people is also increasing. Noting that there is a problem with the quantity of food as well as the nutritional value, Ould-Dada adds that: “the current food systems are broken and not fit for purpose particularly under the current situation of climate change.”

The deputy director at FAO recommends that to fix the problem, people have to change from producing food to feed people to producing food to nourish people.

“If you want to change the food system, you have to see what is happening on the ground,” said Martina Fleckenstein, Food policy manager, WWF. “It starts at the production and ends at the consumption.”

She added that consumers have to understand where their food is coming from and how it is produced, urging them to go for more plant-based and nutritious food which results to change in agricultural production.

According to WWF, changing food systems involves putting more biodiversity at the table. Biodiversity at the table refers to eating better meat, eating organic meat and eating less meat with more biodiverse products such as plant-based products.

Some of the actions that WWF is taking towards changing the food system include tasting forgotten food (crops which are no longer available)and are working with chefs on this initiative as well as working with women on kitchen gardens to develop recipes and menus of local and seasonal food.

They also have a project on sustainable diner which raises awareness in hospitality sector and tourism. In this, they aim to reduce food and plastic waste and have more local and seasonal food which is more nutritious and plant-based while conserving resources such as electricity and water.

A third of the food produced for human consumption is lost during production or consumption. Leaving food unfinished is food wasting. Putting enough portion of food and finishing the portion is key to reducing food waste. Emissions are created when food is sent to landfills and in the process water, land and energy is wasted.

Awareness, education and efficiency are essential in making food consumption and production sustainable. ”Our responsibility has to do with eating and consuming responsibly,” urged Ould-Dada. “Unless we understand what this really means to our health and environment, we are not going to change the way we grow, purchase and consume food because at the moment it is not sustainable.”