Every region of the World is the worst affected
Each month, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) releases a monthly food price index. The release on 3 June showed that food prices have surged by 40%, the largest rise since 2011. The impact of this food price rise will grievously hit developing countries, most of whom are major importers of food staples.
Prices rise for a range of reasons, the current rise largely fuelled by the collapse of sizeable sections of the global economy during the pandemic. Warnings of general inflation due to lockdown-related pent-up demand, shipping bottlenecks, and oil price increases loom over richer states, which–due to the power of the wealthy bondholders–have few tools to manage inflation, and by poorer states, which swirl in a cataclysmic debt crisis.
Rising food prices come at a time when unemployment rates in many parts of the world have skyrocketed. On 2 June, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released its annual World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021 report, which showed, as expected, that the pandemic-related economic collapse has meant the loss of hundreds of millions of jobs and working hours.
Sustainable Consumption: A view from the Global South
The global discourse on sustainability has revolved around the need to transition towards “Sustainable Consumption” ever since it was introduced during the 1992 Earth Summit chaired by Maurice Strong, a Canadian businessman who made his wealth from the oil and gas industry.
A couple of years later, the 1994 Oslo Symposium on “Sustainable Consumption” sought to resolve the ambiguities around the term’s definition and decided to define it as: “the use of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while minimising the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardise the needs of future generations.” (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals n.d.).
Rethinking Food Systems
Over decades, as populations have grown, more people are consuming – and wasting more food – than ever before. Unsustainable food production and consumption patterns are a common thread, running through many of the greatest challenges facing humanity today.
Between 2000 and 2010, large-scale commercial agriculture accounted for 40 per cent of tropical deforestation; and local subsistence agriculture was not far behind, accounting for another 33 per cent. But human food systems depend on biodiversity to function, and conventional food systems reduce biodiversity – effectively destroying their own foundation.
Food & nutrition: Imagining a future-fit world
Estimates show that an additional 150 million people will be pushed into poverty and hunger by the end of 2021. Unfortunately, it has taken the pandemic to show that we need to move from siloed thinking to systems thinking. What does this mean for future-fit thinking? Here are a few recommendations:
First, we must think circular. This means that it is no longer possible for us to decouple the consumer and producer nature of most individuals: Especially in rural economies, recognising this twin identity of most people is critical. In turn, this means that incentives for both consumption and production systems must change in lock-step. As we change producer prices, we must carefully consider the implications for food consumption patterns.