17 Oct 2018 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

UN Environment wins prestigious award for new work on food, agriculture and biodiversity

Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT

On the occasion of World Food Day, the World Future Council announced the 2018 Future Policy Award winners. The Future Policy Award is the only award which honours policies on an international level. UN Environment (TEEBAgrifood) was among this year’s winners, as recipient of the Vision Award.

“The Vision Award goes to TEEBAgriFood, an initiative of ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ (TEEB) by UN Environment. TEEBAgriFood has developed a comprehensive evaluation framework for food systems that helps decision-makers to compare different policies and the market to value food more accurately,” writes the World Future Council.

For sustainable, equitable and healthy farming, as well as food distribution and consumption, a systems approach is needed, as all these elements need to be considered in an integrated fashion.

UN Environment’s TEEBAgriFood report organizes the complexities of three main blocks of the food value chain – food production, distribution and consumption. It provides a new evaluation framework to capture malign and benign impacts of food production, distribution and consumption to make it sustainable, equitable and healthy. In doing so, it provides guidance for the global food sector that employs 1.3 billion – more people than any other sector.

To nourish more than 7 billion people (up to 10 billion by 2050), adequate food production is necessary. But the way this production is taking place in many parts of the world is adversely impacting climate, surface water, ground water, top soil, biodiversity, coasts and marine environments.

Burning rice residues in southeast Punjab, India. The practice is controversial because it worsens air pollution in Delhi. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT

The size and nature of these impacts might critically undermine the effort of humans to grow food on a sustainable basis. This would be devastating for the world’s poor, of whom 821 million are already undernourished.

A systems approach

The magnitude of the challenge to nourish a growing population requires a systems approach, which has thus far been lacking. TEEBAgriFood addresses “eco-agri-food systems”, linking human health with planetary health. To do so, it provides a universal and comprehensive framework to analyze and assess all major positive and negative externalities of current eco-agri-food systems and provides advice on dealing with serious and complex challenges.

Today, the very base of food production is threatened by climate change. Global and national modelling studies suggest that yields of major cereals will decline under scenarios of increased temperature, especially in tropical countries. Water scarcity threatens the ability of large parts of the world to continue its present agricultural growth. Biodiversity loss, including of critical crop pollinators, and loss of soil quality will both have substantial impacts on global fruit and vegetable supply and thereby on population health.

Food is at risk from these global challenges, and at the heart of them. Food production generates an estimated 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and accounts for substantial proportions of land-use change, including drought and land degradation and global water consumption.

The scientific and policy world is struggling with the question of how to design a sustainable food production system which is equitable and healthy for people and planet, provides an authoritative assessment of the trends and condition of agricultural ecosystems, their value creation, and their consumption impacts.

For further information please contact Pushpam Kumar: Pushpam.Kumar[at]un.org