The hidden costs of the current food system are estimated to amount to USD12 trillion a year, rising to USD16 trillion by 2050, according to the the first integrated and global assessment of the social, economic and health benefits of transforming food and land use systems, by the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU). By comparison, the market value of the global food system is estimated to be USD10 trillion.
The report identifies the externalities as footed by the environment, by public health, and by land workers and indigenous peoples. It also argues that reforming the food system across 10 critical transition areas can dramatically improve food security as well as environmental outcomes, bring benefit to public health, increase the inclusivity of development, and would generate an annual societal return of USD5.7 trillion while creating new business opportunities up to USD4.5 trillion a year by 2030.
These 10 critical transitions include: promoting healthy diets, scaling productive and regenerative agriculture, protecting and restoring nature, securing a healthy and productive ocean, diversifying protein supply, reducing food loss and waste, building local loops and linkages, harnessing the digital revolution, delivering stronger rural livelihoods, and improving gender equality and accelerating the demographic transition.
This report bolsters statements from the IPCC's Special Report on Climate Change and Land, published in August 2019. Food and land use systems contribute to roughly 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are the primary culprit for the ongoing 6th mass extinction. Further, malnutrition (including obesity, childhood stunting and undernutrition) is the leading cause of death and disease in the world. Moreover, the traditional economic structure of food and land use systems gives rise to immense power imbalances, exemplified by the fact that two-thirds of the 740 million people living in extreme poverty are agricultural workers and their dependents. And, while indigenous peoples and local communities are responsible for managing over 40% of the world’s remaining ecologically intact lands, ownership is only formally recognised in just 10% of this area.
In the ongoing climate and ecological crises, reform is desperately needed. These crises will further exacerbate public health and societal inequalities if these challenges are not addressed urgently and systemically. However, what impact will the report have and will action come quickly enough?