Sustainable Food System

In an era marked by volatility and uncertainty, the world prepares to feed a growing population with a declining resource base. Sustainably increasing production to levels required to ensure global nutritional security is one of today’s world greatest problems.

According to United Nations data, by 2050 the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion people, with growth and increased urbanization particularly pronounced in Asia and Africa. This demographic shift will directly affect consumption patterns, increasing demand for industrial food and value-added products. This growth comes at a time where substantial parts of the global population still experience food insecurity. With roughly 815 million people currently living under food insecurity, production must also increase to feed those that are already hungry. This food needs to be globally accessible and nutritious, with a particular focus to ensure healthy development early in life. UNICEF estimates that more than 150 million children experienced stunting in 2017, roughly 22 percent of children globally. The total number of chronically undernourished population in the world is estimated to have increased to 815 million (11% of world population) in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015. At the same time, the incidence of obesity is growing in virtually all regions of the world. As of 2017, there were approximately 600 million obese adults. Additionally, obesity is associated with other diseases such as diabetes and congestive heart failure. Undernourishment, malnutrition and obesity are all critical challenges that create hardship throughout the world, reducing the quality of life for those affected, and increasing the economic costs to societies and governments.

Without action, increased production of food will drive additional use of critical environmental resources (e.g., water, land, carbon, etc.). Today the agricultural sector, broadly defined, accounts for 69 percent of water use, 36 percent of land use, and 20-24 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Amidst global demographic growth and a changing global climate, it is imperative to turn the food value chain into a positive environmental actor that sustainably utilizes and restores natural resources. Climate change is already contributing to more frequent natural disasters that reduce food availability and generate price volatility. In order to continue feeding future generations, global food producers must broadly adopt sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate, adapt to and increase resilience to climate change. Many of these practices already exist and have demonstrated the potential to increase yield while decreasing the negative environmental impacts (e.g., soil conservation or carbon sequestration). In addition to broad global adoption of existing agricultural best practices, new and innovative technologies need to be developed and deployed across the food value chain to increase yields in a resource efficient way. The average annual yield growth of the last decade (around 1%) needs to increase to produce the food necessary to meet demand from the world's growing population. New technologies (e.g., biotechnology, digital technology, etc.) will play key roles in increasing production yields and maximize resource efficiency to minimize environmental impact.

Alongside enhanced production, the global trade of food must function fluidly while minimizing waste to ensure food security. Global food trade has a critical role to play in feeding the world; by matching food supply to global demand, efficient markets ensure that food is accessible and properly priced across the world. Barriers to global food trade undermine gains from comparative advantage and discourage investment in food production and innovation. In addition to ensuring efficient markets across countries, food value chains must function more efficiently and reduce (or find alternative uses for) food that is lost or wasted. The UN estimates that one third of food is either lost in the pre-harvest, harvest, or processing stages or wasted by distributors and end consumers. Minimizing loss and waste can be one of the most effective ways to achieve a more sustainable food system that provides food security in a resource-efficient way. Creating self-sustaining and efficient secondary food markets or circular economies can decrease the negative environmental and societal effects from food loss and waste.

Based on this context, the task force working group has focused on five primary issues for the G20 leaders to address: eradicating malnutrition, undernourishment and obesity; ensuring environmental conservation and mitigating and adapting to climate change; fostering technology development and adoption; minimizing food loss and waste; and reducing barriers to global food trade.

In planning public policy to address malnutrition, it is essential to consider instances of public-private cooperation and dialogue. Policy should aim to strengthen regulatory frameworks and promote nutritional and healthy lifestyle programs. B20 final recommendations involve reinforcing multilateral food regulatory frameworks, strengthening the role of the Codex Alimentarius as an internationally approved set of guidelines, promoting consumer education and developing food value chains that ensure food availability in developing countries.

G20 leaders should also develop policies, incentives and capabilities to encourage the adoption of new technologies and practices that increase sustainability and resilience of food chains. These should increase productivity and the efficiency of resources while minimizing loss and waste, mitigating climate change, and enhancing soil conservation and ecosystem services that sustain food production. Final recommendations include creating economic benefit systems that incentivize the efficient use of resources, financing the creation and adoption of new technologies, developing public-private partnerships to boost ecosystem management programs, investing in rural productive infrastructure and educating consumers to build responsible consumption habits.

The B20 remains committed to a multilateral trading system that is open, non-discriminatory, and rules-based. However, advances are required to help achieve SDGs throughout global food value chains. Business as usual is not an option. The trading system should progressively eliminate and correct barriers and distortions in global food and agricultural markets, enabling a greater integration of SMEs in developing countries into regional and global value chains. Final policy proposals regarding trade focus on the transparency of non-tariff measures and reducing non-tariff barriers, minimizing tariff barriers and distortive domestic support and promoting the harmonization of regulatory frameworks, following international science-based guidelines established in Codex and other multi-lateral avenues of consensus to prevent new NTBs.