The war in Ukraine, dry spells and droughts followed by heavy rainfall and flooding are major challenges for our food systems. But the problems that they bring to light are nothing new – and solutions are already to hand.
The war in Ukraine has rekindled the debate about food security and self-sufficiency. Proposals based on further intensification and increased production as the appropriate response to the associated supply crises disregard the negative environmental impacts of this approach. Proposals to reduce dependencies on inputs such as mineral fertilisers and fossil fuels, with a massive expansion of extensive production systems such as organic agriculture, overlook the fact that these systems produce lower yields.
Bloated food systems
The problems facing our food systems are not new. However, the war has turned the spotlight on some of their most critical aspects. The developed countries’ food systems are heavily dependent on external inputs, and a significant proportion of output is lost in the form of food waste. These systems also rely on arable crops to feed substantial numbers of farm animals. As a result, the food systems are vast in scale – bloated, so to speak, when measured in terms of their mass, nutrient and energy turnover.
Ways and means to solve the problems have been available for some time. Reducing the scale of our food systems is perhaps the most effective approach to address the challenges relating to environmental impacts, food security and global markets. Substantially reducing the production and consumption of foods of animal origin and drastically cutting food waste must be front and centre.
- A vision for the future of food and agriculture in Switzerland and the EU is emerging: less livestock, less waste, more cropland to produce food directly instead of producing animal feed.
- This will require a radical and long-term transformation of food systems. But we can – and must – act now.
- The war in Ukraine is an additional reason to act now by identifying the steps that will be necessary for this transformation in the coming years and progressing the restructuring process.
- Even initial steps towards reducing animal feed production on cropland would create new opportunities to respond to short-term supply crises.