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Centering Social-Ecological Diversity and Interdependence in Our Food Systems

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Takeshi Ito, KASA Sustainability


Healthy, nutritious, and sufficient food is closely linked to human well-being and the biosphere’s sustainability. Yet, are our food systems equipped with what is necessary to meet the goals? They gain little support from the current situation. Nearly one in three people in the world did not have access to adequate food in 2020–an annual increase of 320 million people from 2.05 to 2.37 billion (FAO 2021). Agriculture, forestry, and other land use contribute roughly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC 2022). Our food systems, based on the assumption of scarcity, simply focus on quantities; increasing food production has been seen as the main solution for global food security. While our food system has increased the volume of food production, they have not improved the nutritional content of food, and the world’s population of obese people has more than doubled since 1980 (Gordon et al. 2017). Furthermore, our food systems have also reduced crop diversity and homogenized our diets. Over time, humans have eaten around 6,000 plant species, but we consume just nine–of which rice, wheat, and maize provide 50 percent of all calories (Saladino 2021).


Ensuring access to healthy, nutritious, and sufficient food for all requires shifting the focus from scarcity, efficiency, and monocropping to on relations, quality, and diversity.

This suggests that farming as a way of life-making should foreground the principle of biodiversity and recognize the interdependence between human and nature rather than separating them. While farming alters landscapes suitable for the production of plants and livestock, it not only establishes social relations but also (re)connects producers to nature in ways that entwine social and ecological systems, rather than separating them. Such social-ecological relations are often reciprocal and resilient; while producers benefit from environmental resources, they take good care of soil, water, plants, livestock, and other organisms, creating biodiversity. Farming thus deepens the interdependent relationship between social-ecological systems, placing producers within a local ecology. Industrial agriculture has standardized and simplified nature, separated producers from nature and communities, and taken ecosystem services for granted. On the International Day of Food Safety, we recognize the diversity and interdependence of social-ecological systems as an essential guide for ensuring access to healthy, nutritious, and sufficient food for all.


*This reflection was published by SACRU (Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities) website as part of observing World Food Safety Day 2022.

To read other reflections on food, visit the website:


References

FAO. 2021. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. FAO, Rome.

Gordon, J. et al. 2017. Rewiring Food Systems to Enhance Human Health and Biosphere Stewardship.Environmental Research Letters 12, 1-12.

IPCC. 2022. Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Working Group III contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report.

Saladino, D. 2021. Eating to Extinction. Jonathan Cape, London.

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