OSCAR SABAG MUNOZ (YOUNG PROFESSIONAL), LEONARDO VERKOOIJEN (YOUNG PROFESSIONAL)
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 2:
Beëindig honger, bereik voedselzekerheid en verbeterde voeding en promoot duurzame landbouw
The second global goal for sustainable development calls for us to not only end hunger, but also promote sustainable agriculture and improve food security and nutrition – three interdependent objectives that ultimately call for a transformation of the food system as a whole to a truly sustainable state.
Structural food insecurity affects 795 million people[i], impairing health and educational development while ultimately entrenching cycles of poverty. Farmers and fishermen, the main providers of our food, are among the world’s poorest[ii]. Food production activities are a major driver of biodiversity loss in land and water through agricultural expansion, overfishing, release of nutrient waste and agrochemicals, introduction of invasive species, and climate change. Agriculture nowadays occupies about 50% of the plant-habitable surface of the planet[iii] and uses around 70% of freshwater extractions[iv]. The entire food chain, and its embodied energy use, contributes with up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A holistic transition to sustainability in the food system is necessary not only for the achievement of SDG-2, but for many others.
We produce enough food to sustain our population, but it’s uncertain whether production will continue to meet the 60% increase of demand, above 2006 levels, expected by 2050[v]. Our current practices have high outputs, but erode the natural capital base that provide the foundation of the system. Industrial farming practices erode fertile soils and deplete fossil aquifers, both effectively non-renewable resources, and the whole system depends on fossil fuels to function. Monoculturing and homogenization of agricultural varieties facilitate economies of scale in production, but have decreased the genetic diversity of our food supply.
If we are to attain a world with zero hunger, we must create systems that meet today’s food demand without risking collapse for future generations. We can envision such a system with general principles to guide us: the food system must provide enough food for all people, have no negative impacts on the environment, provide adequate livelihoods to its workers, and become resilient and adaptive to future changes. This requires multiple and coordinated interventions, from agriculture to trade networks, and support activities in funding and research.
There are no universal solutions and we must understand the importance of context to determine what’s the best approach in each circumstance. There is a place for both landless and agroecological production methods. High-precision techniques in controlled environments can be integrated into the urban space to liberate space for ecosystems. Polycropping methods can yield additional environmental services and sustain biodiversity in semi-natural environments. We must completely remove policies, such as the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, that encourage biofuels in the energy mix. A 2015 amendment to this policy capped food-based biofuels at 7% of the fuel mix by 2020[vi], but this still creates unnecessary pressure on the environment and increases food prices.
We need to close nutrient cycles to reduce the demand for energy-intensive chemical fertilizers and prevent the loss of phosphorus – a critical and non-renewable resource. Owing to its intensive livestock production, the Netherlands has historically been unable to curtail its nitrogen emissions. An example that can demonstrate how the Netherlands can move forward in this direction is a vision developed by Metabolic for a circular food system in North-east Brabant. It is based on principles of sustainable protein production, for example, using insects as livestock feed, stimulating techniques such as soil-less systems, promoting industrial symbiosis between different food producers, and closing nutrient cycles within Western Europe.
We also need to look at consumers and trigger long-lasting shifts to lower impact diets. This means decreasing meat, and especially beef, consumption, but also developing alternative protein sources such as insects, seaweed, and even cultured meat. By switching animal feed from a grain-based diet (that has a high concentration of fertilizers) to an insect-based feed, impacts can be lowered significantly, for instance, by replacing soy-based feeds that can be associated with deforestation of the Amazon. A Dutch example that other countries can follow can be found in Protix Biosystems, one of the few companies that produces insect-based animal feed and has the potential to push this system change in the right direction.
About 30% of our food is lost in the production chain or wasted by consumers[vii]. There are Dutch initiatives that are tackling this problem, like Instock, a restaurant which uses food that would be normally thrown away by supermarkets. Another example is De Verspillingsfabriek, or the Waste Factory, which uses vegetables that have imperfections and leftovers, to make soups and sauces. These are both concepts that can be replicated and scaled in other parts of the world.
Institutional changes are also needed. Improved governance at the high seas and sustainable extraction management are urgent to prevent the collapse of most commercial fisheries, 58% of which are fully exploited and 31% overexploited. Global supply chains connect the most vulnerable with the strongest actors. Instead of serving to entrench poverty and facilitate continued environmental damage across the world, we need to redesign these relationships to build capacity and transfer wealth and capital to the developing world. Moreover, we must ensure the expansion of the resource base in these countries: improving infrastructure, developing knowledge centers, generating open-access technology, and creating safety mechanisms such as agricultural insurances. Dutch partnerships such as the FMO Entrepreneurial Development Bank and IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative) collaboration are actively supporting smallholder farmers in the developing world through financing that is used for infrastructure or grants that are for training, farmer aggregation structures and other necessary farmer development mechanisms.
It’s through this holistic perspective, where we tackle these complex problems on all fronts and head towards a common vision, that can create a world with zero hunger, today and in the future.
Metabolic is a pioneer of using systems thinking to tackle sustainability challenges. Our approach is recognized by governments, businesses and non-profits around the world. We provide consultancy, crunch data, create new technologies, build showcases, scale up innovations and set up new ventures. We empower society through education and communication and our Foundation helps us take our expertise to more communities. Headquartered in Amsterdam, we have an international and interdisciplinary team. Our overarching mission is to transition the global economy to a fundamentally sustainable state.
Oscar grew up in México but he went on to take his Bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. While traveling abroad, he became passionate about international affairs and cultures, which led him to pursue a Masters in Environmental Policy at the Paris Institute of Political Science and Peking University. Oscar is one of the leading researchers, analysts, and authors for complex systems thinking projects at Metabolic.
Leonardo and Oscar are both Consultants at Metabolic, a leading consulting and venture-building company that uses systems thinking to tackle major sustainability challenges. Metabolic’s overarching mission is to transition the global economy to a fundamentally sustainable – and circular – state. Headquartered in Amsterdam, it has an international and interdisciplinary team.
Leonardo was born in the Netherlands but then grew up in Peru and Bolivia. Before working directly in sustainability, Leonardo worked at the World Bank and UNDP in Nicaragua and the Dutch Embassy in Cuba. His passion for challenging the status quo led him to roles at the Principles for Responsible Investment, FMO Entrepreneurial Development Bank, Enfoca Private Equity Fund, UTZ Certified and True Price. At Metabolic, Leonardo provides strategic consultancy to companies and NGOs, as well as city and municipal governments.
[i] Hunger Statistics. World Food Program. Available on: https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats
[ii] FAO (2014). State of Food and Agriculture. Innovation in Family Farming.
[iii] Metabolic calculations based on FAO agricultural land use data and other sources. Results published in WWF’s Living Planet Report (2016).
[iv] Water uses. Food and agriculture organization. Available online on: http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/water_use/index.stm
[v] FAO (2016). State of Food and Agriculture. Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.
[vi] Renewable energy directive. European commission (2017).
[vii] FAO (2016). State of Food and Agriculture. Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.