Worldwide, material consumption and per capita production are expanding. Currently, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.7 planet Earths to provide resources for production and waste absorption.¹ According to a moderate UN scenario, if current population and consumption trends persist, by the 2030s, humanity will require the equivalent of two Earths to sustain human life¹.
Transitioning to the environmental impact of food, about a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are linked to food production. This consequently necessitates a global food system reform². Furthermore, it is crucial to address what we eat and how it’s produced to combat climate change, as well as reducing water stress and pollution, restoring lands to forests or grasslands and protecting wildlife.
A circular food system
It is important not focus on just one aspect of the value chain. Sustainable food production extends beyond manufacturing. It embraces a circular design across the food system. This involves moving away from conventional models. Adopting a sustainable ‘close the loop’ approach builds resilient regenerative value chains within the limits of natural capital and ecosystems.
Sustainable food production starts in agriculture. Over 95 percent of our food is produced on land. Therefore, our choices regarding what to seed impact the entire ecosystem. Furthermore, 38 percent of the land is used for agriculture. Additionally, our food system choices result in 75 percent of the land being used for animal agriculture. Our food system has broadly limited our diet to five crops. However, we still have hundreds of plant foods that are nutritious, resilient and healing for the planet. Notably, there are 20,000 species of edible plants worldwide, yet fewer than 20 provide 90 percent of our food.
To reverse the trend, regenerative agriculture — a conservation and rehabilitation approach — should be practiced. When successfully implemented, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability and higher health and vitality for communities and economies. Additionally, it creates soil capable of producing high-nutrition food while simultaneously improving its quality. For instance, nitrogen-fixing plants, like fava beans, are vital to crop rotation. Choosing climate-smart crops over traditional fertilizer for nitrogen enrichment is essential to ensure nutritious and healthy beans while promoting sustainable agriculture practices.
Studies indicate that transitioning to a plant-based food system can yield monumental environmental benefits. A key aspect is a decrease of 75 percent-95 percent in agricultural land occupation (m²a)⁴. Furthermore, it improves soil health and biodiversity while providing varied nutrition
Water efficiency innovation
Plant-based food systems have the potential to conserve 96-98 percent of blue water consumption. Transitioning involves improving cropping patterns, innovating irrigation systems and introducing rainwater harvesting. Pulses, being water-efficient, offer resilience to prolonged droughts.
In addressing the freshwater shortage in the GCC, sustainable desalination methods and linking desalination technologies to renewable energy are effective solutions.
Demonstrating water efficiency encompasses designing water-efficient food technologies and utilizing direct metering to assess environmental impact. Identifying optimization hot spots, like CIP water efficiency, enhances overall sustainability.
Accelerating the transition from conventional to clean energy
The choice of primary energy significantly impacts global warming potential. One advantage of plant-based food systems is their potential to cut 60-70 percent of primary energy demands⁴. Furthermore, the GCC has the highest solar exposure in the world. Thus, there is a significant opportunity to accelerate the transition to 100 percent renewable energy in food production.
Minimizing waste and pollutants over a product’s life cycle is another essential element of a sustainable system. Initiatives could include converting raw materials into end products with less waste. Moreover, we can reduce the consumption of virgin material in packaging by transitioning to fully recycled solutions. Furthermore, waste segregation and zero waste to landfill are crucial practices. Closing the loop through recycling involves collecting products from customers and reusing them. Also, donating excess food to charities and converting food waste to biofuels can contribute to comprehensive sustainability efforts, promoting environmental responsibility.