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Food systems and natural resources

Launched on the 25 May 2016 and published by the Food Systems working group of the International Resource Panel (IRP), this report provides a comprehensive scientific assessment of the current status and dynamics of natural resource use in food systems and their environmental impacts. The report looks at food as a crucial connection point (a ‘node’) where various societal issues coincide, such as human dependence on natural resources, the environment, health and wellbeing. Rather than looking separately at resources such as land, water and minerals, the IRP has chosen a systems approach. The report looks at all the resources needed for the primary production of food, as well as for other food system activities (e.g. processing, distribution) considering not only the set of activities, but also the range of actors engaged  in them and the outcomes in terms of food security, livelihoods and human health. 

Global food systems have radically changed over the last 50 years. Food production has more than  doubled, diets have become more varied (and often more energy-intense) satisfying people’s preferences  in terms of form, taste and quality, and numerous  local, national and multi-national food-related enterprises have emerged providing livelihoods for millions. Nonetheless, over 800 million people are still hungry (70% of which live in rural areas in developing countries), about two billion suffer from poor nutrition, and over two billion are overweight or obese. The resource use implications and environmental impacts of these food systems are significant. In general, of all economic activities, the food sector has by far the largest impact on natural resource use as well as on the environment. An estimated 60% of global terrestrial biodiversity loss is related to food production; food systems account for around 24% of the global greenhouse gas emissions and an estimated 33% of soils are moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, compaction and chemical pollution.

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Sarah Cummings
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3 June 2016

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