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Sustainability through nutritious diets

In a world facing increasing competition for scarce resources (e.g. water), resource degradation (e.g. soils), increased uncertainty (e.g. climate change), volatility (e.g. fuel and food prices), conflict (e.g. land tenure) and wastage (e.g. one third of all food is lost during post-harvest handling and retailing), food and nutrition security has become an issue of efficiency, resilience to shocks and distributional equity.

The problem of undernourishment, with roughly one billion people going hungry, is super-imposed by the problem of micronutrient malnutrition, with roughly 1.7 billion people1 overweight and obese. At both ends of the spectrum, individuals are not deriving sufficient nutrition from their diets. Improving nutrition through better diets can also reduce the ecological impact of dietary choices.

A shift to more sustainable diets would trigger upstream effects on the food production (e.g. diversification) and processing chain. Improved diets, in terms of micro-nutrients density and quality will be more sustainable, resulting in substantial gains for both the environmental and public health.

Making the transition to GEA will require reflecting the true costs – economic, environmental and social – of different systems in the price of products. This entails internalizing external costs associated with resource depletion and environmental degradation and setting of incentives that encourage sustainable and resilient practices that create positive externalities (e.g. payments for environmental services.

Lastly comment

Markets and trade will play an important role to create a level playing field, especially for poor producers in developing countries. Scaling up social protection systems will be needed to protect vulnerable groups from adverse effects of changes in relative prices.

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