How to achieve sustainability on a global scale?

Author: Peter West
2nd November 2016

The planet needs affordable food, produced efficiently to feed the ever growing world population. In 2008, it was estimated that we would need to double our food production by 2030 to cover the needs of the planet.On top of developing an increased supply of food to meet this demand, there is now also a greater emphasis on producing and supplying food in a sustainable manner. So, what is and how do we achieve sustainability on a global scale?

The UN defines sustainability as development meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The topic of sustainability has been addressed in response to growing concerns brought on by poverty, the unfair treatment of workers, global warming, etc.

The Fairtrade Foundation has reported evidence that the prices of bananas have been so low in the UK that it was no longer economically viable for producers to stay in business. These factors were causing some producers to opt for casual labor or extensively use pesticides to meet their targets.

Consumers have reacted to these practices which clearly undermine sustainability and have started to demand responsible and ethical sourcing. Local sourcing and organic farming solutions have emerged amongst many others as ethical solutions to the way we consume our food.

These initiatives are good and drive change but aren’t self-sufficient on a global scale. It remains a partial answer to a systemic issue which is only affordable to the wealthiest consumers.

The reality is that markets are not all subject to the same regulations which creates additional obstacles to achieving sustainability. Whilst voluntary policies have been put in place by UK food retailers where society demands higher standards of sustainability, some businesses are still reluctant to comply. For example, complete depletion of fish stocks have been reported in various locations due to unsustainable fishing practices.

Deep sea overfishing practices remain difficult to control as international regulations are not strong enough. This is where governments play an important part as their role is to implement new regulations and endorse certification bodies with the necessary authority to enforce them. This is how guidance is provided to the consumer and new avenues created for responsibly sourced products.

Where businesses are incentivised by consumers, governments and able to demonstrate sustainability by obtaining certifications, the wheel starts turning. Despite the sometimes partial and mythical interpretation of what sustainability on a global scale means, consumers are the key driver for change.

Feeding the world population affordably and sustainably will require a complete approach using high-scale and efficient agriculture systems made of modern technology and strong global regulations. Supply chain management is at the heart of this process as it creates a link between all elements of the chain.

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