A New Global Food Map Scores Sustainability

The Lempert Report
February 04, 2020

Human diets exacerbate climate change while failing to properly nourish more than 800 million people, making intensified study of food systems a global priority.

According to a column on Phys.org researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) argue that social and economic variables also need to be included alongside the transformation of diets for human health and the health of the planet to understand exactly how sustainable food systems work.

The researchers collected and analyzed almost two decades of scientific literature related to food systems. They settled on 20 indicators that are available to 97 countries from low-, middle- and high-income regions, and built this global map to rate the sustainability of food systems around the globe. The study's authors sorted the 20 indicators into four dimensions: environment, economic, social, and food and nutrition. The indicators cover a broad range of factors including greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, size of the female labor force, fair trade, food price volatility, and food loss and waste.

The indicator will be used to track changes in sustainability over time and has the potential to guide policy and action as climate change, rising populations, and increased demand for food place unprecedented pressure on global food systems.

"The food system is probably the largest employer in the world, so the sustainability of food systems is also about the economic and social contributions of those hundreds of thousands of people and enterprises that are involved in some aspect of the system—from production all the way to food retail and distribution and consumption," said Christophe Béné, the study's lead author and senior policy expert at CIAT's Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) research area. "It means that the economic and social dimensions of food system sustainability cannot be ignored."