Agro-Food Systems and the Three Main Challenges

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Agricultural Food Systems (Agro-Food Systems) resemble a network of linkages; it is a complex system that involves farming, harvesting, fishing, livestock rearing, storing, processing, transporting, selling, buying, eating and disposal of our food (Masoumi, 2022).  All of these systems involve different stakeholders that range from farmers to distributors and retailers from regional to international levels, and this system is deeply connected to sustainability challenges such as climate change, social inequity, and biodiversity loss (University of Western Ontario, n.d.).

Sustainability Challenge One

Agro-Food Systems and Climate Change

Researchers have noted that food production, transportation, processing, and storage contribute around 16% of total GHG emissions (University of Western Ontario, n.d.). This statistic will only continue to increase with continued unsustainable practices of harvesting and transporting our food. Farming, for example, consumes the Earth’s natural resources, degrades soil health, increases biodiversity loss and water scarcity, and ultimately increases GHG emissions (Masoumi, 2022). The Food and Agriculture Organization stated that if the food production, supply, and consumption chain does not change, society will need to increase food production to 60% by 2050, further putting the environment at risk (The Food and Agriculture Organization, n.d.).

Sustainability Challenge Two 

Agro-Food Systems and Social Inequity 

Based on the Statistics Canada Canadian Income Survey, food insecurity is an increasing concern; 5.8 million Canadians, including 1.4 million children, will live in food-insecure households in 2021 (2021 Government of Canada, n.d.). This affects low-income communities and communities of color in rural and urban areas. This is also connected to nutritious food that is available, affordable, and acceptable for people to eat (Wijerathna-Yapa & Pathirana, 2022). Therefore a greater emphasis on agricultural food systems and their resilience and help reduce food insecurity. This reflects a structural problem in government and policies and food problems as people are being impacted by not having enough good and healthy food (Wijerathna-Yapa & Pathirana, 2022). 

Sustainability Challenge Three 

Agro-Food Systems and Biodiversity 

Currently, 6.5% of Canada’s land is utilized for crops and agriculture purposes, and this causes a rapid decline in biodiversity (World Bank, n.d.).  Regarding livestock, there is a call to balance animal products to lower environmental food prints. The practices used to produce food are destroying ecosystems and habitats as current food production relies heavily on inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides which destroy the soil and land habitats (Meagan et al., 2016). This is further reflected in the pressure to produce more food for people, which causes the land to be converted into land for agricultural purposes, destroying the quality and quantity of habitats available for animals.

Food for Thought 

With sociocultural and policy changes, technology can and will transform agri-food systems to address significant societal issues, climate change, food insecurity, and biodiversity as we rely on food. How can you get involved in your community to support the need for sustainable Agricultural Food Systems? 

Here are three ways to get you started on creating better food systems (Adapted from Food Secure Canada)

  1. Support sustainable foods. Buying locally grown or sourced food items from your region will reduce food transportation costs and emissions. 
  2. Work or volunteer with a community in your region that supports eradicating food insecurity. This will ensure that more individuals are working to eliminate food insecurity. 
  3. Start a food program in urban and remote northern indigenous communities that addresses food insecurity and supports the development of sustainable Indigenous food agricultural systems. 

There is so much to do. Leave a comment below for which idea you will participate in or what you are currently doing to support sustainable agricultural food systems! 

References 

Masoumi, S. A. (2022, May 3). Agri-Food Systems: What It Is & How It Works. Youth Time Magazine. Retrieved July 11, 2023, from https://youthtimemag.com/agri-food-systems-what-it-is-how-it-works/

University of Western Ontario (n.d.). Agri-Food System. Ivey Business School. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from https://www.ivey.uwo.ca/sustainability/for-researchers/the-agri-food-system/

Meagan E. Schipanski et al, Realizing Resilient Food Systems, BioScience, Volume 66, Issue 7, 01 July 2016, Pages 600–610, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biw052

World Bank (n.d.). Agricultural land (% of land area) – Canada. World Bank Data. Retrieved July 11, 2023, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.AGRI.ZS?locations=CA

The Food and Agriculture Organization (n.d.). Global agriculture towards 2050. Retrieved July 11, 2023, from https://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/Issues_papers/HLEF2050_Global_Agriculture.pdf

Government of Canada (n.d.). Statistics Canada. Canadian Income Survey, 2021. Retrieved July 11, 2023, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/230502/dq230502a-eng.htm

Wijerathna-Yapa, A., & Pathirana, R. (2022, September 26). Sustainable Agro-Food Systems for Addressing Climate Change and Food Security. MDPI. Retrieved July 11, 2023, from https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0472/12/10/1554

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