Diversity for the transformation of the food system

2020 / 21 is the Science Year of the Bioeconomy. The aim is to show “which bioeconomic approaches science and research can already use today to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”. In the column “Heads of Change”, experts provide insights into research approaches and questions that arise with regard to the necessary socio-ecological change. Dr Ulrike Eberle from corsus is one of these experts.

The bioeconomy is oriented towards natural material cycles. This means, first and foremost, working with nature and not against it. Unfortunately, today’s economy is still far too focused on making nature “compliant”.

Agriculture needs to become more diverse again

Let’s take agriculture: farming with nature means, in particular, realising diversity on the field, cultivating crops adapted to the location and using natural material cycles and keeping them going.

If we take a look at today’s agriculture, we see that we largely disregard these principles:

We grow thirsty crops in water-scarce areas, exacerbating water scarcity and soil erosion. To increase efficiency, we grow crops in monoculture and are surprised that this leads to the mass appearance of now uncompetitive undesirable species, which we then combat with pesticides. We overfertilise soils for higher yields, damaging ecosystems. We keep animals in very confined spaces in order to produce more and more meat and animal products for less and less money. The pressure we put on nature through our agricultural practices reduces the existing diversity on land and in the oceans. We are driving entire populations to the edge of collapse or even beyond.

Policy for sustainable and diverse agriculture

The problems of our activities have been recognised in the meantime, as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals show. Thus, first steps are also being taken at EU level with the Biodiversity Strategy and the Farm to Fork Strategy. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is also calling for and promoting diversity in agriculture. Concepts that show how things can be done better have been available for a long time in the form of organic farming, and the discussions on regenerative agriculture also point in the right direction. A change in our agricultural production methods is indispensable. In this way, we not only preserve soil fertility, but also protect our water resources and ecosystems. And last but not least, diversity in agriculture also helps us adapt to climate change.

A transformation in food systems is urgently needed

But diversity on the farmland alone is not enough; we also need more diversity on our plates. Because only what ends up on our plates and is eaten will also contribute to diversity in agricultural cultivation. A diet for the well-being of our planet and for our own well-being therefore also urgently requires a change in our eating habits: less meat and fewer animal products such as milk and cheese, and significantly more vegetables and legumes – in other words, a transformation of our food systems.

Practical research for more diversity

It is essential to develop practical solutions for a transformation of our food systems in order to effectively reduce the negative impacts on genetic diversity, biodiversity and ecosystems, climate, soils and water. Research approaches are therefore needed that take into account the entire value chain, from agricultural production and processing to consumption. Concrete solutions need to be tested in order to be able to implement sustainable production and healthy nutrition for the benefit of our planet. Sustainable production and nutrition must become a matter of course in business practice and in the daily lives of citizens.

Link: https://www.wissenschaftsjahr.de/2020-21/aktuelles/koepfe-des-wandels/vielfalt-fuer-die-biooekonomie

(only in German)

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