Accounting for environmental and social impacts through full-cost pricing of food

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). 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.

Inclusive implementation through cross-sectoral cooperation

There are various food and agriculture models that can deliver the multiple objectives of food security, environmental conservation, and social and economic development as synergies, rather than trade-offs. They will involve an ecosystem approach to production systems, fairer trade, and more equitable access to natural resources and livelihood opportunities, as advocated by the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security.

This transition process involves both large and smallholdings, whereby sustainable systems are supported equitably. They also need to be facilitated by more sustainable food demand and consumption patterns and well-functioning markets. Although the long-term benefits are clear, making the transition will require new policies, investment, and research. Financing and supporting this transition will require cooperation across multiple sectors, not just limited to food, agriculture, fisheries or forestry, but also including energy, water, the environment, health, education and economic development.

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

Green jobs for smallholders

Small rural households, which still constitute two-fifths of humanity, are increasingly under pressure and agricultural employment and opportunities have to be increased in a green economy. Out-migration from rural areas is expanding urban slums, with the concurrent inability of these poor urban dwellers to access food and water. Support to smallholders is essential to both achieving food security and preserving natural resources.

Farming, forestry, and fisheries operations in both developed and developing countries play a fundamental role in the provision of landscape management and the provision of ecological and cultural services. More diverse food systems and off-farm diversification – such as value addition, rural-urban food networks, agri- and eco-tourism, small-scale forest-based enterprises – offer livelihood opportunities in employment-scarce settings (especially, but not only, in least developed countries), while improving land stewardship.

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