As currently organised, our food systems are significant contributors to global crises: They are some of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; a driver of biodiversity loss and zoonotic diseases; and negatively impact our health, diet, and well-being. These negative impacts are rarely reflected in the price of the food we buy, but are externalised and left to others to deal with in the form of climate change, malnutrition, soil fertility loss, and more. These burdens fall most often on those least able to bear them.
True Cost Accounting (TCA) is an innovative tool that provides a holistic understanding of the relationships between agriculture, food, the environment, and human well-being. It is a systemic approach that allows us to assess, measure, and value all externalities – the positive and negative impacts – of food systems. This report, commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, is a comprehensive assessment of the positive impacts of TCA on different aspects of global food systems.
Drawing on the Global Alliance and TMG project on 'Beacons of Hope' (BoH) initiative, the report provides six detailed case studies which demonstrate that transformation of food systems is possible, and indeed is already happening. Using the TCA methodology to examine these case studies - which are drawn from contrasting locations in Nigeria, Zambia, the Philippines, Malawi, India, and the USA - reveals the many ways in which food systems transformations have positive impacts, by identifying and analyzing impact pathways across environmental, human, social, and economic domains.
These include, for example, reduced health costs due to lower disease burdens as a consequence of reduced pesticide use; improved crop yields as a result of reintroducing traditional knowledge and agroecological farming practices; and increased local food security thanks to the sharing of indigenous seed varieties through seed banks, and helping farmers to adapt to changing climates and gain financial independence by transitioning away from synthetic fertilizers.
Outlining ten 'Key Messages', the report calls upon diverse food system actors, from policymakers and business leaders to scientists and farmers, to accelerate change in food systems and unlock their positive potential by embracing holistic approaches to measuring, understanding, and accounting for their true value. It is time to retire metrics that don’t measure what matters and that are allowing, enabling, and encouraging food systems practices to go beyond planetary limits.
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