As rural masses migrate to urban areas, populations grow, and people work toward better living standards, global food system sustainability pays a high price, according to a new analysis spanning low- to high-income countries. The study, published April 3 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, shows that only one major global driver, the increase in international trade, appears to have a net positive effect on global food systems sustainability. All other major drivers (population growth, urbanization, lifestyle change, and changes in land use) seem to have negative effects.
“Trade seems to be good for food systems – but only up to a point,” said Steven Prager, a study co-author from the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. “Beyond a certain level, the positive effect of trade tends to plateau. High-income countries simply don’t continue to benefit.”
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the immediate focus of the research community is, correctly, on human health. But global disturbances sparked by the pandemic also reveal how fragile our global food systems are.
In those conditions, “Understanding what drives our food systems and how we can measure or monitor them becomes vital if we want to give policymakers better tools for making food systems more sustainable and more resilient to local or global shocks such as the extreme one we are experiencing today,” said Christophe Béné, the study’s lead author.