Food systems have fed an expanding population but at an unsustainable cost. Global issues like hunger, deforestation and the world’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the energy sector are all related to food systems. The food we eat today is unsustainable for two reasons: the food system has negative environmental impacts and depletes nonrenewable resources. Moreover, current food systems are considered “fossil food” because they rely on fossil fuels, nonrenewable mineral resources, groundwater depletion, and excessive soil loss, making them unsustainable for the people and the planet. Climate change is an acute problem, and the food system is decades behind the energy sector’s decarbonisation efforts. Therefore, changing the world’s food systems is an environmental, social and economic imperative. Climate-smart and regenerative agriculture strategies that prioritise farmers can increase crop yields, convert pastures and farmland into carbon sinks, stop the loss of forests, maximise the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers, and redesign local and international supply food chains to be more waste-free. Also, governments must adopt intelligent policies to promote and implement sustainable food systems to achieve net zero in the long run.
Food Systems in Pakistan
Pakistan is an agriculture-based economy, accounting for approximately 20% of GDP, employing over 40% of the workforce, and providing raw materials for more than two-thirds of merchandise exports (Bukhari, 2021). This agricultural country is afflicted by food shortages, rising food inflation, and an economically, socially, and environmentally unsustainable growth pattern. It is primarily caused by uncertain irrigation water availability, unpredictable weather patterns, underdeveloped cold storage facilities, low investments in extension services and research, rising input costs, and farmers’ current lack of awareness about adopting sustainable agricultural practices. As a result, Pakistan’s agriculture sector has suffered from crop yields and livestock losses, damage to irrigation infrastructure, and food shortages due to climate change, particularly severe droughts in the Punjab province. Furthermore, agriculture accounts for approximately 41% of total GHG emissions in the country, primarily through livestock production (World Bank Group, 2019). 54% of emissions growth from this sector is due to enteric fermentation, while another 18% came from synthetic fertilisers and 14% from manure left on pasture (USAID, 2016).
In addition, natural disasters, economic insecurity, and militancy have all posed challenges to Pakistan’s food security in recent years, despite significant increases in staple crop yields. According to the Global Food Security Index 2022, Pakistan ranked 84 out of 113 countries (The Economist Group, 2022). Approximately 40 per cent of Pakistani households face moderate to severe food insecurity that floods may have exacerbated significantly (Mukhtar, 2022). Also, 40 per cent of food in Pakistan is wasted during its production, post-harvest handling, agro-processing, distribution and consumption (Mughal, 2018). Food wastage is responsible for around 8 to 10% of total global greenhouse gas emissions (UN, 2021). Therefore, Pakistan’s agriculture industry and food systems require a significant digital and sustainable transformation to ensure sustainable practices throughout the sector. This will not only improve food production but also benefit the country’s environment and lessen the impacts caused by drastic climate change.
Ways to Achieve Net-Zero through Food Systems
Eliminating Emissions on Farms
Due to the results of conventional, destructive farming methods combined with an excessive reliance on a small number of crop varieties, our food system is not resilient to the effects of climate change or crises. To change the pace and scale at which government can help farmers eliminate emissions on farms, there is a need to form creative, long-term partnerships with suppliers, pre-competitive collaboration with other companies, and alliances with international and non-profit organisations. Moreover, for farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices, financial programs need to be created to help de-risk a farmer’s transition, provide technical assistance, and make them a part of a community of peers who are trying similar things and can share learnings. As a result, farmers will become more resilient, crops will yield more, and our planet will reap the benefits.
Adopting Innovative Food Systems
Innovation in food systems ensures that meeting increased demands for food does not compromise biodiversity and the environment. One innovative technique is investing in a climate-smart and regenerative agriculture system that has the potential to boost productivity by improving soil health, biodiversity, and water efficiency. It also increases adaptation and resilience to climate change and reduces GHG emissions. Moreover, it can also enhance economic and social inclusion in food systems. Another innovative method is vertical farming which can free up land used for intensive farming methods, increase the number of horticultural products, improve soil conditions and reduce carbon emissions.
Use of Digital Technologies
When driven by ethical and inclusive standards, digitalisation can create new interactions and networks to reorganise value chains and marketplaces in ways that result in more effective, climate-smart food systems that produce healthy and nourishing food for all. The government needs to encourage greater use of digital technologies in both rural and urban areas to make the food system more responsive, resilient and efficient. For example, Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) has developed a digital strategy that has consolidated 17 digital datasets into one data hub. Correlating datasets provides significantly greater insights for policy-makers on food system pathways, enabling them to support precision agriculture services and improve farmers’ decision-making, productivity and income across agricultural clusters; it also assists farmers in building, protecting and employing economic identities while improving access to financing tools and solutions (World Economic Forum, 2022).
Keeping sustainability at the Core of Food Systems
The food systems should be reset with sustainability at the forefront. The agriculture and food systems need a design that optimally manages the social, economic and environmental negative externalities. The government must adopt intelligent policies in which subsidies and support mechanisms are directed toward incentivising sustainable food system practices. Moreover, awareness campaigns that highlight consumers’ responsibility towards resetting the food systems by adopting food consumption patterns that are practical and sustainable, reducing food waste that is a significant percentage of available food, and being more conscious when thinking about the food that we consume could result in stopping unnecessary usage and shortening food supply chains.
Integrating the Agricultural Sector in the Country’s Circular Economic Model
Changing how we make and produce food by transitioning to a circular economy can help combat climate change and feed the world’s future population. It can solve the current food shortage and inflation problems and play an instrumental role in achieving a number of related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs). Pakistan’s other economic sectors cannot achieve sustainable development without adopting sustainable agricultural practices, as agriculture is inherently the backbone of Pakistan’s economic system.
Unsustainability in food systems strains food quality and production and aggravates the radical shifts in climate change. As a result, both the people and the planet are affected by its consequences. Getting a net zero balance in the food systems will require both climate-smart agricultural practices and market-based incentives to balance carbon emission sources and carbon-storing sinks. Governments must adopt policies and sustainable models of countries that have successfully reduced carbon emissions through food systems. This will benefit the environment, social productivity and the economy eventually.
Bukhari, S. A. (2021, July 2). The solution to Pakistan’s Agricultural woes through sustainable financing. Retrieved from Pakistan Today: https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/07/02/the-solution-to-pakistans-agricultural-woes-through-sustainable-financing/
Mughal, F. (2018, March 12). Food waste and its consequences. Retrieved from DAWN: https://www.dawn.com/news/1394618
Mukhtar, A. (2022, September 19). Is it time for a food system reset in Pakistan? Retrieved from The Express Tribune: https://tribune.com.pk/story/2377308/is-it-time-for-a-food-system-reset-in-pakistan
The Economist Group. (2022). Global Food Security Index 2022. Economist Impact. Retrieved from https://impact.economist.com/sustainability/project/food-security-index/reports/Economist_Impact_GFSI_2022_Global_Report_Sep_2022.pdf
- (2021, March 4). UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021. Retrieved from UN: https://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-2021
USAID. (2016, 8 18). Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Pakistan. USAID. Retrieved from https://www.climatelinks.org/sites/default/files/asset/document/GHG%20Emissions%20Fact%20Sheet%20Pakistan_6-3-2016_edited_rev%2008-18-2016.pdf
World Bank Group. (2019). Climate-Smart Agriculture in Pakistan. Climate Knowledge Portal. Retrieved from https://climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/2019-06/CSA-in-Pakistan.pdf
World Economic Forum. (2022). Transforming Food Systems: Pathways for Country-led Innovation. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Retrieved from https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Transformig_Food_System_2022.pdf