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Sustainability - Our Only Means To A Healthy Planet

Sustainability is a hot topic – and rightly so. With a growing global population and the ongoing battle against climate change, it’s now more important than ever to ensure that we secure the needs of future generations, particularly when it comes to food. The world's population is reported to have passed the 8 billion (that's 8,000,000,000) mark in November 2022 (more information can be found in this UN World Population Prospect report). The world population is projected to continue increasing and according to the OurWorldInData whilst the rate of population growth has been exponential since around the 17th century, it has started to decline recently. The fact remains that the world has more inhabitants now than ever before and securing sustainable food for growing population is a necessity. It is more important than ever to implement sustainable practices when it comes to utlising the natural resources of our planet. For a healthy planet we need sustainable food systems.

That’s why sustainable food systems are so important. In this article we discuss food systems and sustainability further in the sections below. We also discuss the main challenges faced by those in charge, and look at how we can all play a part in supporting the development of sustainable food systems.

What are food systems?

Put simply, food systems are the activities involved in the production, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food originating from agriculture, forests and fisheries. They can be broken down into subsystems, such as farming systems and waste management systems. They also interact closely with other systems, such as the energy system and the health system.

So, what is a sustainable food system? These are food systems that meet current food security and nutritional needs without compromising the ability to generate the same for future generations.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals United Nations.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These include things like ending hunger, ensuring good health and well-being, and ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns.

But, while it’s easy to define targets and set goals, it’s a whole lot harder to meet them.

Size of the World population over the years.

Source: World Economic Forum

What are the main challenges when it comes to sustainable food systems?

In order to meet sustainability goals, food systems need to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient, and able to deliver healthy diets for everyone. In other words, we need to ensure that sustainable, healthy food is accessible for all – including those on lower incomes and from disadvantaged backgrounds.

These are complex challenges, and in order to overcome them, change is needed – on local, national and international levels. And, it’s not just food systems themselves that will need to change – other systems, such as the education system, will also play significant roles.

What part do we, as consumers, have to play?

Consumers are a really important component of sustainable food systems. Increasingly, consumers – particularly younger people – are demanding more transparency and higher ethical standards from the companies that produce their food. And, the main thing that consumers can do to help meet sustainability goals is to eat a more sustainable diet.

This, however, is easier said than done. Plus, consumer behaviour alone is simply not enough to make any significant difference. Policymakers and governments need to take action in order to help consumers make responsible choices.

What else needs to happen?

There are many factors that come into play when it comes to our everyday consumption choices, and in order for consumers to make more responsible choices, there are many things that need to improve. Let’s look at the main ones.

Affordability is one key factor – unfortunately, it’s often cheaper to eat processed foods compared to healthier and more sustainable options. In fact, cost is the biggest barrier when it comes to consumers making healthier and more environmentally friendly food choices. Therefore, controls on things like marketing, and government subsidies, could make things easier.

Education has an important part to play, too. Without it, consumers won’t be aware of the impact their choices can make. In order to allow consumers to make informed choices, better levels of formal education and access to information are crucial. Again, this is something that can only come from policymakers and governments.

Finally, food producers need to increase the use of environmentally-friendly ingredients, including wild-harvested plants and invest in systems to maximise sustainability. Wild harvested plant food is one where the harvest is from plants growing naturally in their native habitat and environment. Let’s take a closer look at this area.

Wild-harvested plants

Today, around 75% of the world’s food is generated from only a dozen plants and five species of animal. This huge level of demand continues to grow, so it is really important that we protect these vital sources. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop using them.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) argues that the usage of wild-harvested plants can contribute towards sustainable development. As part of an assessment of the risks and benefits of harvesting wild plant ingredients, the FAO, along with TRAFFIC and other organisations, pulled together the WildCheck Report, focusing on twelve wild species. One of these species is acacia gum.

Acacia gum is used in a wide variety of foods, drinks, medicines and in other sectors and industries such as pharmaceuticals, textile and fireworks. It comes from the sap of Acacia trees, which grow in the Sahel region of Africa – where some of the world's poorest communities are.

Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the longevity of wild-harvested plants like Acacia gum. Droughts, grass fires and desertification for example, can kill acacia trees. On top of that, acacia gum is harvested in the dry season, which means farmers face strenuous work in high temperatures. Another threat is that lately it has been challenging to retain the youth in these farming communities to continue with the work of their older generation in gum harvesting and production.

But that doesn’t mean we should simply try to limit how much we produce. In fact, if harvested in a sustainable manner, this natural resource could play a major role in maintaining fertile land and supplementing the income of small-scale local farmers.

Not just that, but as the top 3 functional properties of Acacia gum as a food additive (E414) are emulsifying, thickening and stabilising agent, it is widely used to maintain the composition of food products and help preserve their original integrity thus helping achieve, and extending, the shelf-life. So not only that gum acacia is a wild harvested sustainable plant, it is also a key food additive that extends the shelf life of many of our daily common foods and contributes to minimising food waste and costs.

The WildCheck Report looked at some of the ways in which we can conserve these important natural environments. One of the biggest examples is the Great Green Wall project, which aims to plant a new forest spanning the entire width of the African continent. Once complete, it’s set to be the largest living structure on the planet. And, the harvesting of acacia gum will generate huge income-earning opportunities for local people, as well as help meet the global demand for this vital ingredient.

The bottom line

Sustainable food systems have never been more important, however, they are faced with significant challenges, such as climate change and a growing population. Governments and policymakers have the most significant part to play when it comes to meeting sustainability goals, but consumers must make responsible choices, too.

At Maison d'acacia, business sustainability is not just about not having a negative impact on the environment and communities, but furthermore, we are all about making a positive impact on the environment, economies and communities. We are profoundly passionate about making a positive impact to the people and their livelihoods particularly in the field of acacia gum production. This has been our key objective since we founded Maison d'acacia and with our efforts and your cooperation, we are confident that we will make a positive change.

By acting responsibly, we can all contribute towards improving the livelihoods of many deprived communities that provide the natural ingredients that are essential in the production of our common household food and medicines.

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