The holy month of Ramadan is an opportunity for us to rethink how we rear our food and its impact on society and our environment.

While fasting in the holy month of Ramadan, I thought to myself: Why does the notion of hunger have such a strong chord within us?

One can say that it is obvious: humans need food to survive. But it is much more than survival. It is about freedom and equality as well.

How is it just for a human who is hungry and the body is weak to compete with someone who is well-fed, strong and present in mind? How can a human aspire to achieve her or his full potential when her or his mind is occupied by physiological survival?

Over the years, I have learned that Ramadan is not at all about deprivation. Instead, it is about expressing gratitude. But I have also learned that it is about food security and the need for sustainable food systems.

The unhealthy state of food systems

Food systems are about the governance and economics of food production, how this affects our natural resource use, as well as how food impacts each of us and our community.

Considering the Covid-19 pandemic, food systems are at the crossroads of human well-being, economic development and the environment. Empty shelves in supermarkets can be frightening. Not just in cities, rural areas have too experienced empty fields and barns or loss of perishable produce and accumulation of non-perishable produce.

On top of that, the world economy is exposed to health and financial shocks from the climate crisis. We must improve the current food systems to drive economic growth sustainably and save the earth from environmental collapse.

There is evidence that food supply chains falter in the face of external shocks. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program (WFP) anticipate that a ‘hunger pandemic’ may soon top the Covid-19 pandemic.

The virus has shut down more than half the world in just a few weeks. More crises of the same or increased scale may happen again. Unfortunately, it is the poor and vulnerable who are affected the most. According to the WFP’s latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, in 2018, approximately 820 million people went to bed hungry. A third lacked essential nutrients.

Up to a third of the food we produced was wasted. Today, malnourished people around the world are disproportionately suffering the consequences of the pandemic. The human toll comes with substantial economic costs, including lost incomes and the rise of unemployment rates.

The constraints of food systems go beyond failing to feed the world well. The way the world produces and consumes food has a direct impact on our health and the environment. For instance, countries highly vulnerable to hunger have not shown remarkable change over the past many years due to the poor nutritional composition of the food supply.

The climate crisis is already having an inevitable impact on food security around the globe. Agriculture is vulnerable to changes in agroclimatic zones and extreme weather events — such as droughts or floods — destroying crops and undermining the well-being of entire regions and countries. Avoiding further climate disasters requires fundamental changes in the ways we obtain our food.

However, changes should lead to climate resilience that ensures food security for all and addresses pre-existing inequalities rather than deepening them. This means understanding and executing ‘principles of just transition’ in the food systems – not only in terms of the outcomes but in processes and ways of thinking.

What’s the way forward?

First, it should begin at the community level. In other words, it should ensure the inclusion of people directly involved in food production, such as farmers and agricultural workers involved in industrial agriculture.

Second, their experiences and needs should be the basis for shaping a strategy for change through strong connections between vulnerable groups and policymakers, financial institutions, and supply chain businesses like retail corporations.

By doing the above, we may be able to challenge the ‘get big or get out’ logic that dominates food production. Let us face it: for many, the only way to get fair income is to produce on a large scale, using chemicals and purchasing seeds from large corporations. Large agricultural complexes are replacing smallholder farmers.

Also, there is limited political space for farmers’ voices in the conversation at the level of political and economic changes. This is especially true for women farmers, who are even more at risk of not having their voices heard.

Industrial agriculture causes significant damage to the environment and is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, especially when all processes and necessary resources are considered.

Nature-based solutions, such as the shift to agroecology, moving towards healthier diets, more efficient and sustainable supply chains, food waste reduction, as well as changes in mindsets on the consumers’ side, are all significant. They are a crucial part of transformations required to allow food systems to work with the environment and not against it, for the people and not against them.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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