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Monday, 28 June 2021

Sustainable food systems could save the planet

What we eat has changed the planet. Food production is not only the greatest driver of wildlife loss, but a major contributor to climate change. The current global food system is responsible for about 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals and contributes to around 19-29% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As countries around the world — including Egypt — work towards achieving their Sustainable Development Goals, many are recognizing the key role of food systems. They are not only critical in ensuring food security and improved nutrition, but are important in achieving social, economic and environmental goals as well. And for food systems to become more sustainable, well-functioning market dynamics and linkages in the food supply chain are required for food to move safely and cheaply from farm to fork.

As part of Egypt 2030 Vision, the government has been in pursuit of a more sustainable ecosystem to achieve SDG #2.4, namely, to ensure sustainable food production systems by 2030. To that end, the government has launched a national project for the reclamation of 4 mn acres of agricultural land across the country, as part of a wider medium-term USD 454 mn joint project (pdf) with the World Food Program (WFP) that aims to strengthen Egypt’s capacities to implement its SDGs.The Agricultural Ministry, alongside the UN-backed program, will introduce improved agricultural technologies and practices including heat tolerant crop varieties, improved irrigation methods, as well as affordable harvesting and post-harvest technologies that will all contribute to reducing GHG emissions and water consumption.

SEKEM is one grassroots organization trying to overhaul the system: SEKEM, which owns the ISIS Organic food brand, applies an approach to farming in reclaimed desert land near Cairo that emphasizes zero use of synthetic fertilizers, known as “biodynamic agriculture.” Similar to organic farming, which uses 45% less energy, releases 40% less carbon emissions and fosters 30% more biodiversity compared to conventional farming, biodynamic agriculture emits fewer GHGs and is more likely to lead to carbon soil sequestration, which happens when CO2 is pulled out of the air by the soil. Biodynamic crops have been found to be more resilient to climate change and more energy efficient to grow than their non-organic counterparts.

Other initiatives bidding to make sustainable farming mainstream: The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have been working with multinational food company Danone since October 2019 towards helping “advance global efforts to improve nutrition and food safety, and make food systems more sustainable,” starting with Egypt as a pilot country. There’s also the Integrated Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (ISAI) — a joint venture between Egypt’s Foresight for Development and Innovation and the Netherlands-based Except Integrated Sustainability, supported by the Environment Ministry and the Sovereign Fund of Egypt (SFE), to sustainably grow 100k feddans of agricultural land, in a bid to promote sustainable agriculture in the long term.

But it’s not just how we grow crops, what we eat also matters: If you want to holistically help the planet, reducing your intake of meat and dairy is your best bet. A study (pdf) from researchers at the University of Oxford found that ditching meat, eggs and cheese from your diet (aka veganism) could be the “single biggest way” to minimize your environmental impact. If people cut these foods from their diets, our dietary carbon footprint would be reduced by up to 73%, while global land use could be curtailed by as much as 75% — comparable to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined — and we would still manage to feed everybody. The research also found grass-fed beef — or “sustainable beef” thought to be relatively low impact — was still responsible for much higher impacts than plant-based food.

Want a healthier, more sustainable diet? There are now plenty of places where you can consider purchasing your produce including ElMarket, a specialty mini grocery store that sells artisanal and organic food products created locally by small producers, providing some vegan and fermented foods such as natural pickles, dairy-free cheese as well as soy milk and cream. Eggs and fresh vegetables from organic and premium food brand Sara’s Organic Food should also be a mainstay of your household. You can even shop for groceries online through agriculture startup ElMazr3a’s online farmers market, which offers high-quality fresh produce and artisanal goods (there’s also an app for Android users and iPhone aficionados). Organic Egypt, which was created in cooperation with SEKEM’s Egyptian Biodynamic Association and Fayoum Organic Development Association, offers and markets a raft of Egypt-grown organic products to local and international markets. Family-run Makar Farms also follows a similar lead.

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