Let’s work together to recalibrate our failing food system

Dr Richard Swannell, Director, WRAP Global

WRAP has long known that interventions are most effective when they are rooted in evidence, and when they are collaborative. The past two months has only reinforced this. At the same time, more people are recognising that our global food system is harming our planet – and us.

It is failing to feed the whole global population, as nearly a billion people don’t get enough to eat, whilst fuelling obesity. It is thought to be responsible for around 70% of biodiversity loss through for example destroying our natural habitats and emitting dangerous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The food system is responsible for around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions- a huge proportion of the whole. It is also surprisingly inefficient, with a third of the food it produces going to waste, worth nearly a trillion $US every year.

We need to fix the systemic flaws in our food system, and create a new model with resilience and sustainability at its core. Effective voluntary agreements should form part of this model.

It’s 15 years since WRAP launched the Courtauld Commitment. Since then, we’ve demonstrated that if you pull together the levers of government policy, business action and citizen behaviour change and make them work harmoniously, then huge changes can be made.

Together, the joint action of all the partners which represent the entire supply chain, has helped businesses and citizens reduce edible food waste by a staggering 27% per person in the UK, equating to 1.7 Mt/year less wasted food. This is a world-leading reduction in waste.

This has been achieved through shared learning, committing to the simple mantra of: Target, Measure and Act, and providing a platform to foster good practice and accountability. It means those already engaged in our voluntary agreements have a head-start – the experience of working together on solutions, a workforce trained to assess and solve emerging problems, and the measurement infrastructure to show that change is happening.

The missing piece of the jigsaw has been to explore ways to engage the financial sector to drive investment and make it easier for companies to embed food waste reduction in their businesses. Which is why I am so excited about the announcement this week that WRAP has been selected as one of just nine partnerships for scale-up funding from the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) initiative.

This funding means we will be able to take the voluntary agreement approach to the next level – helping more businesses, more nations build back better post-COVID; ensuring more of the world’s food makes it to people’s plates.

The pandemic has presented us with the biggest threat to our way of life we have ever witnessed – together with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To collaborate more, to re-engineer our global food system with resilience, sustainability, and fairness at its core. A system which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, builds natural capital and biodiversity, avoids waste, and provides nourishment for all people to thrive, not just survive.

As we start to think about what the post-pandemic world looks like, we have a decision to make. Do we want to use this opportunity to fix our food system, for the good of people, and the planet? Or do we just go back to the way we were two months ago?