Five Key Steps Towards a Food System That Can Address Climate Change and the Food Crisis

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"Five key steps towards a food system that can address climate change and the food crisis

1. Move towards sustainable, integrated production methods

The artificial separations and simplifications that industrial agriculture has brought upon us have to be undone, and the different elements of sustainable farming systems must be brought together again. Crops and livestock have to be reintegrated on the farm. Agricultural biodiversity has to become the cornerstone of food production again, and local seed saving and exchange systems need to be reactivated. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides must be replaced by natural ways of keeping soil healthy, and pests and diseases in check. The restructuring of the food system along these lines will help to create the conditions for near-zero emissions on farms.

2. Rebuild the soil and retain the water

We have to take the soil seriously again. We need a massive global effort to build organic matter back into the soils, and bring back fertility. Decades of soil maltreatment with chemicals in many places, and mining of soils in others, have left soils exhausted. Healthy soils, rich in organic matter, can retain huge amounts of water, which will be needed to create resilience in the farming system, to deal with the climate and water crises that are already encroaching on us. Increasing organic matter in soils around the world will help to capture substantial amounts of the current excess CO2 in the atmosphere (see “Earth matters”, p. 9).

3. De-industrialise agriculture, save energy, and keep the people on the land

Small-scale family farming should become the cornerstone of food production again. By allowing the build-up of mega-industrial farm operations that produce commodities for the international market rather than food for people, we have created empty countrysides, overpopulated cities, and destroyed many livelihoods and cultures in the process. De-industrialising agriculture would also help to eliminate the tremendous waste of energy that the industrial farming system now produces.

4. Grow close by and cut the international trade

One principle of food sovereignty is to prioritise local markets over international trade. As we have seen, international trade in food, and its associated food processing industries and supermarket chains, are the food system’s chief contributors to the climate crisis. All of these can largely be cut out of the food chain if food production is reoriented towards local markets. Achieving this is probably the toughest fight of all, as so much corporate power is concentrated on keeping the trade system growing and expanding, and so many governments are happy to go along with this. But if we are serious about dealing with the climate crisis, this has to change.

5. Cut the meat economy and change to a healthier diet

Perhaps the most profound and destructive transformation that the industrial food system has brought upon us is in the livestock sector. What used to be an integral and sustainable part of rural livelihoods has become a mega-industrial meat factory system spread around the world, but controlled by a few. The international meat economy, which has grown fivefold in recent decades, is contributing to the climate crisis in an enormous way. It has also helped to create the obesity problem in rich countries, and destroyed – through subsidies and dumping – local meat production in poor countries. This has to stop, and consumption patterns, especially in rich countries, have to move away from meat. The world needs to return to a decentralised system of meat production and distribution, organised according to people’s needs. Markets that supply meat from smaller farms to local markets at fair prices need to be restored and reinvigorated, and international dumping has to stop." (

More Information

  1. Grain: Industrial Agriculture and Energy