Looking Back To Going Forward
Implementing The One Health Approach To Foster Peace And Common Well-being
Up until a few years ago, there was a very popular board game that grasped the deepest roots of the world’s current problems: the Mikado game.
Despite being difficult to play, the Mikado game has very simple rules that are conditioned to a player’s ability to embrace an ecosystemic vision. A stick is never just a stick to be easily extracted, but instead is quite often the support on which other sticks stand, making the game a dense tangle where there is no clear beginning and end, no easy choice, but rather interconnected relationships among all the parts.
The global systems, from food to environment, diplomacy to policy have a lot in common with the Mikado game, because none of them is self-sustaining. Geo-political relations between states can accelerate food security or trigger food insecurity, diplomatic actions can cause mass migrations, altering the global agri-food system, or foster peace, the state of natural resources can advance people and society’s well-being or cause malnutrition, viruses, and diseases.
Being able to see these connections is the first step to putting in place integrated, multi-dimensional, and long-lasting solutions, which cannot be achieved without real collaboration among experts and sectors. Partnership in fact is not only a specific Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) at the global scale, nor is it only a prerequisite for designing gl-local solutions, it is the strength upon which the Future Food Institute ecosystem has depended since 2014. Among all the partnerships and agreements built over time, that with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is, without any doubt, one of the most crucial and strategic to disseminate knowledge, understand the current complexities behind the agri-food system, and improve nutrition and food security.
Reversing the current system feeding food insecurity
In different forms and under different lenses, food insecurity has been dramatically increasing, at both the global and local scales. Conflicts, environmental degradation, economic downturn and geopolitical instabilities, short-sighted policies are simply some of the more evident causes and concauses that are dangerously distancing the world from achieving all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being).
I am deeply grateful to Marcela Villarreal, Director, Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for her work, professionalism, and ability to unravel the different layers of complexities at the foundation of food insecurity, starting from the current geopolitical situation we have been witnessing and experiencing.
- Conflicts and food insecurity
The relationship between conflicts and food insecurity goes in both ways but unevenly, reports Marcela Villarreal. If on the one side food insecurity can cause conflicts, the other way round is almost mathematical: whenever there is a conflict there is food insecurity and, in some cases, even extreme and alarming food insecurity. Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Congo are evident confirmations of this scenario, just as in Ukraine.
Even before the war started one month ago, the conflictual situation affecting Ukraine for years had already led United Nations agencies, such as FAO and the World Food Program, to intervene to counteract hunger.
As a further consequence of the conflict, the agricultural local labor may also be compromised, because bombs may destroy the fields, farmers may be forced to defend their lives and families rather than work, because migration may be considered the best solution for survival. The result is that an entire category of workers, those involved in producing food for themselves and others (both locally and internationally through exports), can be disrupted.
- Disrupting the global food market and the rise of global food insecurity
One of the most worrying aspects of the war in Ukraine in terms of food security concerns the crucial role of both Ukraine and Russia within the global food market. They are both not only the two main food producers and exporters in the world of barley, wheat, maize, and sunflower oil, but they also play a crucial role for many low-income food-deficit countries, that depend on cereals imported from Russia and Ukraine from food security.
Armenia, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Mongolia, Somalia rely 80% of their cereal consumption on Ukraine and Russia; Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, used to receive up to 60% of their cereal intake; but also Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan food security massively depends on those conflicting countries, data report.
The result is that as soon as there is less food availability food prices go up, further exacerbating the severity of food insecurity, especially among the poorer countries and households: the poorer the household, the larger the proportion of the income that goes to buy food.
FAO has already warned that food price increases can range from 8 to 22% in a short period.
- Agriculture and the Food-energy-water nexus
We all know that food production is intimately linked with water and energy.
Without water no food can be grown and the choices of which crops and which agricultural practices to favor are crucial to the state of superficial and underground water, especially given the increasing pressure of climate change, even at the EU scale**.**
In fact, increased frequency and intensity of heatwaves, on both populations and ecosystems, scarcity of agricultural production due to heat and drought, increased frequency and intensity of floods, and scarcity of water resources are identified as key risks for Europe, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The same situation is also true for energy. Agriculture is heavily dependent on energy, both directly (by using tractors and through distribution and transportation), and indirectly (through its inputs that are very energy-dependent, like fertilizers). Both these elements, water and energy, are at the heart of food production and therefore food security. It goes without saying that the fact that Russia is among the top ten largest fertilizer exporters in the world, can create additional food insecurity on the global scale. Fertilizer export limits affect the productive and agricultural capacity of states, as well as the price of the fertilizers themselves, which is skyrocketing, leading to an increase in food production prices and, eventually, an increase in the final price of food.
- The economic downturn and gender inequality
“One of the most important lessons the global society has learnt from covid is the impact of a pandemic on inequality. The economic downturns created by Covid hit the most vulnerable disproportionately, creating further inequality and deepening existing ones, including gender inequalities. Latin America, an area that is not amongst the poorest regions in the world was more affected in terms of deaths and in increasing gender inequality”, has shared Marcela Villarreal.
Similarly, also recovery after Covid is heavily unequal, with unemployment rates still hitting women more than men. This is crucial in terms of food security, considering women are the key protagonists in the global food production, harvest, and breeding farming, especially in rural areas and developing countries.
Instead, to date, no country in the whole world has solid and strict policies on gender equality.
Ego-systemic or eco-systemic solutions?
What we have been living today is tangible proof that current production and development models are not conceived for long-lasting success.
And yet, in the face of ever more extensive and profound challenges, some of the solutions put forward in the global scenario continue to be the result of short-sighted and highly egocentric visions, far removed from the ambition of a real, inclusive, and collective sustainable development.
We concluded 2021 with the Glasgow Declaration on Food and Climate, one of the several outcomes of the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, where local, regional, and national authorities from around the world unequivocally affirmed the need to implement integrated food policies and strategies, capable of including all stakeholders in the food system, to put into action strategies to decarbonize, regenerate, collaborate.
How could planning an increase in coal production by 240%, 71% more oil, and 57% more gas by 2030, as published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) a few weeks ago, ever be in line with the Glasgow Declaration and decarbonization intentions?
How is it possible that the instant priority of ensuring food self-sufficiency, now embraced at the EU level, can cause years of cooperative efforts that have lent in high-level environmental standards to vanish, such as those embraced in the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030?
“The real risks to food security in our country do not derive from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but from the speculative bubbles that have affected production and markets since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2011; to these are added the serious consequences of the climate crisis that already weighs significantly on agricultural systems due to the effect of drought and increased extreme weather events,” as recently spotlighted by WWF to dispel false myths about food security. In fact, especially in the case of Italy, the massive increase in the cost of wheat began well before the conflict in Ukraine due to a combination of “financial speculation and […] reduction in production in Canada, a consequence of the severe drought that hit North America in the 2020–21 season,” continues WWF.
Halving the use of pesticides and antibiotics, reducing the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, increasing agricultural areas for organic agriculture, incentivizing areas for nature conservation also within agricultural land — key ambitions at the foundation of the EU Green Deal — are examples of how sustainability can be effective in service of food security, because People, Planet, Prosperity, Partnership, and Peace should be perfectly balanced together as Agenda 2030 spotlights.
Eco-systemic solutions should therefore be able to ensure this delicate balance, in the same way as Mikado players ground their winning strategy.
Sustainability: Downsizing intensive food production is the first step to achieving long-lasting well-being for all. Conventional agriculture, which relies heavily on massive chemical inputs, and which prioritizes quantity over quality and profit over natural and social well-being, is highly vulnerable to any external disruptions: natural dysfunctions, energy prices, access to resources, availability of low-paid agricultural labor. Sustainability is therefore rooted in environmental regeneration, which means enhancing biodiversity and its ecosystem services, promoting regenerative agriculture, fisheries, and sustainable farming. In turn, also the economic, and social dimensions of development will be reinforced.
Efficiency: Using resources more wisely means producing more with less, encouraging their multifunctional use, and spreading resource care and valorization, the essence of preventing — not managing — waste, one key driver of food insecurity and malnutrition. Embracing a circular mindset requires both policies and business models to go beyond economic interests to embrace regenerative models.
Equality: We desperately need policies for inclusion and sustainable development, policies that give value to human beings as key actors in the ecological transition. The empowerment of local farmers, women, and youth is crucial to build inclusive food systems. Equally, short supply chains can be important to ensure that the agricultural system is more flexible and responsive to local demand, with less dependence on global logistics. Finding the right balance between local and global solutions is key.
Resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, adapt to disruptions, to mitigate adverse effects is possible only when diversity is respected and when all dimensions of life (human, social, economical, environmental, cultural, political, and economic) are perfectly balanced.
It is not surprising that only if we build the prerequisites for sustainable, equitable, and efficient food systems, will they automatically become also more resilient.
Bringing back the One Health Approach
What better occasion — than the World Health Day — to raise the voice and push for real and tangible actions in the direction of common well-being. “Our planet, our health” is this year’s theme, which comes in a perfect moment of the year in which policies seem to have forgotten that food is and should be reinstated again as one of the most essential commons, the “tool” for ensuring peace and collective regeneration.
We have too many examples in front of us confirming that we cannot dissociate human, animal, ecosystem, and planet health. Just as Covid, the African swine fever is also emblematic: hundreds of millions of domestic pigs being infected by a virus coming from a wild species. Because food production is increasingly environmentally demanding, zoonotic diseases are drastically increasing and are projected to increase even further. With no possible cure, millions of animals in Africa and especially Asia have to be culled, with direct effects on local smallholder farmers whose livelihood was directly dependent on pig livestock and indirectly on the pig market (with rising meat prices and exports). “This is a domino effect that directly imperils food security but also human and individual well-being because those who don’t have enough resources to live decently cannot take care of their health either,” recalled Marcela Villarreal.
As everything is so interconnected, we should return to the **One Health (or even One Medicine)** approach, which starts from the assumption that integral ecological regeneration requires considering all dimensions of life.
Embracing a One Health Approach, as FAO and other international organizations strongly support, means realizing that physical health is strictly connected to mental health, that community well-being is embedded in the well-being of plants, animals, and natural resources on Earth, that legislation and policies need to reunite individual, social, human, and natural rights.
In the end, this is nothing different from the very essence of traditional ecological knowledge, such as the wisdom we have inherited from Mediterranean Communities and that we have been trying to bring back to life through the Paideia Campus in Pollica: implementing solutions that have at heart environmental protection, human health, regeneration of the territory, citizens’ well-being, social justice, cultural values, and rural economy.
The Future Food Institute is an international ecosystem that believes climate change is at the end of your fork. By harnessing the power of its global ecosystem of partners, innovators, researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs, FFI aims to sustainably improve life on Earth through transformation of global food systems.
Through an integral ecological regeneration approach, FF trains the next generation of changemakers, empowers communities, and engages government and industry in actionable innovation, catalyzing progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).