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Sustainable Food Systems

When it comes to establishing sustainable food systems, the UN laid a firm foundation with its Sustainable Development Goal, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” Efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition, and improve supply chain infrastructure and efficiency, have delivered some encouraging results. But much more is needed to create sustainable food systems for all.

More than 800 million people in the world suffer from hunger; that’s 1 in 9 individuals who have little hope of building productive lives simply because they don’t have enough nutrition. And yet, every year, 1.6 billion tons of food worth about $1.2 trillion are lost or go to waste. That’s one-third of the total amount of food produced globally.

During 2014 to 2016, nearly 800 million people around the globe suffered from malnutrition.

During 2014 to 2016, nearly 800 million people around the globe suffered from malnutrition.

By 2030, annual food loss and waste will hit 2.1 billion tons—worth $1.5 trillion.

By 2030, annual food loss and waste will hit 2.1 billion tons—worth $1.5 trillion.

Equally concerning are the projected increases in population and growth in climate-related disasters—which have doubled since the early 1990s. A growing population means more mouths to feed with the same limited resources; an increase in climate disasters means more droughts, floods, and storms hindering global food production.

Can society hope to resolve these problems and achieve universal food security? Yes—but doing so will require agricultural, technological, and economic innovation, along with new forms of cross-sector collaboration.

What Does Food Security Mean?

Achieving and sustaining universal food security hinges on creating sustainable food production and distribution systems, as well as resilient agricultural practices. They’ll have to enable sufficient increases in food production—plus ensure access to food.

Tailoring food sustainability strategies to diverse income levels will be vital. For instance, strategies must address the low purchasing power of the so-called “bottom billion”—the very poorest, who cannot afford to pay prices equal to or above companies’ production costs.

Development funding also needs to evolve. For example, a previous lack of interest and investment in African agriculture has catalyzed a food crisis on the continent. Yet agriculture is Africa’s biggest source of jobs and a crucial contributor to human welfare. Thankfully, the problem has begun attracting attention and investment, fostering a new focus on adapting African agriculture to enhance food security. 

Pricing Models That Promote Food Security

How can food companies tailor their food-security strategies to the bottom billion? These three models can help:

  1. External Subsidies. Governments, foundations, and other social sector organizations provide external subsidies in such forms as cash transfers or food vouchers to people in need through social welfare programs—enabling recipients to buy food at market rates.
  2. Cross-Consumer Subsidies. Consumers with higher incomes provide a subsidy to make products affordable to the very poor. These include global customers in wealthy countries or those in the middle- and upper-income classes in developing countries, who pay an implicit or explicit premium through measures, such as branding and package sizing.
  3. The Social Business Model.Social businesses are non-dividend companies created solely to solve societal or environmental problems. Investors get their invested capital back over time, but all further profits are reinvested in the company for expansion and improvement. The company can make profits, but it does not distribute them to investors.

While progress has been made toward combating global hunger, much work remains. If every organization seeking to address this worldwide scourge can commit to collaborating and innovating in new ways, they can set the stage for enduring advances in the war on hunger. The payoff? More people around the world will have the nourishment and energy needed to live productive, satisfying lives. They’ll be able to contribute to their families, their communities, and their national economies. And for the businesses that contribute, there is an opportunity to increase their bottom lines.

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Meet Some of BCG’s Experts in Sustainable Food Systems

BCG's consultants and industry experts focusing on sustainable food systems continue to partner with leading social organizations, corporations, nonprofits, and philanthropic bodies to arrive at solutions for environmental sustainability and food security. These are some of our experts on this topic.

  • Social impact
  • Humanitarian crisis response and pandemics
  • Public-private partnerships
  • Economic development
Javier Seara

Partner & Managing Director

Munich

  • Consumer and retail, including luxury retail
  • Apparel and fashion
  • Department stores
  • Omnichannel and digital
  • Social impact
  • Humanitarian crisis response
  • Cash-based interventions
  • Venture philanthropy
  • Leads BCG's Consumer, Retail, and Travel and Tourism practice in the UK
  • Retail transformation
  • All aspects of grocery and nonfood retail
  • Fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG) strategy, digital, productivity, transformation
Social Impact

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