Food is the ultimate convener. It transcends language barriers, defines cultures and unites us. It’s no wonder food production offers critical solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises. Here's a look at some of those solutions.
Traditional Foods and Knowledge
Indigenous Peoples and local communities are vital leaders in solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and human well-being challenges. They are critical partners, and we have much to learn from their management of nature and its food sources.
of tropical forest carbon is stored within Indigenous lands
of Earth's remaining biodiversity is within Indigenous lands
of the world's 32 million fishers are small-scale, artisan
The Story of Eulachon
Eulachon is found only along the North American Pacific Coast from northern California to the southern Bering Sea. Some refer to eulachon as “candlefish,” as its high oil content allows it to burn like a candle when dried, and “the salvation fish,” as it historically arrived when First Nations people were starving or low on winter food supplies.
Eulachon are eaten fresh, dried, smoked, salted and frozen. However, the product of greatest cultural, nutritional, social and economic value is the grease rendered from the fish. Eulachon grease is a very nutritious food that is high in unsaturated fats and is superior at providing vitamin A, E and K.
History of Eulachon
Historically, eulachon returned from the sea in masses to approximately 95 rivers along the Northwest Pacific Coast to spawn. Today, their numbers are few, with some rivers completely empty of the fish. Though there isn’t enough data to definitively state the reasons why, eulachon decline has been attributed to deforestation, river dredging, industrial pollution, shoreline development and river flow alteration from the construction of dams and roads.
Learning from Eulachon
The story of the eulachon is akin to many fisheries around the globe: they need resources for better monitoring and they’re threatened by unsustainable management and climate change. Whether eulachon, salmon of Bristol Bay, tuna of the Pacific or crab from Peru, our global fisheries need support. The good news is there’s still time to learn from our past and restore the health of our ocean and inland waters. Reforming fisheries management is perhaps the most impactful approach to do this.
Regenerative Food Systems
A regenerative food system is designed to nourish both people and planet. Regenerative production practices like those featured below work to actively restore nature while also maintaining or increasing food production.
A Regenerative Food System Can:
Reduce water removals for global agriculture by 15%
Increase edible food from sea between 36-74% by 2050
Restore up to 428 million hectares of crop and grazing lands
Sustainable fisheries result in stable seafood supplies, thriving coastal communities and biodiversity conservation that creates healthy oceans, rivers and lakes. But there are barriers to achieving this vision—including lack of information about the health of fisheries and ecosystems, and limitations in capacity for implementing solutions. To overcome these barriers, TNC combines innovative technology and collaboration, helping fill information gaps and design science, policy and technology that balance the needs of people and nature.
To meet the nutrition needs of 9.8 billion people by 2050, we must improve food production on existing land, and that means improving soil health. Soil health practices such as efficient fertilizer use, nutrient management, cover cropping, crop diversification and rotational grazing can boost productivity while mitigating interrelated challenges related to climate change, biodiversity loss and rural livelihoods.
Aquaculture is the fastest-growing form of food production, and it can also be one of the most environmentally efficient. Bivalves and seaweed are near-zero input forms of farming—they require almost no feed, freshwater or land. As noted in our report, Foodscapes: Toward Food System Transition, expanding restorative aquaculture and improving management of wild fisheries could sustainably increase how much food we get from the ocean by 36-74% by 2050, making aquaculture a key part of transitioning toward a food system that works with nature.
Globally, beef production is the top driver of deforestation and accounts for 78% of total livestock greenhouse (GHG) emissions. Yet, there are many known management solutions that, if adopted broadly, can significantly reduce the beef industry’s footprint. In Brazil, management strategies such as improved feed quality, breed selections and fertilizer management reduced GHG emissions by 57%. Other strategies include: intensive rotational grazing, adding soil compost, reforesting degraded areas and planting forage plants to sequester carbon.
Managing for Water
Water is critical to all life and is one of the foundational elements to agriculture, which accounts for 70% of total global fresh water consumption. Whether through drought or flooding, biodiversity loss and climate change are being written in water, with significant impacts on agriculture. Nature-based solutions—like forest protection, regenerative agricultural practices, wetland restoration and natural vegetation corridors along waterways—can both improve the productivity of food systems and help protect our watersheds.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 75% of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and 5 animal species. This increasingly homogenous food system has come at a cost.
The Food System Causes:
of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)
of land-use change/conversion
of global water usage
Diets are shaped by cultures, traditions and access, and we must be supportive of flexible food choices. Diet choices are context specific and balance a number of trade-offs, including greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystem benefits, livelihoods for producers and nutritional density, among others. Overall, moving to a regenerative food system results in diversified production practices and more diverse diet choices, a win-win cycle for the inextricably linked human and planetary health.
Grains, Seeds and Pulses
Rice, corn (maize), and wheat make up 2/3 of global caloric intake. While these staples are critical, by diversifying our meals, we can support crop rotations for farmers and effectively increase biodiversity in our agricultural ecosystems. Choosing diverse grains like buckwheat, millet and sorghum; diverse seeds like quinoa, hemp and chia; and diverse pulses like beans, chickpeas and lentils not only provides nutritional variety, but also creates market demand for farmers and encourages diverse crop rotations that can improve soil health.
Vegetables and Legumes
Globally, hundreds of millions of people suffer from malnutrition (undernutrition and obesity), which leads to non-communicable diseases and increasing health costs. While wealthier parts of the world need to reduce overall consumption, more than 1/3 of the global population (~3.1 billion people) is unable to afford nutritious and sufficient food. One way to address this is through consuming more nutrient-dense food, grown sustainably. This includes traditional foods that often lead to more agrobiodiversity.
By adopting regenerative practices, the world’s farmers, fishers, ranchers and pastoralists can help restore nature while meeting the nutrition needs of 9.8 billion people by 2050.
Our Path Forward
Creating a regenerative food system at the scale and pace needed will require significant changes in the way natural resources and food production are managed. New incentive structures, supply chain reform and market interventions will all be needed. Taken together, they represent a significant and urgently needed shift from business as usual. Together, they help us #GrowPositive.
Regenerative transitions often take multiple years before benefits accrue to producers, who already need new strategies to adapt to a changing climate. Thus, there is a need to unlock catalytic financing through debt, equity and risk-sharing instruments such as insurance or payment for ecosystem services. There is also a growing need to increase private finance in climate adaptation–only about $500 million (1.6%) of adaptation finance came from private sources–especially as government finances worldwide are increasingly stressed.
Investing in Innovation
We need increased investments in new technologies from both public and private actors to now meet the 21st century challenges. These technologies include production-centric tools, such as precision agriculture and biological-based soil management; tools that improve value chain linkages and supply chain traceability/transparency, such as big data, IOT and blockchain; and innovations that shape demand, such as alternative proteins, genetics and food-sensing technologies.
Government action is the most powerful driver of food systems, and by realigning incentives, the public sector can change the economics that drive change. Governments can focus on repurposing subsidies in their NDCs to promote more regenerative outcomes. Increasing government spending on agriculture research to develop and disseminate emissions-efficient technologies for crops and livestock could not only improve productivity, but also lower overall emissions from agriculture by 40%.
It's All Connected
By taking a foodscape-scale approach to planning, we can drive swift progress in transitioning the global food system to work in partnership with nature, not against it. We define a foodscape as a distinct food production geography with specific combinations of biophysical characteristics and management attributes, including the political, cultural and economic influences of food production. Mapping these foodscapes makes it possible to go from analysis to a realistic vision of the changes that need to happen at local and subnational levels.