28 September 2021

Diversity and circular design will lead global food into the future


Ellen MacArthur Foundation: “To create an environmentally friendly food production system, we must redesign the supply chain by diversifying ingredients and regenerating crops.” In this way we can reduce emissions by 70%

by Matteo Cavallito


“Rather than bending nature to produce food, food can be designed for nature to thrive” according to the latest report released by Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Global food is searching for a balance while the production system “is the primary driver of biodiversity loss,” says the study. And some consumer products have an abnormal role in this: “40% of agricultural land use is influenced by the top 10 Fast-moving consumer goods companies (FMCGs) and retailers”. In short, we need to change all of this. It’s time “to create a food system that is distributed, diverse, and inclusive.”

Redesigning food

Global consumers are getting more aware of the importance of healty food and organic market is now worth almost $130 billion. In this context we must now pursue strong policies for a sustainable food system. “FMCGs and retailers can better support farmer livelihoods, by not only strengthening their resilience to shocks but also helping them to increase total food output, diversify their income streams, improve their profitability (after a transition phase), and provide health benefits.”

These goals, the report says, can only be achieved through food design. Which basically means to define what is eaten, what ingredients are grown and how they are produced. The first step is to expand the variety of supplies to allow for partial substitution of high-impact ingredients. But this is just the beginning.

The solution is working on the ingredients

To reshape the structure of the supply chain, the study says, we need to follow the principles of circular economy. Which essentially means doing four things:

  1. Incorporating a broader range of ingredients like different kind of sweeteners, for example, such as palm, carob, coconut and stevia instead of just sugar cane.
  2. Shifting from higher impact crops to lower impact crops, which means switching from conventionally produced animal proteins to plant proteins, for instance.
  3. Catching new opportunities from commodity upcycling innovations (“The USD 46 billion upcycled food market is projected to grow at 5% annually”, the report says).
  4. Betting on regenerative production according to different disciplines such as conservation agriculture and agroecology, for example, “while generating significant climate and biodiversity benefits”.
Less emissions, more biodiversity

The benefits of circular food design, the researchers say, are clear. By applying the four strategies on three categories of ingredients – wheat, dairy products and potatoes – in the EU and UK, according to the study, it is possible to halve the loss of biodiversity and double the overall production. But also cut 70% of the emissions while increasing agricultural profitability by $ 3,100 per hectare.

That’s why companies must “create ambitious action plans”, collaborate with farmers, “develop iconic products to showcase the potential of circular design“, use common metrics and definitions and, finally, promote policies that support a nature-positive food system.