“Beacons of Hope”: Path to a more sustainable food system

The way we produce, distribute and consume food has a major impact on our health, the environment and society in general. Faced with global challenges such as climate change, hunger crises and soil degradation, the need to transition towards a more sustainable food system is now beyond doubt. How can we achieve this transformation?

Biovision was commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, a global network of foundations committed to more sustainable food systems, to carry out an in-depth analysis of this issue. As part of the project, called “Beacons of Hope” Biovision has recently scrutinised 130 initiatives throughout the world that promote sustainable food systems. It is seeking answers to the following questions: What promising initiatives designed to encourage more sustainable production, distribution, consumption and waste management already exist globally? What do these approaches have in common? What challenges do they face?  What factors are crucial to their success?

From an elephant conservation programme in Zambia to a sustainable development plan for the Vanuatu archipelago

Of the 130 initiatives that Biovision analysed as part of the “Beacons of Hope” project, a total of 21 representative projects were finally selected. The projects selected all displayed a highly integrated approach and so encouraged sustainability at social, ecological and economic levels. In addition, they represented the entire spectrum of non-profit organisations, including those involved in policy issues. For example, one of the Beacon of Hope projects selected was that run by COMACO in Zambia: This Company processes peanut butter from organic ground nuts and only sources its nuts from farmers who undertake to make a contribution to the conservation of natural resources, e.g. they agree to refrain from hunting elephants. In return, the Company agrees to buy a specific quantity from farmers and pay a higher price for the nuts than the normal market price in Zambia. COMACO is, therefore, encouraging sustainability at both the social and economic level.
The sustainability plan developed by the Vanuatu Archipelago in the South Pacific was another of the beacon of hope projects analysed in detail. The plan is based on the so-called “alternative indicators for measuring social wellbeing”. They assume that monetary value is not the sole factor in determining the wellbeing of the people but depends for example on a healthy environment and access to enough healthy food that is sustainably produced. Between now and 2030, Vanuatu is planning to encourage initiatives such as ecological methods of cultivation, sustainable fishing and reductions in waste and pollution.

Agro-ecology as a way of promoting a sustainable food system and mitigating climate-change

There was one main thing that linked all 21 initiatives selected as part of the “Beacons of Hope” project: They all show that a comprehensive transition towards more sustainable food systems is possible – at both the small-scale, local level and also the large-scale, national or even international level - and that this transformation has a positive impact on both the environment and humans.
However, the Biovision team also identified other common features and patterns. These were obtained using a methodology developed jointly with internationally recognised scientists. One of the main findings of the “Beacons of Hope” analysis was that most of the 21 initiatives that made it to the final selection because of their holistic approach based their activities on agro-ecological solutions. This shows that agro-ecology encourages sustainability at all levels and has the potential to drive forward a transformation of the entire food system. In addition, agro-ecology is increasingly being cited as a promising way of making the food system more adaptable to climate change and also curbing global warming.

The full report on “Beacons of Hope” is due to be published in 2018

Biovision is currently finalising the final report on the “Beacons of Hope” project in conjunction with the Global Alliance for the Future of Food; it is due for publication in 2018. Biovision will use its findings in order to argue strongly at both the national and international level for a transition towards more sustainable food systems and to demonstrate the benefits of agro-ecology. In addition, the report will be of value to all those working for a more sustainable food system.