Building blocks

Photo credits: Pexels - https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-yak-on-green-and-brown-grass-field-144234/

There has recently been a lot of focus on methane, as it is an important contributor to climate change. The food system is one of the largest emitters of methane, and the gas is particularly associated with ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) and with rice production. Despite its significance as a greenhouse gas, there is also considerable confusion over how we should quantify the climate impacts of methane emissions. This is because there are important differences in how methane and carbon dioxide – the major human-generated greenhouse gas – affect the climate.

This explainer provides an overview of the key points about methane, and addresses some common areas of confusion.

Last update: 11 June, 2019

Photo credits: Janet Vincent via https://flic.kr/p/eHGRay

The concept of efficiency and its relation to food sustainability is defined and valued in different ways. Among those who argue that improved efficiency will lead to greater sustainability, there are different interpretations of what improved efficiency actually means. Others still, view the quest for efficiency itself to be problematic and its relationship with sustainability potentially oxymoronic.

This building block is based on the FCRN report Lean, green, mean, obscene…? What is efficiency? And is it sustainable? It introduces the concept of efficiency and explores its relation to food system sustainability.

Last update: 31 May, 2019

USDA, Fresh food in garbage can to illustrate waste, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Around one third of the weight of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted1, and around a third of crop calories are lost to the food system during livestock production2. Meanwhile, the global food system causes significant environmental impacts and around 800 million people are undernourished3. This building block examines the following aspects of food loss and waste: mainstream definitions and alternative understandings, global statistics, and ‘hierarchies’ for prevention and treatment.

Last update: 25 March, 2019

Images, clockwise from left: US FDA, Avoiding trans fat, Flickr, US government work free of copyright restrictions – Anemone123, Combine harvester agriculture, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons – StockSnap, People man exercise, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons – Andy Maano, Lifestyle of the Bushmen (gathering food), Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Changes in diet and lifestyle can be caused by many factors and can, in turn, cause changes in health. This building block explains what the nutrition transition is and its implications for health and environmental sustainability.

Last update: 12 October, 2018

Photo credits: https://flic.kr/p/D7B34k and https://flic.kr/p/5ZprrS

Agricultural production is responsible for the majority of global land use. The use of land to produce food almost always comes into conflict with goals for the conservation of nature and wildlife.

This building block explains the land sparing-sharing continuum, which encompasses two fundamentally different approaches to balancing goals for food production and biodiversity conservation.

Last update: 14 August, 2018

Photo credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tea_workers_carrying_tea_sacks_JEG9535.jpg https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1169385 https://pixabay.com/nl/tractor-voertuigen-boerderij-387275/ https://pixabay.com/nl/het-spuiten-van-suikerriet-suikerriet-2746350/

New approaches to agriculture are required if we are to reduce the environmental impacts of farming while also feeding more people with a sufficient quantity and diversity of nutritious and safe foods.

This building block explains the concept of sustainable intensification.

Last update: 18 June, 2018

Photos: Left - Image: © Obesity Action Coalition, Friends and family 423 - Top right DFID, Medical staff measure the upper arm circumference of a child who may be malnourished, at the local hospital in Masi Manimba, DRC, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported. Bottom right - National Cancer Institute, Unhealthy snacks in cart, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain.

People need to be able to obtain and utilise a healthy amount and balance of nutrients. Without this, they can suffer severe impacts to their health and well-being. This building block explains malnutrition and its causes, prevalence and consequences.

Last update: 18 June, 2018

Image montage (clockwise from left): DFAT, A_Peach, Jon Aslund and USDA via Flickr

Being able to reliably obtain, consume and metabolise sufficient quantities of safe and nutritious and foods, is essential to human well-being.

This building block explains the meaning of the food security concept. 
 

Last update: 12 March, 2018

Chickens at Johnson Farms by Rick Obst via Flickr

The role of animals in food systems, and the degree to which their needs should be accounted for as compared to humans, are ethical issues about which there is both concern and disagreement. 

This building block explains what is meant by the concept of animal welfare.

Last update: 15 Dec, 2017

Amazon land use by CIAT via Flickr

Human use and alteration of land has profound effects on the environment, both locally where it takes place, and at the planetary scale via climate change and other mechanisms. 

This building block explains what is meant by land use and land use change, both direct and indirect.

Last update: 06 February, 2018

Many social, economic, moral, and environmental concerns are interconnected and interact with each other through food, and do so in complex ways. In order to understand this, we need to apply a 'systems thinking' approach to food.

This building block explains what is meant by the term 'food system' and provides a brief introduction to the food systems approach. 

Last update: 15 Dec, 2017