Progress on farm productivity and the current momentum on food loss and waste are tremendous steps forward, but these changes alone cannot meet today’s food challenges. During the 20th century, governments, food and beverage companies, farmers and other actors developed a food system that optimizes for yield and calories. This was appropriate in a world marked by hunger and sometimes starvation. However, it has resulted in unintended consequences over time.
Today, nearly 2 billion people suffer from some form of malnutrition, and diet quality is now the number-one contributing factor to deaths and disabilities worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. At the same time, agriculture and livestock production are key drivers of global warming and environmental degradation, with meat production accounting for nearly 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire transportation sector. To improve health outcomes and prompt more sustainable food production, the food system needs to produce and directly encourage the consumption of a more diverse basket of nutritious foods.
At The Rockefeller Foundation, we aim to create a food system that nourishes all people, sustains and regenerates the environment and enables the flourishing of culture and community. We are making new investments to promote dietary patterns high in “protective foods” – such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains – that are critical to nourishing a growing population in a sustainable manner. These foods, which protect us from disease when consumed at optimal quantities, are currently under-consumed.
We will launch a number of new initiatives focused on protective foods. Some of our investments apply globally, while others will serve as proof points in target regions, tailored to the local context. This work will build on our existing portfolios including YieldWise Food Loss, launched in 2016, which aims to halve food loss in Africa, YieldWise Food Waste, focused on preventing food waste in the U.S., and the Alliance for Green Revolution (AGRA), launched in 2006, which is focused on doubling yield and incomes for African farmers.
Focusing on both human health and the environment, we have to fundamentally rethink food systems for a growing and ever wealthier global population to ensure nutritious food is more accessible, available, and affordable to everyone around the world.
Currently, more than 40 percent of fruits and vegetables in developing regions spoil before they can be consumed. Post-harvest loss reduces the income of small-holder farmers by 15 percent. To address this problem, in 2016 The Rockefeller Foundation launched YieldWise – focused on reducing food loss by focusing on fruits, vegetables, and staple crops in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania—countries where up to half of all food grown is lost.
In the U.S., nearly 40% of our food supply is wasted every year. At the same time, 41 million Americans—including 13 million children—lack consistent access to adequate food. Wasted food represents wasted resources: one-fifth of our freshwater supply and nearly one-fifth of our cropland is used to produce food that does not get eaten. When that food is thrown away, it takes up 20% of our landfills where it emits tons of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Food security is critical for both human welfare and economic growth in Africa. About 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods—and smallholder farmers account for 90 percent of food production in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, many farmers barely produce enough food to feed their families, leaving no money for investing in tools and technologies that could increase yields.