Agriculture, Food and Beverage

What can Ireland teach us about sustainable food?

Juergen Voegele
Senior Director, Food and Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank
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Agriculture, Food and Beverage

To feed up to 9 billion people by 2050, the agriculture sector will need to produce about 50% more food.

But the natural resources needed to grow food are overstretched, and in many cases, severely depleted. Agriculture is also vulnerable to climate change and a changing climate could reduce crop yields by up to 25%. At the same time, agriculture is a big contributor to the climate problem, generating close to a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Without targeted interventions, that number could rise further, threatening the world’s food supplies.

Which begs the question:  How can farmers, food manufacturers, governments and consumers improve the outlook for global food security?

I’ve blogged before about how we need to change the way we produce our food, and approaches that can help improve the agriculture sector.

Ireland stands out as one example of the transformative power of agricultural development. By working to make their food system truly sustainable, a country once known for its great famine is now recognized for sustainable, climate sensitive agriculture and food production. This is due in large part to Origin Green, a national program that mobilized Ireland’s farmers and food producers to commit to sustainability throughout the supply chain, from farm to plate.

Origin Green enables participants to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets in several key areas, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing water consumption. To date, ¾ of Ireland’s food exports are covered by this sustainability compact. By 2016, 100% of the country’s food exports are expected to be on board. Besides being good for sustainability and minimizing negative environmental impact, Origin Green has also helped to grow the country’s agricultural sector.

What can the world learn from Origin Green’s approach to sustainable food production?

Create sound incentives and policies: The public sector needs to engage all stakeholders, by creating the right policies and offering up appealing incentives.  In Origin Green’s case, the incentive was the opportunity to associate with a strong brand.

Sustainability can be good for business: In a sustainable food system, farmers and food producers embed sustainability into their production and manufacturing processes leading to tangible benefits such as greater efficiency in production methods and reduced costs.

Measurement matters: Measurable, verifiable indicators are important when it comes to setting goals, and achieving them through certification. Origin Green members’ performance against established targets is measured by an independent agency, which increases credibility.

Giving consumers a voice: Consumers have a role to play in advocating for a more sustainable food system in their country. What they buy can reflect their commitment to sustainability.

Feeding the future is possible, but we’ll need a coordinated effort that benefits from the wisdom of farmers while engaging with manufacturers, consumers and every part of the food system.  Ireland has shown us one way it can be done.

This article was first published by the World Bank’s Voices blog. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Juergen Voegele, Ph. D., was appointed Senior Director of the World Bank’s Agriculture Global Practice on July 1, 2014. 

Image: Wheat is shown in a field. REUTERS.

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