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Jan 11, 2020,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Sustainable food-production: researchers draw up a world map of producing countries

A team of researchers from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has established a new sustainability indicator for food systems. This calculation tool bases its readings on quality and safety and also takes the environmental and social impact of the systems into account. And despite what most people would expect, it is the more affluent countries who seem to have the best compromise.

Pixabay / TeeFarm


In 2019, nearly 820 million people in the world were still enduring famine. Environmentally, the figures are no better, with French website Futura-Sciences saying that food production is responsible for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions while almost a third of food produced ends up being thrown away.

Researchers from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) therefore decided to develop a new sustainability indicator for food systems based on quality, food safety and also respect for the environment. The fruits of their innovative labours were published in the journal Scientific Data on Monday 25 November.


Economic, social, environmental and nutritional indicators


The final score for each of the countries was calculated using around 20 indicators, including crop diversity and the amount of water used, the share of food in household budgets and the calories available to each inhabitant plus the prevalence of obesity.

This data then established an overall reading for 97 countries of between 0.259 and 0.726 (values rounded down to three decimal places). Top of the class was none other than New Zealand with a score of 0.731, followed by Switzerland and then Canada. The USA was sixth, despite high levels of CO2 emissions and obesity, the latter being particularly concerning. 


Developing countries further down the chart


At the bottom of the list came Jordan, Bangladesh, India and Madagascar, with scores all below 0.3. Countries in Africa saw their readings suffer due to the lack of diversity of their food production, malnutrition and poor energy efficiency.

"The aim of this work is not to label the food system of this country or that country as sustainable or not," the researchers said, "but to make it possible to compare them amongst one another or over time." Overall, the food systems of more affluent countries are seen as more sustainable than those from developing countries, despite the drawbacks they may have.


Allianz Partners

Cover image : Pixabay / sweetlouise

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