Why Are Sustainable Food Systems Important

A sustainable food system, whether it is local or regional, brings farmers closer to consumers by producing fruits and vegetables or raising livestock or fish closer to the places they are sold. Advocates of this system believe that when it comes to food security, the closer producers are to homes and neighborhoods, the greater the access to more nutritious and affordable food.

Globally, crop production is a highly intensive operation in both inputs and energy consumption. Of the 10 to 20 percent of the fossil-fuel energy that is used by agricultural operations, 40 percent is indirect energy used in the development of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. There is thus a need to work with natural processes to conserve all resources, minimize waste, and lessen the impact on the environment. In theory, this usually means limited use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. Instead, it means more reliance on methods such as crop rotations, animal manures, legumes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks to maintain soil fertility and productivity; and on natural, cultural, and biological controls to manage insects, weeds, and other pests. The emphasis is on prevention of problems and the use of curative interventions, such as pesticides, as last resorts.

Urban growth and infrastructure development has reduced the amount of prime agricultural land. The United States, for example, loses two acres of farmland every minute to urban growth between 1992 and 1997. According to the United Nations projections, 4.9 billion people or 60 percent of the world population will be living in urban areas by 2030. It is not clear how this population can be adequately fed and nourished. Increasing population also means increased quantities of food to be distributed, which increases the amount of trucks used to transport the food, thereby contributing to traffic congestion and air pollution.

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