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What the world can learn about sustainable food systems from Ireland's 'Origin Green'

Juergen Voegele's picture
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.

Comments

Submitted by Gavin Daly on

seriously? Origin Green has little more than greenwashing and has nothing to do with food security! It is about producing highly profitable dairy and beef for high-end consumers. The environmental consequences are terrible - the Irish agriculture sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the largest cause of water pollution. Don't be fooled by the spin. Its nonsense.

Submitted by John Gibbons on

The author correctly states: "we need to change the way we produce our food". Ireland is simply stepping up a policy of industrialised agriculture focusing on milk powder and meat as the outputs. The agri sector in Ireland already account for almost a third of our national GHG emissions, and this agri-expansionist policy will increase our net GHG emissions at the very time the EU has mandated all member states to begin the urgent task of wide-scale decarbonisation.

This will be completely impossible to achieve in Ireland, when once sector, contributing a third of emissions, thinks is has a free pass to pollute with impunity, while waving the 'food security' red herring at anyone who questions this approach. One would have hoped a World Bank expert would be a little more street-wise than to simply rubber-stamp sectoral spin like the above.

Thanks for your comments.
 
We can all share the view that the ‘business as usual’ approach to agriculture isn’t sustainable and that we need to start transforming the way we produce our food, especially as the climate changes. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get the agriculture sector to where it needs to be, but it’s promising that governments, the private sector, CSOs and other stakeholders are committing to sustainable food production, and exploring different ways to transform agriculture. Ireland’s approach of setting and measuring sustainability targets throughout their food supply chain is one step in that direction.
 
And let’s remember that while Ireland's agriculture-related emissions may be high compared to others, on the basis of per liter of milk produced, they are lower than anyone else in Europe. So if Ireland doesn’t produce the milk that Europe needs, someone else will, likely with a higher footprint.

Submitted by Ryan Meade on

Ireland is not just producing "the milk that Europe needs", it is aggressively marketing infant formula products in China and elsewhere. If it was simply a case of producing an essential foodstuff at a lower carbon intensity that would be one thing, but Ireland is looking to expand milk markets which will lead to higher emissions in absolute terms.

Your positive comments about Origin Green are not totally misplaced, but it should NOT be linked with food security. Irish meat and dairy have nothing to do with food security.

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