100 Million Farmers: the move to net-zero
Humans invented agriculture 7,000 years ago and the process has changed, developed and adapted with each new pair of hands to work in the field. It’s no different then, that farmers are now moving along with the rest of the world, towards net-zero farming.
The World Economic Forum has announced 100 Million Farmers, a platform moving towards “Net-zero and nature-positive food systems by 2030,” which encourages “local solutions” as well as empowering farmers.
Net-zero farming will be a huge but necessary challenge, including familiar activities such as planting trees and utilising renewable energy, as well as investing in technologies which bypass pollution and improving soil health.
Farming also blocks up land which could be used to plant trees, fruit or vegetables, as land for animals to graze in. The process of deforestation, where trees are chopped down or burned away, is often to vacate land for cattle. Cows in particular produce the green-house gas methane, which adds to the greenhouse effect produced in farming.
Food giants take on call to go net-zero
Across Earth Day at the end of April, food giants made grand promises. Over the next few decades, each business will have to put their money where their mouth is.
Nestle, the biggest food company in the world with a revenue of $63bn, has already started the move to net-zero. Employing 600,000 farmers across the world for their ingredients, Nestle said: “We are targeting our efforts, focusing on cutting methane emissions, helping farmers access innovative technologies and encouraging the implementation of more efficient soil, herd and land management techniques.”
Another of the food giants, Unilever, plans to reach net-zero emissions throughout its whole supply chain by 2039. CEO Alan Jope said: “[We will] be transparent about our plans, and strengthen engagement and dialogue with our investors."
Global food security
In addition to the net-zero agriculture transformation, global food security is a rising issue. According to World Vision, 690 million people, 8.9% of the world’s population, are starving. The international level of food insecurity has been growing since 2014, according to The World Health Organisation and food prices have also risen during the pandemic.
Yet in Developed Nations, obesity related deaths are growing. In the UK, one third of children are obese by the age of nine. Yet obesity can be related to the socio-economic background of the individual. In the USA, research by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found: “Obesity prevalence was 18.9% among children and adolescents in the lowest income group”. Children from poorer families are more likely to be obese due to junk food being less expensive and taking less household energy to cook, than healthier alternatives.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to hit ten billion people, but the current world’s food system is failing millions of people. It needs to change in order to support the expected population boom and the journey to net-zero could be an opportunity for this to take shape.
What is a circular economy?
Over the next few centuries, historians will be researching the impact of net-zero targets made during the Coronavirus pandemic. Teachers will be helping students to revise what happened on the day the last drop of oil was burned. Archaeologists will be wondering “How did we get into this mess?” as they dig through ancient 21st century landfill sites, where some of the single-use plastic used this week will be slowly rotting.
A circular economy is a model of production with a sustainable future in mind, where manufacturers are aware of the infinite and finite resources which they use. Let’s break down what a circular economy is - and what it is not.
The linear model of production
A wasteful model of production is ‘take, make, dispose’, with a clear beginning, middle and an ending.
Companies buy the resources needed to make their product at the lowest possible price. The company then sells as many of the product as they can at an affordable price tol make a profit. This profit goes back into buying more resources to make more products and expanding the company. For example:
Take: A manufacturer pays farmers for an ingredient and takes it to their factory.
Make: The ingredient is used to make the desired item and sold to the consumer.
Dispose: When the product is no longer needed by the consumer, it is thrown away. The product may end up in landfill or the sea.
Finite resources and space
Waste is sent to landfills and into the sea, locations which are not sources of infinite space. Some of the ingredients used to manufacture products are also finite..
If production remains at its current rate, the planet is expected to run out of many essential resources throughout the next century:
Fresh supplies of zinc, silver, copper and gold will also be finished, within the next decade.
The ocean is suspected to contain more plastic than fish by 2050. Maybe even earlier if the plastic inside of the fish is included. The world’s largest landfill site is the Ghazipur garbage dump in India, which at one point was taller than the Taj Mahal (73m).
A circular economy seeks to eliminate waste disposed of in the ocean and minimise the use of landfills.
The circular economy model of production
A circular economy respects the space restrictions of current methods of production and waste, as well as the limit of materials and the environment.
Make: Manufacturers create something, with its future in mind. For example,
Use: The consumer buys the item and uses it. When the item has served its purpose, the consumer can return the item to the manufacturer or take it to a dedicated location where it can be repurposed.
Recycle: The item is taken away to be recycled, reused or repaired and begins its journey again, in the circular economy.
Who is implementing a circular economy?
As reported by Sustainability, retailer H&M has started a new initiative, Looop, where customers can donate their old or unwanted clothes at their local branch. These items are sent off to be remade into new products and sold to a new consumer.
Water, our planet's most precious resource, is naturally recycled - we collect water, use it and then flush it away. It is believed that every water molecule has been drunk at least four times, including by dinosaurs. So it’s only natural for recycling to permeate every other aspect of our lives in the circular economy.