Food security 

EU-Asia Cooperation in Sustainable Food Systems

Ensure equal access to healthy, safe and nutritious food for all. 

On March 31st, 2023, I had the honour of delivering the closing remarks at the EU-India Region Dialogue on Sustainable Food Systems held at the Sheraton Hotel in New Delhi. This workshop was part of a series of regional workshops funded by the European Commission's Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) under the project supporting the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F). The Farm to Fork Strategy is the European Union's comprehensive plan to address food challenges, proposing pathways for change towards sustainability, encompassing environmental, health, social, and economic benefits.

During the workshop, esteemed speakers from the EU, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan gathered to exchange insights on shared challenges, best practices, and strategies for achieving sustainable food systems. We fostered dialogues between the EU and neighbouring countries of India, engaging in discussions on critical topics such as soil health and organic production, sustainable use of pesticides and antimicrobials, and food loss and waste.

The concept of sustainable food systems goes beyond mere production methods, encompassing a range of nutrition challenges, including undernutrition and hunger. Additionally, new and diverse forms of malnutrition, such as food-borne non-communicable diseases like cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular conditions, pose significant pressure on individuals and healthcare systems. Countries in the region share similar concerns about the environmental impacts of agriculture and farming, as well as issues related to food security, nutritious diets, and the reduction of food waste.

The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine crisis, and ongoing extreme weather conditions due to climate change have profoundly affected global food supply chains and communities worldwide, leading to increased risks of food insecurity and related health threats, including hunger and obesity. Furthermore, current food production, transportation, and processing methods are major contributors to global warming, accounting for 21-37% of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to food chains.

In Europe, citizens express concerns about climate change and biodiversity loss, while in Asia, similar concerns are complemented by specific issues related to economic development, export capacity, and organic production.

India has already implemented several sustainable measures along the food chain, aligning with the EU's "farm to fork" strategy. Initiatives like the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture and UN SDG commitments to food and nutrition security demonstrate India's commitment to sustainability. In 2016, Sikkim became the world's first state to adopt a 100% organic policy, eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. However, India faces challenges in addressing food loss and waste across the supply chain, with an estimated 68,760,163 tonnes of food waste per year by Indian households alone. To overcome these issues, India needs to define and cover terms like "food fraud," establish a nodal agency for the organic sector, and invest in technologies to enhance traceability in the supply chain. In addition, in Sri Lanka, policymakers need to focus on developing the organic products market, not only for export but also for the domestic market. In Bhutan, there is a need to transition agriculture policies from subsistence farming to a commercial system, which would improve and increase rural income.

The EU's Farm to Fork Strategy aims to achieve a neutral or positive environmental impact on food production, ensure food security and public health, and maintain food affordability. Significant commitments include a 50% reduction in the overall use and risk of chemical pesticides and hazardous pesticides, a 20% reduction in the use of fertilizers, a 50% reduction in sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture, and an objective to have at least 25% of the EU's agricultural land under organic farming.

Ambitious actions and commitments have been proposed to transform the Farm to Fork Strategy into global standards for competitive sustainability, protecting human and planetary health, and safeguarding the livelihoods of all actors in the food value chain. While global awareness is increasing, and commitments have been made, there is an urgent need for swift and decisive action to promote worldwide cooperation and coordination. The recommendations put forth in the region align with the sustainability policies being developed, and cooperation between nations will pave the way for future collaborative efforts. Finally, addressing the issue requires holistic and long-term measures from all partners involved.