Agricultural Expansion
drives almost 90 percent of global deforestation
billion hectares of new forests would require to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2050
million people will be below sea level in 70 years
percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from wasted food
percent of current crop land could be unsuitable for food production by 2100
Unsustainable food systems threaten the environment they rely on
Conventional food production is exacting a toll on our environment, stressing ecosystems and depleting precious resources. The ecological challenge is clear: urgent measures are vital to safeguard biodiversity, ecosystems, and human communities. This pressing need extends to rethinking our approach to resource efficiency, understanding the environmental impact of protein consumption, and embracing sustainable alternatives for a future where food production aligns with ecological well-being.

Conventional food production strains the environment, degrading ecosystems, and depleting resources.

Urgent measures are essential to address this ecological challenge and protect biodiversity, ecosystems, and human communities.

Navigating Resource Efficiency in Food Production

Maximizing output while minimizing resource inputs is vital for sustainable food production.

With rising demands from population growth and changing diets, efficient resource utilization becomes a critical challenge that demands attention and innovative solutions.

Protein consumption, especially from animal sources, bears a high environmental cost, leading to deforestation, emissions, and pollution.

Urgent action is imperative to address the far-reaching consequences, promoting sustainable alternatives aligned with ecological well-being.

Rethinking Production Approaches for a Sustainable Future

The challenge lies in steering production approaches toward sustainability embracing organic and regenerative practices.

Immediate attention is crucial to mitigate environmental degradation, foster biodiversity, and ensure long-term food system sustainability.

Sustainable Alternatives for Animal Protein Production

Animal protein production poses a significant threat to the environment.

Urgent action and sustainable alternatives are imperative to curb deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss, ensuring a future where animal protein aligns with environmental preservation and human well-being.

Feeding the World Population Complexities

Agriculture has a significant environmental impact in three key ways. First, it requires large amounts of fresh water, which can cause considerable ecological pressures in regions with water stress. It needs water as input and can pollute rivers, lakes, and oceans by releasing excess nutrients through runoff.

Agriculture is also a crucial driver of climate change, responsible for around one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. This includes methane emissions from livestock, nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizers, and carbon dioxide released through land-use change, such as deforestation for agriculture.

Agriculture has a massive impact on the world's environment due to its enormous land use. Half of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture.  This conversion of natural habitats has been a significant driver of biodiversity loss. 

  • If we don't address food emissions, we won't be able to meet our climate targets (1.5°C or 2°C).
  • Business-as-usual scenarios project food emissions to consume most of our carbon budget.
  • Even if we completely stopped fossil fuel emissions, food production emissions alone could push us beyond our climate targets (1.5°C or 2°C).

Food production has a significant environmental impact in several ways

Industrialized agriculture significantly contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU). The estimated 24% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from the AFOLU sector (global average for greenhouse gas emissions by industry - IPCC Special Report on Global Warming) can be attributed to various practices and processes associated with industrialized agriculture. Here's how industrialized agriculture is linked to these emissions:

  1. Intensive Farming Practices: Industrialized agriculture often involves intensive farming practices that rely heavily on chemical inputs, machinery, and monocultures. Using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanized equipment contributes to nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

  2. Livestock Production: Large-scale livestock production associated with industrialized agriculture is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock, especially ruminants like cattle, produce methane (CH4) through enteric fermentation, manure management, and rice cultivation, adding to the emissions profile.

  3. Deforestation for Agriculture: The expansion of industrialized agriculture drives deforestation, particularly in regions like the Amazon rainforest. Clearing land for crop cultivation or pastureland releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, increasing CO2 emissions.

  4. Land Use Change: Agricultural expansion, particularly for cash crops and animal feed production, fuels land-use change and deforestation. This conversion of natural ecosystems into agricultural lands releases carbon and reduces forests' capacity to sequester carbon, amplifying emissions.

  5. Supply Chain Emissions: The agri-food supply chain linked to industrialized agriculture contributes to GHG emissions through processing, packaging, transportation, and storage. Energy-intensive processes, refrigeration, and long-distance transport contribute to CO2 emissions.

  6. Water and Energy Use: Intensive irrigation practices in industrialized agriculture require significant amounts of water, often leading to energy-intensive pumping and distribution. The energy needed for irrigation, processing, and cooling contributes to GHG emissions through the consumption of fossil fuels.

  7. Globalized Food System: The globalized nature of industrial agriculture's supply chains, involving long-distance transport of inputs and products, adds to emissions from transportation and logistics. Global trade in agricultural commodities also contributes to emissions linked to land use change and deforestation.

  8. Biodiversity Loss: Monoculture farming: Large-scale planting of a single crop reduces habitat diversity and food sources for wildlife. Pesticides can harm pollinators like bees and butterflies, disrupting ecosystems.

Overall, industrialized agriculture, focusing on high-input, high-output production systems, contributes significantly to GHG emissions within the AFOLU sector. The practices associated with industrialized agriculture, including intensive farming, deforestation, large-scale livestock production, and global supply chains, play a substantial role in driving emissions that impact the climate and the environment.

In a world where the balance of ecosystems hangs by a thread, there is no luxury of time for deliberation. We stand at a pivotal moment where action is not just advisable but imperative. The imperative is clear: we must revolutionize our food production systems to align with ecological sustainability. The mandate is daunting—to produce more sustainable food not incrementally but on a grand scale and with unprecedented speed.

If we want to meet our global climate targets, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food

In a business-as-usual scenario, emissions from food production alone could use up all of our 1.5°C or 2°C carbon budget.

If we wanted to give ourselves a bit more room and hope for a 50% chance of keeping below 2°C, we would have to reduce all non-food emissions to zero within 10 to 12 years.

Ignoring food emissions is not an option if we want to get close to our international climate targets. Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow – an impossibility – we would still go well beyond our 1.5°C target and nearly miss our 2°C one.

“Emissions from food alone could use up all of our budget for 1.5°C or 2°C – but we have a range of opportunities to avoid this” - Hannah Ritchie (2021) - Published online at Retrieved from: ''

Circular Problem

1. The Efficiency Paradox of Fish Production:

  • Double Bind: Fish are seen as more efficient protein producers than land animals, requiring less inputs and producing fewer greenhouse gasses (GHG). However, this efficiency relies on a healthy marine ecosystem.
  • Sustainability Challenge: Increased fish production to meet demand puts pressure on wild fish populations, leading to overfishing and depletion. This damages the very ecosystem that allows fish to be an efficient protein source.

2. The Aquaculture Double Bind:

  • Impasse: Fisheries can't meet the growing demand due to overfishing and ocean depletion. Aquaculture (fish farming) is seen as a solution, but it has limitations.
  • Freshwater Challenge: Most aquaculture relies on freshwater, approximately 3% globally, a scarce resource vital for human survival and ecosystems. Only approx. 1% of freshwater is readily available, most frozen in glaciers or underground.
  • Saltwater Dilemma: While oceans cover most of the Earth's surface, saltwater makes up approx.  97%, and marine aquaculture is limited.
  • Aquaculture Growth: Despite limitations, aquaculture is crucial. Production has multiplied and needs to double by 2050 to meet protein needs.

3. The Fishmeal Dilemma:

  • Paradoxical Reliance: Traditionally, fishmeal from wild fish is a critical ingredient in fish feed. However, this reliance depletes fish populations further.
  • Unsustainable Cycle: Shifting to plant-based feeds is essential to lessen pressure on wild fish stocks. However, this creates a new set of challenges.

4. The Plant-Based Protein Conundrum:

  • Trade-Off Situation: Large-scale production of plant-based protein or ingredients for fish feed (soy, corn, wheat, palm oil, etc.) seems promising.
  • Industrialized Agriculture Concerns: Growing these cereals, plants, or palm trees relies on industrialized agriculture, which can lead to deforestation, land degradation, and water scarcity. This creates new environmental problems while trying to solve an existing one.
Confronting Critical Food Production Challenges
Food production is confronted with critical challenges. Learn about resource efficiency concerns, the environmental toll of protein consumption, and the impact of animal protein production.

Environmental Consequences of Unsustainable Food Production

Food production methods, both for plant-based and animal-based products, require significant resources such as water, land, and energy. Unsustainable resource consumption leads to environmental degradation and scarcity.
The expansion of agriculture, particularly for animal protein production, contributes to deforestation and habitat destruction. This loss of natural habitats leads to biodiversity loss and disrupts ecosystems.
Food production, especially animal protein production, significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Methane emissions from livestock and carbon dioxide emissions from land-use change and agricultural energy consumption contribute to climate change.
Agricultural practices, including using fertilizers and pesticides, can lead to water pollution through runoff and leaching. This pollution affects water quality, aquatic ecosystems, and human health.
Unsustainable farming practices, such as intensive monoculture and excessive use of chemical inputs, degrade soil health. Soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and loss of organic matter reduce agricultural productivity and contribute to environmental degradation.
The conversion of natural habitats for agriculture, particularly for animal protein production, leads to biodiversity loss. This loss affects ecosystem functioning, disrupts food webs, and reduces resilience to environmental changes.
Unsustainable food production practices, population growth, and changing dietary habits pose challenges to food security. The depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation can compromise the availability and affordability of food.
Food waste and losses occur at various stages of the food supply chain, from production to consumption. This waste contributes to resource inefficiency, environmental degradation, and food insecurity.
Unsustainable agricultural practices, including the use of synthetic chemicals, can have negative impacts on human health. Pesticide residues in food, water pollution, and exposure to harmful substances affect agricultural workers and consumers.
Unsustainable food production practices can lead to financial instability, particularly for small-scale farmers. Dependence on external inputs, fluctuating market prices, and resource depletion can undermine the economic viability of agricultural systems.
Unsustainable food production practices can exacerbate social inequities, particularly in marginalized communities. Limited access to nutritious food, unfair labor practices, and displacement of indigenous communities are among the social challenges associated with unsustainable agriculture.
Unsustainable food production practices contribute to climate change, which, in turn, exacerbates the challenges faced by the agricultural sector. Climate change impacts, such as extreme weather events and changing growing conditions, further strain food production systems and increase vulnerability.


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