Integrating Environment, Food Systems, and Sustainability in Feeding the Growing Population in Developing Countries

Integrating Environment, Food Systems, and Sustainability in Feeding the Growing Population in Developing Countries

Abiodun Elijah Obayelu (Federal University of Agriculture – Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3631-4.ch001


Food is indispensable to life. It plays an important role in the economy but what is not well known is the impact of production and consumption that food has on the environment. The nexus of food systems and the environment are complex and driven by many economic, socio-cultural, and environmental factors considered to be important in the contemporary global arena. As the world population grows, there is an increased demand on the already stretched food system and fragile environment. Processes along the food chain from agricultural production to food consumption produce outputs other than consumable food that are returned to the natural environment such as pollution or waste. This chapter sheds light on the links in food systems and environment in developing countries. A major finding is that the existing food systems that were supposed to produce adequate food for all are placing major stress on environmental assets including soil, water, fisheries, and biodiversity. For food systems to be sustainable, all hands must be on deck.
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One of the main challenges facing most developing countries is how to simultaneously provide enough food while conserving the natural resources to produce food for the present and future generations. Fact have emerged that despite production of enough food to feed the population by some countries, almost 800 million people (representing about 12.9 percent of the population in developing regions) are hungry (FAO, IFAD and WFP, 2015); 161 million under-five year olds have been estimated to be stunted (WHO, 2013); and over 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, in particular vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc (Ng, et al., 2014; FAO, 2013). At the same time, the number of overweight/obese people has reached more than 1.4 billion adults globally (representing about 30 percent of the total adult population). Obesity-related health conditions are rising rapidly both in developing and developed countries (WHO, 2015); and around 30 percent of the food produced worldwide (about 1.3 billion tons) is lost or wasted every year (FAO, 2011). This shows that a lot of people are probably not getting enough food and most eat diets poor in quality because the type of food systems currently are not sustainable. Food waste alone represents around 3-5% of global warming impacts, more than 20% of biodiversity pressure, and 30% of all of the world’s agricultural land (EU, 2014). A food system governs what we eat; and there has been increasing concern at all levels of governance and in different policy sectors, civil society, academia and business that the food system today is not sustainable and endangers both health and the future of the planet (Kickbusch, 2010). Food system is said to be sustainable if it ensures food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition of future generations are not compromised (HLPE, 2014). Food system therefore is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Food production places enormous demand upon the environment. Food systems vary significantly from country to country in terms of actors, technology and type of resources used (UNEP, 2016). Food systems comprise all aspects of food production (the way the food is grown or raised; harvested or slaughtered; processed, packaged, or otherwise prepared for consumer purchase), food distribution (where and how the food is sold to consumers and how the food is transported) and food consumption (Ericksen, 2008; Farmar-Bowers, 2013; Pearson et al., 2014). The various outcomes of the food system contribute to food security and health on the one hand and environmental degradation on the other (Ericksen, 2008).

Most of the food we consume is no longer produced in self-sufficient, but travels (and often a long way) from producer to consumer. Most of the food consumed are processed elsewhere and arrives in packaged forms through trade or the exchange of technologies or resources.

This chapter provides an overview of the current status of food systems, their interaction with the environment, and an assessment of the sustainability of current agricultural practices and effects on food production, underlying causes of unsustainable production and consumption patterns.

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