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Sustainable diets
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What people eat is the single biggest determinant of both planetary and human health worldwide. By changing the way we eat we could fundamentally impact the trajectory of climate change and other environmental issues while significantly improving health outcomes. However, given that our choices are strongly influenced by the power of food companies, food environments and pricing, solving our dietary dilemmas is not a simple matter.

What is the issue?

What we eat (and what goes to waste) has a significant impact on our land, water and energy. Current food production practices are escalating the impact of deforestation, desertification and soil degradation, water scarcity and declining water quality and causing widespread damage to marine ecosystems. Biodiversity is critical to society’s wellbeing.

Overexploitation and unsustainable agricultural activity, driven by continuously growing demand, are the leading causes of biodiversity degradation and species loss. Pollinators, in particular, are impacted by changing land use due to industrialised agricultural practices. The decline of pollinator populations will have a devastating impact on the 75% of global food crops which rely on them.

Given that food systems – from growing to disposing – account for just under a third of greenhouse gas emissions, food alone has the potential to eat up the Earth’s carbon budget.

In short, our food system has done more damage to our natural environment than any other human enterprise.

What are we doing?

WWF uses existing knowledge and new research to influence the concept of a sustainable diet to promote one that is land, water, energy and people appropriate.  

How do we do this?

WWF helps identify, advocate and demonstrate the need for action by policy makers to shift towards sustainable production and consumption. The burden of the unsustainable food system is largely borne by women and children.

We have also undertaken a large scale project within the private sector with a view to creating and piloting sustainable consumption models and interventions. The aim is to determine the feasibility and proposed nature of collaborative initiatives within the South African food, beverage and retail sector, aimed specifically at addressing health challenges in the current food system.

Finally, WWF works to integrate this work within global efforts around achieving the SDGs by 2030 by amongst other things the UNEP Sustainable Production and Consumption framework. (This work is also relevant under a number of other SDGs including; climate action, sustainable cities, infrastructure and life on land. 

Who do we work with?

By working together to address these drivers, civil society, academia and others can provide the necessary arguments to create awareness and action and to and support evidence-based policy response and supply chain transformation. WWF collaborates with multi-stakeholder initiatives, business consultants and nutritional experts to guide our efforts to play a meaningful role in addressing one of South Africa’s most pressing challenges. 

How did it start?

WWF has conducted work to understand the environmental impact of our diet for a number of years. This work has helped us to understand the environmental hotspots in the value chain, but has also heightened our awareness to the problem of hunger – a reality facing almost half of the South African population.

It is clear that if WWF wishes to play a relevant role in addressing unsustainable production we need to understand the complex food connections that shape personal wellbeing around issues such as food choices, food security and access. 

What are the big wins?
  • WWF’s support, both in terms of funding, planning and implementation, was critical in the success of the first event of the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme of the United Nations 10-Year Framework on Sustainable Consumption and Production, jointly led by South Africa, Switzerland, WWF and the international organisation Hivos.

  • WWF has been instrumental as a founding partner and supporter of the Southern Africa Food Lab – the only multi-stakeholder food system dialogue platform in Africa and possibly the longest running food dialogue platform in the world. The Food Lab is not only cutting edge in design, but offers great value for the rest of Africa and globally in adding to the suite of solutions required to bring about a food system that holds social justice at its core.