18 Apr 2017


In the run-up to Earth Day and the first anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement (COP21) on climate change, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation and the Milan Center for Food Law and Policy are offering an innovative snapshot of how food production impacts the environment and land consumption in Italy and around the globe. Marking the occasion is the publication of the Food Sustainability Report: a quarterly document which serves as a “magnifying glass” to show institutions, the media, stakeholders, policy makers and society at large what the main international themes revolving around food and sustainability are. The first edition presents a true paradox: cultivation is on the rise, but hunger and famine are making dramatic inroads. And with the global population growth expected by 2050, the situation is becoming increasingly critical.

Read the Food Sustainability Report at: www.foodsustainabilityreport.org

Nearly 40% of all land on earth is used for activities relating to agriculture and livestock, with 4.4 billion hectares (146 times the surface area of Italy) of terrain suitable for farming. Yet in the last 40 years, 30% of arable land has become unproductive. In many regions, problems related to soil quality affect more than half of the acreage being cultivated, as seen in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, south-east Asia and northern Europe. Each year the planet loses an agricultural area as big as the Philippines (stated another way, we are losing a Berlin-size plot of land every day)1.  The nations with the best sustainable agriculture scores (which takes three overarching indicators into account: water consumption, land use and greenhouse gas emissions) are Australia (57.59), Canada (56.15) and Japan (53.86), placing them at the top of the Food Sustainability Index2.  Bringing up the rear of the sustainable agriculture category of the ranking, developed by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit, are Nigeria (39.96), South Africa (39.77) and the United Arab Emirates (32.56). 

The snapshot taken in the run-up to Earth Day (22nd April) and the one-year anniversary of the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation, along with the Milan Center for Food and Law Policy, signals the launch of a new, innovative project: the Food Sustainability Report. By periodically gathering information and trends from websites, research institutes, legislation and NGOs, the report is a tool to analyse the global debate revolving around food and sustainability and thereby raise awareness about the complex issues related to food. The ultimate goal is to inform governments, institutions and the public on the urgency of finding solutions which will make the global food system truly sustainable. The topics covered by Earth Day will be the special focus of a Twitter Chat on 21st April 2017, from 4 to 5 pm CET (to participate, follow the hashtag #foodsustainability @BarillaCFN).

Currently, 25% of the earth’s terrain is severely damaged and only 10% shows any sign of improvement3 , while in the last 150 years we’ve lost half of the planet’s upper layer of earth. Deforestation, for example, is the cause of the rapid erosion of the Loess Plateau in China. The excessive exploitation of grazing land in the western United States has reduced soil depth and caused desertification. In India, the repeated cutting of trees and intensive farming have caused the fertility of the soil to plummet and threatens the growth of wild medicinal plants. Each year in Brazil alone, soy production causes a loss of over 55 million tonnes of topsoil. In the past 50 years, farmed land around the planet has increased by 12%, global irrigated surfaces have doubled, and the yield of major crops has tripled. Meanwhile, pressures from a ballooning global population and changing lifestyles in a growing segment of society are pushing towards additional demand for food production which, in 2050, is projected to be up 70% compared to 2009, with peaks of 100% in developing nations. The distribution of land and water, however, does not and will not favour the countries that will need to produce more: the average per-capita availability of agricultural land in low-income nations is less than half of that in high-income nations, and the land available is also generally less suitable for farming.  

In general, the planet has a finite amount of arable agricultural land, which is quickly running out. A large part of it is already farmed or used in other ways (currently 1.6 billion hectares are cultivated, only 20% of which, a total of 0.3 billion hectares, is on land marginally adapted for agriculture), or which is subject to erosion and over-farming4. The quest for “new land” is leading to deforestation and production site dislocation, such as the purchase of land abroad, which when conducted without full transparency and in violation of human rights can lead to land grabbing. Today, this land purchase phenomenon involves nearly 60 million hectares5.  From 1990 to the present, 129 million hectares of forest have been destroyed, the equivalent of an area almost as large as South Africa, with food production to blame for 80% of the loss. “Despite renewed interest in agriculture from funders and donors, nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger around the globe and some 36 million people still die every year from malnutrition-the problem of hunger is far from being resolved,” says Danielle Nierenberg, founder and president of FoodTank. “Soil loss and degradation is potentially one of the major threats to our food system across the world. Sustainable agriculture is not only an option, but a necessity to combat hunger, poverty and food waste. Respect for diversity, both biological or cultural, and the rediscovery of traditional practices can help us find ways to grow crops that are resistant pests, diseases, drought, floods and other disasters which will undoubtedly increase with climate change.” 

What concrete steps can be taken to encourage more sustainable land uses? We suggest three actions for a virtuous cycle which would help us stop “eating up” our planet. First, we need to reduce food waste: 40% of what we produce never even makes it to the table6.  Second, agricultural land should be used to produce food, yet from today to 2020, 40 million hectares will be converted to biofuel crops7.  Lastly, we need to opt for food which uses less soil. One prime example: 80% of agricultural land is used to grow animal feeds, but meat makes up only 17% of the calories we eat. In short, our nutritional choices have an impact on the environment now more than ever, and this is exactly where we must begin if we truly want to save the planet. Synthesising these simple pieces of advice into one concrete action, if we improve the variety of what people eat, aiming for more fruit, vegetables, grains and fish, we can direct consumer demand towards a healthy, and therefore more sustainable, diet.


Developed by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation and the Milan Center for Food Law and Policy, the Food Sustainability Report is a way of promoting and disseminating knowledge on the complex themes surrounding food to raise awareness among governments, institutions and the general public on the urgent need to take action to make the global food system truly sustainable. 

The first edition focuses on a warning from the United Nations about devastating food crises affecting four countries in particular – Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and north western Nigeria –  countries stricken by years of war and now facing persistent drought. The situation forces us to look at the way we eat and produce food to make it more diverse and sustainable, starting by protecting cultivatable land which is slowly running out. 

On this topic,  Hilal Elver, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, stated: “Armed conflict, coupled with economic crisis, high food prices, debilitated agricultural production, and in some cases severe impacts of drought, and climate change induced extreme weather events has resulted in millions of people going hungry in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, to name a few countries. Deliberate blocking food and water from civilians is a crime against humanity but there is impunity. We need legally binding global agreement to remind responsibility to protect for the international community that is already in UN charter. Unfortunately, the question of how to eliminate hunger and even famine and protect the right to food for all in the context of grave humanitarian situations is still an urgent matter in the 21st century. This is a critical question, which merits the immediate attention of the international community.

The Report is a quarterly document based on continuous analysis of news and documents on food and sustainability published online by major English-language sources, including information websites, government organisations, international agencies, NGOs and research institutes. The report captures the scale, predominant content and trends in the debate, research, legislation and concrete action underway by analysing data on the volume of widespread information, semantic analysis of key themes and dissemination of news, documents and research worth reading, considering and highlighting. The project was created to help staff navigate the enormous flow of information about food and its impact in social, economic and environmental terms, aiming to understand how and to what extent these dynamics impact our daily life and the balances characterising our complex food production system. The Food Sustainability Report will be available for consultation online from the 19th April.  


To encourage debate on food sustainability amongst a wider international audience, the BCFN Foundation launched the Food Sustainability Media Award (www.goodfoodmediaaward.org). The award invites journalists, bloggers, freelancers and individuals to submit work, either published or unpublished, on food safety, sustainability, agriculture and nutrition. Entries must be received by 31st May and may include articles, videos and photographs that aim to highlight and expose the paradoxes within our food system and propose solutions to combat the coexistence of hunger and obesity, food waste and the exploitation of the Earth.

  1Processing of 2011 FAO data by the BCFN, Lo Stato Mondiale delle Risorse Terrestri e Idriche, Cf. http://www.fao.org/nr/solaw/solaw-home/en/ 
  2Index  developed by the BCFN with the Economist Intelligence Unit, which revolutionises our vision of food as we know it and, for the first time, analyses food choices of the planet not just in terms of “taste”, but also in terms of the overall value which the food represents, in a ranking of 25 analysed countries, representing more than 2/3 of the earth’s population and 87% of all GDP.
  3Processing of 2011 FAO data by the BCFN, Lo Stato Mondiale delle Risorse Terrestri e Idriche, Cf.. http://www.fao.org/nr/solaw/solaw-home/en/
  4FAO, 2011. The state of the world's land and water resources for food and agriculture (SOLAW) - Managing systems at risk. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome and Earthscan, London.
  5Land Matrix, online database, Land Matrix, www.landmatrix.org/en
  6FAO, 2011. The state of the world's land and water resources for food and agriculture (SOLAW) - Managing systems at risk. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome and Earthscan, London.
  7FAO data, Cf. Fondazione Barilla, Eating Planet. Cibo e Sostenibilità: costruire il nostro futuro”, data relating to greenhouse gas emissions by European families, p. 115-116. Cf., Tukker A., B. Jansen, Enviromental Impacts of Products. 

Simone Silvi, Senior Account Media Relations, s.silvi@inc-comunicazione.it, +39 335.10.97.279
Francesca Riccardi, Media Relations Consultant, f.riccardi@inc-comunicazione.it , +39 335.72.51.741

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN Foundation) is a think tank created in 2009 in order to analyse the key issues connected to food and nutrition around the world. By adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, economic, scientific, social and environmental factors are studied in terms of their effects on the food system. The President and Vice President of the BCFN Foundation are Guido and Paolo Barilla, while the board of directors is made up of, among others, Carlo Petrini, the President of Slow Food and Paolo De Castro, who chairs the committee on agriculture and rural development at the European Parliament. The Advisory Board oversees the work of the BCFN Foundation. For more information: www.barillacfn.com; www.protocollodimilano.it 

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