Sustainable Consumption and Production

Sustainable development was enshrined at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1992, where the international community also adopted Agenda 21, a global plan of action for sustainable development. An overarching objective within this agenda was the promotion of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP)”, which was reconfirmed in the recent Rio + 20 Summit in 2012.

Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) was defined as “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of further generations” Oslo symposium, 1994.

In 2008 the European Union gave itself a Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan that was reviewed in 2012. Fair Trade has been used as an example and best practices in different areas of the EU Sustainable Production and Consumption (SCP) Action Plan. However, but there has been little support from the European Commission in coordinating Fair Trade policies in the EU so that SCP is mainstreamed throughout the EU’s policies.

What is sustainable food consumption and why does it matter?

As the world’s population is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050, there will be a significant pressure on the global food system. Therefore, it is important to ensure more sustainable food system that will be able to feed the growing population.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines sustainable consumption and production in food and agriculture is a “consumer-driven, holistic concept that refers to the integrated implementation of sustainable patterns of food consumption and production, respecting the carrying capacities of natural ecosystems. It requires consideration of all the aspects and phases in the life of a product, from production to consumption, and includes such issues as sustainable lifestyles, sustainable diets, food losses and food waste management and recycling, voluntary sustainability standards, and environmentally friendly behaviours and methods that minimize adverse impacts on the environment and do not jeopardize the needs of present and future generations. Sustainability, climate change, biodiversity, water, food and nutrition security, right to food, and diets are all closely connected”[1].

A central role in feeding the world’s growing population is played by small producers: according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), they manage over 80 per cent of the world’s estimated 500 million small farms and provide over 80 per cent of the food consumed in a large part of the developing world[2]. Even though the small scale agriculture is seen as a possible solution to the challenges that the global food system faces, small farmers are marginalised within many agrifood production chains. They have to face several economic, social and environmental risks.

Fair Trade as best practice for sustainable food production

Fair Trade makes a difference to small farmers and workers. By targeting their income, living, and working conditions, the Fair Trade systems aim at the improvement of farmers’ and workers’ socio-economic situation:

- minimum price and access to pre-financing

- improvement of livelihoods and protection against price fluctuations

- minimum price paid on the top that benefits not only individual farmers, but also their communities

- help women to realize their full potential and to get the respect in their communities that they deserve

- use of environmental friendly production methods

- preservation of traditional farming and agro-ecological practices

Key recommendations for the EU to include in the Sustainable Food Communication

- recognise access to food as a basic right for everyone

- adopt a definition of “sustainable food” that fits within a balanced and integrated model of sustainable development   that makes poverty eradication and environmental sustainability interdependent

- promote sustainable farming in Europe and elsewhere

- ensure that shorter supply chains are understood in terms of the number of intermediaries in the food chain, rather than the geographic distance from “farm to fork”

- adopt a balanced approach to measuring the impacts of production and consumption of food

- follow the recommendations of the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food to promote Fair Trade in accordance with the Charter of Fair Trade Principles as a way to secure human rights in agriculture

To read the whole FTAO position paper ‘EU Sustainable Food strategy: Fair Trade movement contribution’.


[1] Sustainable food consumption and production. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, [viewed 26 November 2013]. Available from www.fao.org/ag/ags/sustainable-food-consumption-and-production/en

[2] IFAD, UNEP. Smallholders, food security and the environment. 2013.

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