One of the most significant lifestyle changes with severe environmental and health consequences being witnessed in developing Asia is in the form of changes in food consumption behaviour among people. India’s population is on the rise and more and more people are moving out of the poverty trap with significant improvements on the economic front. At the same time, India is rapidly urbanising with large number of people moving to urban areas every year.
It has been projected that India will have 404 million urban dwellers by 2050 (United Nations, 2010). India will need significant improvements in food production without impacting the environment to meet the needs of its growing population. With these demographic changes, it has also been projected that India’s meat and livestock product consumption will nearly double by 2050 (Tim Searchinger, 2013). Meeting these multiple challenges in a sustainable way may seem impossible. However, solutions can be found if the principles of sustainable production and consumption can be brought into practice in the urban food consumption sphere.
Recognising the importance of arresting the negative trends early, a project entitled ‘Strengthening Food Resource and Information Channels for Sustainable Production and Consumption of Food’ has been designed to be implemented in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with funding from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Government of Japan. The programme also holds relevance to the much acclaimed 10 Year Framework Programme (10YFP) for sustainable consumption and production patterns of UNEP (Prabhakar & Ramanjaneyulu, 2016; UNEP, 2016).
The project aims to address the changing food consumption behaviour towards healthy and sustainable choices by:
Enhancing sustainable food production in rural, peri-urban and urban areas,
By establishing ‘food info-marts’ that become the centre pivot connecting all actors for sustainable production, supply and consumption of food through the food info-channels and food resource channels (Fig. 1),
- Establishing food resource channels that promote closed-loop resource circulation through recycling food and crop waste as compost for use in production areas (urban, peri-urban and rural),
- Establishing food info-channels that connect producers and consumers through providing information on consumer preferences, help producers tailor their production choices to the food preferences,
- Educating and training food producers on sustainable food production practices, and
- Educating and training consumers on sustainable and healthy food choices and food waste minimisation.
The project will launch a campaign to increase sustainable food consumption which in turn promotes sustainable production and supply chains by reducing the ecological footprints of food, especially greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by promoting sustainable agricultural practices, reducing food wastage and resultant resource wastage, reducing water use and resultant energy requirement for water pumping and supply, reducing food transportation costs through promoting urban and peri-urban food production and reducing use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and resultant environmental impacts by promoting closed-loop linkages between production and consumption areas.
The project will put in place food info-marts that can link producers and consumers through information such as getting people to know of the farmers’ agriculture practices, healthy food choices, ways to minimise food waste, and ways to grow your own food. With mutual benefit provided by this channel, the marts will sustain and grow with producers seeing the benefit of knowing their consumers and directly marketing to them and consumers identifying the producers.
The project will also leave behind a gamut of best food production and consumption practices and a better understanding on ecological footprint among producers and consumers that will steer them towards making environmentally sound choices. The capacity building programmes taken up at the food info-marts will act as a catalyst for this process. Since, the government of India has already initiated the Smart Cities Mission (Ministry of Urban Development, June, 2015,), it is hoped that this project will contribute through sharing of experiences, and help in a cross-fertilisation of ideas that will end up changing urban India for the better.
Measuring the impacts
The ecological footprint would be measured by a composite Ecological Debt Index (EDI). A concept being developed by the project proponents, EDI is based on the premises of greenhouse or carbon debt and is defined as the number of units by which a product or entity or enterprise exceeds its permitted ecological footprint units. This innovation will provide first of its kind experience in deciding the ecological debt for food production and consumption based on participatory approaches. The project will measure:
- Carbon footprint: Energy and other forms of carbon emissions from resources used in production, transport, storage and sale.
- Water footprint: Water consumed in production.
- Agrochemical footprint: Chemical fertilizers, pesticides which consume huge energy in production and also leave toxic residue which pollute soils and water.
- Resilience: The momentum gained by both the producers and consumers as a result of the intervention.
Monitoring and evaluation of the project involves regular collection of data from the project participants by establishing a data panel wherein randomly selected members from volunteering farmers and consumers will contribute to regular observations/collection of data on how their production and consumption lifestyle decisions have changed over the course of the project. The collected data will be verified by the farmer cooperatives and household representatives before it is subjected to analysis. Tools would be developed with which each stakeholder can assess the ecological footprints of the food they are responsible for their production, consumption or trade practices. A food label would be developed which indicates the ecological footprint of the food pack so that consumer can make a better choice. The farmer-producers and their cooperatives will maintain the data and label the produce before marketing. The private players in the supply chain would also be engaged to understand the issues and move towards greener supply chains. The project will also engage with farmers and farmer-producer organisations to directly connect with the consumers through the food-info marts which lead to mutual understanding and benefit. The food-info marts will gradually become market place for producers to directly sell their produce to consumers and thus become self-sustainable.
The project will directly work with 2500 farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with the objective of promoting organic as well as non-pesticidal management (NPM) farming. The producer knowledge centres will have a two-way information flow. On the one hand it will provide all technical knowledge to the farmers to convert to organic/NPM farming, recycling their crop residues, reducing water consumption thereby reducing carbon emissions and on the other hand, collect farmers’ feedback to improve and sustain organic/NPM agricultural practices. This will reduce the energy consumption of the target farmers by 50-75 per cent. The project intends a spin off effect with another set of 5000 farmers as well.
Working directly with 10000 consumers in Hyderabad and Visakapatnam, the project aims to educate them on healthy food and food habits. Through campaigns, food info-marts, mobile food info-marts and media events, another 50,000 producers/consumers are to be educated over a three-year period. The project team will engage existing consumer and producer cooperatives in project locations, build their capacities and pass on project outputs to be managed by cooperatives.
The project also proposes to influence the Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission, wherein lessons learnt from the latter will help in strengthening the former. For scaling up, those implementing the project will play the role of advisers and render support for the initiative.
The production and consumption of food ought to be sustainable, for a healthy planet. A UNEP funded project seeks to make the process sustainable through greater awareness among producers, consumers and everyone else by making information available to all. Targeted at urban Indians, the project seeks to work in tandem with the Smart Cities Mission, and aims at a healthier India.
Ministry of Urban Development. (June 2015). Mission statement and guidelines. New Delhi, India: Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. Retrieved from http://smartcities.gov.in/writereaddata/SmartCityGuidelines.pdf.
Prabhakar, S., & Ramanjaneyulu, G. V. (2016, 01 21). Strengthening food resource and information channels for sustainable production and consumption of food. Retrieved from IGES Enviroscope: http://pub.iges.or.jp/modules/envirolib/view.php?docid=6225.
Tim Searchinger, C. H. (2013). Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A menu of solutions to sustainably feed more than 9 billion people by 2050. Washington, D.C., USA: World Resources Institute.
UNEP. (2016). UNEP 10FYP Global Action for Sustainable Consumption and Production. Retrieved from http://www.unep.org/10yfp.
United Nations. (2010). World Urbanisation Prospects. New York, USA: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.