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Hidden cost of global food, land use at $12 trillion

Topics Covered:

Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security.


Hidden cost of global food, land use at $12 trillion


What to study?

For Prelims: What is hidden cost? Key findings of the report.

For Mains: Concerns, measures needed.


Context: Food and Land use Coalition (FOLU), a collaboration of food, farming and green research groups, has released a report on ‘hidden’ environmental, health and poverty costs.


Key findings:

  1. Food and land use systems are defined as the way “land is used, food is produced, stored, packed, processed, traded, distributed, marketed, consumed and disposed of”.
  2. These are the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions (up to 30 per cent) driving climate change.
  3. They are responsible for the degradation of the world’s tropical forests, grasslands, wetlands and other remaining natural habitats.
  4. They are also the leading cause behind the ongoing ‘sixth extinction’ of biodiversity.
  5. Malnutrition leads to the largest hidden costs: Today one-third of the world’s population is malnourished; by 2030 it is expected to rise up to 50 per cent.


Concerns raised:

  • The current methods of food production, consumption and land use systems incur ‘hidden’ environmental, health and poverty costs estimated at almost $12 trillion a year.
  • These hidden costs can cause irreversible damage to key ecosystems, fundamentally undermine food security in certain regions, and increase public health costs.
  • If action is not taken timely the costs will rise to more than $16 trillion a year by 2050.
  • It will also put the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement climate targets out of reach.
  • This can further unleash food scarcity, disrupt markets and cause political instability, particularly in poor countries, and greately affect women and children.


The report proposes a reform agenda — centred around 10 critical transitions — of real actionable solutions:

  1. Healthy diets
  2. Productive and regenerative agriculture
  3. A healthy and productive ocean
  4. Protecting and restoring nature
  5. Diversifying protein supply
  6. Reducing food loss and waste
  7. Local loops and linkages
  8. Harnessing the digital revolution
  9. Stronger rural livelihoods
  10. Gender and demography


The need for reducing hidden costs:

  1. While an estimated $30 billion public investment is required to deliver the transition, if strongly implemented it can result in an estimated $1.285 trillion by 2030, and $1.920 trillion by 2050.
  2. Reducing the current ‘hidden costs’ of food and land use systems would add $5.7 trillion economic gains to society annually by 2030 and $10.5 trillion annually by 2050.
  3. A reduction in public health costs of $1.090 trillion a year by 2030 would be the biggest driver of the gain.


Sources: Down to Earth.