Humans must eat to live, but it shouldn't be at the cost of the environment. Our food production and consumption impact the planet in multiple ways and that's why changing the food system should become part of our climate mitigation initiatives, say scientists.

 Ensuring everyone in the world has access to a nutritious diet is one of the greatest challenges we face, but what's equally pertinent is to achieve this in a sustainable way. Food production, transportation, and consumption affect our planet in ways that we cannot ignore.

A new report from the Global Alliance for the Future of Food says that the world urgently needs to change the way it produces, distributes, consumes, and disposes of food to save the planet. The report says that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10.3 billion metric tons a year. That alone would get us 20% of the way to the Paris Climate Agreement's 2050 goals, it said. Food accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions. By the time the food you eat gets to your table, much of the environmental impact has already occurred. Here is a look at the ways our food production and consumption practices adversely affect our environment.

Land use and habitat loss

Did you know half of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture? In a bid to meet our growing food demand, more forest lands have been converted into farm lands. Destruction of forests leave animals and birds in them with no homes to go to and no food to eat. Habitat loss is one of the leading causes of population decline among wildlife species, eventually leading to extinction in many cases. According to data, of the 28.000 species evaluated to be threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 of them. Deforestation also contributes to global warming and climate change, as forests are major carbon sinks that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Use of chemicals for agriculture

Using fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides impact the environment in two ways: 1) They affect even unintended organisms in the environment. For instance, exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used against sap-feeding insects such as aphids, has been shown to affect a bee's ability to navigate. Moreover, the toxic chemicals often end up on our plates. 2) The chemicals from fertilizers are released into the atmosphere, water bodies, and soil as harmful pollutants. These in turn affect all the organisms in a food chain. Pesticides have been shown to cause irreparable genetic damage, or even killing important populations. Agriculture runoffs in water bodies cause algal bloom, which in turn affects marine life.

Stress on water resources

Agricultural production has always been and is increasingly water-demanding. Irrigated agriculture is responsible for 70% of freshwater consumption globally. Rice, soybeans, wheat, and sugarcane are some of the water-intensive crops. Agriculture drains our water reserves at an incredible rate. Livestock animals also require large amounts of water. This puts pressure on already depleted water sources.

Greenhouse gas emissions

*Fossil fuels are used to fuel farm equipment such as tractors and graders. Their usage leads to air pollution. Livestock and fisheries account for 31% of food emissions. Livestock - animals raised for meat, dairy, eggs and seafood production - contribute to emissions in several ways. Cows produce methane gas as a result of digestion.

Supply chains account for 18% of food emissions. Food processing, converting produce from the farm into final products, packaging and retail all require energy and resource inputs. Transportation of food is another factor that influences the unsustainability of our food production systems. Where your food comes from also matters. Food that travels from countries far away from India will have a bigger carbon footprint than food grown locally. They use a tremendous amount of fossil fuels.

Food waste

Food is wasted throughout the entire production chain, from initial crop growth, to supermarket screening, to final household. consumption. Food waste includes food scraps, discarded food, and uneaten food. Food waste emissions are large: one-quarter of emissions from food system come from food waste. One third of food produced globally is wasted every year. Disposed of food makes the environment filthy. They end up in landfills, where it rots and produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Did you know 25% of the world's fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten?

Picture Credit : Google 


Machinery has made it possible for the work of a dozen farm workers to be done twice as quickly by one worker. There are fewer people working on the land in developed countries than ever before. Machinery exacts a price from the environment as well, as hedges and ditches are removed to allow larger machines to work the enormous fields. Crops have been bred for the machine age, too. They need to ripen together, not over a period of time, so that machinery can harvest them in one operation.

Farm machinery, mechanical devices, including tractors and implements, used in farming to save labour. Farm machines include a great variety of devices with a wide range of complexity: from simple hand-held implements used since prehistoric times to the complex harvesters of modern mechanized agriculture.

The operations of farming for which machines are used are diverse. For crop production they include handling of residues from previous crops; primary and secondary tillage of the soil; fertilizer distribution and application; seeding, planting, and transplanting; cultivation; pest control; harvesting; transportation; storage; premarketing processing; drainage; irrigation and erosion control; and water conservation. Livestock production, which not so long ago depended primarily on the pitchfork and scoop shovel, now uses many complicated and highly sophisticated machines for handling water, feed, bedding, and manure, as well as for the many special operations involved in producing milk and eggs.

In the early 19th century, animals were the chief source of power in farming. Later in the century, steam power gained in importance. During World War gasoline- (petrol-) powered tractors became common, and diesel engines later became prevalent. In the developed countries, the number of farm workers has steadily declined in the 20th century, while farm production has increased because of the use of machinery.


Fishing in the open seas is expensive, dangerous and increasingly difficult as some fish stocks diminish. Fish farming involves using lakes, rivers and netted-off coastal areas to raise fish that can be harvested more easily. Freshwater fish and shellfish have been most success-fully farmed in this way. Many deep-sea fish require conditions that are impossible to recreate in managed waters.

Fish farming involves raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures such as fish ponds, usually for food. It is the principal form of aquaculture, while other methods may fall under mariculture. A facility that releases juvenile fish into the wild for recreational fishing or supplement a species' natural numbers is generally referred to as a fish hatchery. Worldwide, the most important fish species produced in fish farming are carp, tilapia, salmon, and catfish.

Demand is increasing for fish and fish protein, which has resulted in widespread overfishing in wild fisheries. China provides 62% of the world's farmed fish. As of 2016, more than 50% of seafood was produced by aquaculture.

Farming carnivorous fish, such as salmon, does not always reduce pressure on wild fisheries. Carnivorous farmed fish are usually fed fishmeal and fish oil extracted from wild forage fish. The 2008 global returns for fish farming recorded by the totaled 33.8 million tons worth about $US 60 billion.


Livestock is farmed chiefly to supply foods such as meat, eggs and milk, but also for leather, fur and wool. Animal by-products may also include glue, gelatin and fertilizer.

The term “livestock” refers to any domesticated, land-living animal that is raised to provide resources like meat, milk, eggs, and feathers, or to provide services like transportation or cultivation assistance. Buffalo, cows, ducks, goats, and horses are just a few examples of animals that fall into this broad category.

Livestock are raised around the globe, both on small scales—generally for subsistence or local trade—and in massive industrial operations supplying international markets. The sheer mass of these animals is hard to fathom: The combined weight of cattle, chickens, and pigs exceeds the weight of all wild animals and humans combined.

22.8 billion Chickens

Chickens are far and away the most numerous type of livestock on the planet. There are about 135 chickens for every cow—and three for every human.

Wild chickens are believed to have originated in northern China, and were eventually domesticated in Southeast Asia more than 5,000 years ago. China remains the world's leading producer of chickens, claiming over 20 percent of the global chicken supply. However, the birds are now raised on every continent except Antarctica, where they are banned. Globally, chicken consumption is on the rise, outpacing the growth in consumption of other meats, like beef or pork. But growing demand for eggs has also contributed to chickens' dominance.

1.5 billion Cattle

Cattle are the second most common livestock animal. Their domestication is thought to have occurred roughly 10,500 years ago, in what is now considered the Middle East.

Today, these animals are especially prevalent in South America, where they're primarily raised for meat, and in India, where the animals are conversely valued for the dairy products they produce. Cows are revered in Hinduism, India's majority religion, and most Indian states have regulation prohibiting, or at least regulating, the slaughter of cattle.

1.2 billion Sheep

Sheep are believed to be one of the first domesticated animals, and are common throughout the Old World. They're especially prevalent in northeastern China, Central Asia, and North Africa, but are also raised intensively in New Zealand and Australia.

Although New Zealand is famous for having more resident sheep than people (with roughly six sheep for every person), it actually ranks third in terms of sheep per capita. Mongolia has a 10:1 ratio of sheep to humans, while the Falkland Islands, a British territory off the eastern coast of Argentina, boast more than 200 sheep per capita.

967 million pigs 

The sixth most common livestock animal is the humble pig, which is descended from the significantly more formidable wild boar. Pig production is localized to a few high-intensity areas in China, northern Europe, and the American Midwest. Nearly half of the world's pigs are raised in China alone.

Excluding areas where pork is not customarily consumed—including North Africa, the Middle East, and other predominately Muslim regions—pig production is on the rise.

From 1960 to 2010, the number of pigs on the planet grew by 250 percent, while the size of individual pigs nearly doubled. This growth is attributed to increased demand for animal protein in the regions where pigs are already consumed.


In Europe in the Middle Ages, large fields were often divided into strips, with individuals farming their strip as intensively as possible. Since little was under-stood about the nutrients that plants need and the use of fertilizers, the soil in these strips soon became exhausted, with poorer and poorer yields resulting. The Agricultural Revolution was a change in farming practice that took place gradually during the eighteenth century. The technique of resting ground for a year (leaving it fallow) and rotating crops, so that the same crop was not grown year after year on the same plot, was tested and found to improve harvests. A two-year rotation and later three- and four-year rotations came to be widely practiced.

The Agricultural Revolution was a major event in world history and had a profound effect on populations throughout Europe and other historical events.  For example, many historians consider the Agricultural Revolution to be a major cause of the Industrial Revolution, especially in terms of when and how it began in Britain.  For example, the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 18th century due in part to an increase in food production, which was the key outcome of the Agricultural Revolution.  As such, the Agricultural Revolution is considered to have begun in the 17th century and continued throughout the centuries that followed, alongside the Industrial Revolution.

In the centuries before the start of the Agricultural Revolution, European farmers practised a form of farming in which they planted the same crop in the same field every year.  This would cause them to have to not plant anything in the field every few years in order to avoid destroying the quality of the soil.  However, Charles Townshend, a British statesman, identified a way to improve farming practises and thus produce more food.  In the 1730s, he discovered that by growing different types of crops in the fields year after year, British farmers did not have to leave a field for a growing season.  For example, he argued that in one year the farmers should grow a cereal grain such as whet or barley and in a following year they should grow a vegetable crop such as turnips.  By doing so, a farmer could grow food in a field every year without diminishing the ability of the soil.  For his discovery, he became known as ‘Turnip Townshend’.  In general, this allowed British farmers to grow more food, which in turn helped lead to an increase in the population of British citizens.  The increased population was important to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution because it created a large workforce for the factories and mines that would be common during the time.

A key aspect of the Industrial Revolution was the invention of different types of machines, many of which were used in farming and agriculture.  For example, Jethro Tull is famous for his invention of the seed drill which had a profound effect on the Agricultural Revolution and, in turn, the Industrial Revolution.  Tull worked on his father’s farm in England and noticed that some of the traditional farming practices were very inefficient.  For example, he was particularly concerned with how seeds were drilled into the soil by hand, which was very slow and required a lot of labor on the part of farmers. As a result, Tull invented a seed drill with a rotating cylinder to drill the seeds into the soil. This made the planting process much quicker.  As well, the seed drill allowed crops to be planted in straight rows, which allowed the farmers to use less seeds while making weeding of the crops easier and more efficient.