Nutrients for All: Envisioning a New Food System
Being fully nourished is a must for good health, but did you know that the carrot you’re eating today probably has far fewer vitamins and minerals than a carrot grown 50 years ago? Soil depletion, as a result of unsustainable farming methods, is a primary culprit. Another cause of depleted nutrients has been the breeding of new high-yield fruit and vegetable varieties that are less able to manufacture or absorb nutrients from the soil. “Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before,” according to Scientific American.
This phenomenon is just one aspect of an alarming trend worldwide: the loss of nutrients at each stage and step of our environmental and food systems. These losses are also known as broken nutrient chains. Poor and wealthy communities alike are confronting an increasingly dire challenge: how to ensure that vital nutrients are generated, preserved, and conveyed from soil to food, and from food markets to people.
Why should we care about soil, food, and people being fully nourished? Health, human productivity, and economics, for starters.
Nearly 1 billion people are undernourished, while almost 2 billion are overweight or obese. Malnutrition is related to nearly 5 million child deaths worldwide, and causes lasting learning deficits and increased susceptibility to disease. Developing and developed countries alike are becoming engulfed by a tidal wave of nutrient-related chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. With crippling effects on human productivity and medical systems, the damage caused by broken nutrient chains to GDP and economic development is exponential.
Nutrients are related to nearly every aspect of life. The complex, and remarkable, thing about making nutrients available for human beings is it requires making nutrients available for all—for ecosystems, soils, farms, plants, animals, and ourselves. And if we do that, we find benefits across the board.
Providing “Nutrients for All” requires thriving, biologically diverse ecosystems—the bedrock of a sustainable nutrient producing chain. If we can protect assets like our carbon-absorbing forests and oceans, and if we can manage our resources sustainably, then we protect nutrient cycles that are vital to not only our food systems, but all life on the planet.
Next, Nutrients for All requires agricultural systems that use smarter, sustainable technology to ensure healthy soils and thus healthy food. Farming practices that replenish top soil, limit the contamination of water supplies, and cultivate biodiversity ensure that our food systems are nutrient-rich and resilient.
Food producers play another vital role in determining what kind of nutrients are delivered to people. Those that prioritize human health can choose to sell nutrient-rich food rather than just sugars and stomach-filling calories. Food storage and processing play critical roles in nutrition retention or loss. When a rich flow of nutrients is ultimately absorbed by people, they and society reap the myriad of benefits that come from human vitality and wellness.
How we make Nutrients for All a reality is up for debate—in fact, debate and further investigation are sorely needed. Expert knowledge, much more data, and an array of perspectives are needed—not just from the health, agriculture, and environmental sectors, but also from business, finance, and information technology. And we need the participation of not only innovative social entrepreneurs like the Ashoka Fellows, but from governments, NGOs, and the media.
Ashoka’s Nutrients for All campaign wants to hear from you. Let’s work together to discover the “how-tos” of delivering Nutrients for All. If you are a field expert and would like to guest blog on this site, email Marzena Zukowska at [email protected]. Or tell us your thoughts below. What are you doing to ensure Nutrients for All in your corner of the world?
Make sure to tune into our Google+ Hangout Series every Thursday for the next six weeks where we delve deeper into the “how-tos” of a Nutrients for All world. Each week we will feature conversations between thought leaders, experts, innovators, and media gurus from a wide range of fields. And finally, don’t forget to track #nutrients4all on Twitter for the latest news, or sign up for a Changemakers user profile.