“If you want to change the world, it’s not a little bit like Archimedes said: ‘Give me a lever and I can tilt the world,’” says Paul Polman, chair of the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU). “Here you need a few levers to tilt the food system.” Polman was among attendees at a high-level meeting in London organized by WRI and WWF that featured a speech by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The meeting gave a clear idea of just how many levers need to be pulled to change the extremely complex global food system.
First there are farmers, from subsistence-level growers to multinationals controlling millions of commercial acres. Then governments and policy makers, companies involved in supply chains, food and consumer goods, financers, investors and NGOs. Not least of all are ordinary people across the globe, voters and consumers who buy, eat and use the products of the land, from rice to chicken to palm oil.
Why is pulling these levers so important? Event organizer Edward Davey of FOLU says it’s because land use is so critical for solving gigantic environmental challenges, such as the changing climate and biodiversity. Yet despite being at least one-third of the potential answer to the climate crisis, its complexity is one reason why land use has not gotten the attention it deserves.
Polman, who dealt with complex supply chain issues during his time as Unilever’s CEO, says there is also a very strong development imperative. “If you look at the food system and the overall objective of the Sustainable Development Goals, to irreversibly eradicate poverty in a sustainable and equitable way, you get right away to our food system, which frankly isn’t working.”
If WRI helps in making progress on the issues discussed at the meeting, it will have an impact across many of the Institute’s priorities.
“You look at the people who are living in poverty, they’re usually subsistence monocrop farmers,” explains Polman. “You look at areas where there are conflict, there are usually issues of food. You look at issues of women and children, they are usually in stressed areas with the food system. They usually suffer disproportionate compared to the rest of the population.” Fixing the land use issue is critical to WRI, and critical to the future of the world.