The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has said the food supply chain has joined deforestation and farming practices as the main source of emissions in the agri-food sector.
According to the organisation, the food supply chain could overtake farming and land use as the largest contributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the agri-food system in many countries.
This, the FAO said was due to the rapid growth in the sector driven by food processing, packaging, transport, retail, household consumption, waste disposal, and the manufacturing of fertilizers among other things.
The agency disclosed this in its new study, which was presented on Monday at the COP26 Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
“The most important trend over the 30 years since 1990 highlighted by our analysis is the increasingly important role of food-related emissions generated outside of agricultural land, in pre-production and post-production processes along food supply chains, at all scales from global, regional and national.
“This has important repercussions for food-relevant national mitigation strategies, considering that until recently these have focused mainly on reductions of non-CO2 within the farm gate and CO2 from land-use change,” the report stated.
The report builds on a wave of recent efforts to quantify GHG trends to facilitate mitigation measures and alert policymakers to emerging trends.
The report was filed to make it easier for farmers, ministerial planners, and countries to better understand the connections between their planned climate actions under the Paris Agreement.
Also, the report was made available to help consumers understand the full carbon footprint of particular commodities across global supply chains.
According to the study, factors unrelated to on-farm activities and land-use changes already account for more than half of the carbon dioxide emissions from agri-food systems in advanced regions and their shares have more than doubled over the past three decades in developing countries.
Speaking on the report, FAO Chief Economist, Maximo Torero, said the organisation was glad to offer for the global public good, a data set that directly and in detail addresses the greatest challenge of this time and which is now available for all.
“This kind of knowledge can spur meaningful awareness and action,” Torero said.
The report read, “The study found that GHG emissions from pre-and post-production phases of the food supply chain accounted for more than half of the agri-food system total in both Europe and North America, while the figure was below 14 percent for Africa and South America.
“Of the 16.
5 billion tonnes of GHG emissions due to global total agri-food systems emissions in 2019, 7.
2 billion tonnes came from within the farm gate, 3.
5 from land-use change, and 5.
8 billion tonnes from supply-chain processes.
“In terms of singular components, in 2019 deforestation was the largest source of GHG emissions, at 3,058 Mt CO2, followed by enteric fermentation (2,823 Mt CO2eq), livestock manure (1,315 Mt CO2eq), household consumption (1,309 Mt CO2eq), food waste disposal (1,309 Mt CO2eq), on-farm use of fossil fuels (1,021 Mt CO2eq), and the food retail sector (932 Mt CO2eq).
“On-farm activities are by far the major emitters of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), although food waste decay generates significant amounts of methane.
“Agri-food system GHG emissions from Asia, the world’s most populous region, are far and away from the greatest, followed by Africa, South America, Europe, North America, and Oceania.
“The new data found that 31 per cent of total anthropogenic GHG emissions, or 16.
5 billion tonnes, originate from the world’s agri-food systems, a 17 percent increase from 1990 when the global population was smaller.
The global shares are in line with previous work, indicating a range between 21-37%.
Food Supply Chain Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Emissions – FAO