Seeking sustainable food systems: from Dubai to Uist

by Anne MacLennan

COP28 in Dubai was the first climate summit to officially recognise the interdependence of sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action, in a Declaration signed by 160 countries, including the UK, last November. The signatories agreed that transformation of agriculture and food systems towards equity, resilience and sustainability was urgently needed in response to ‘the imperatives of climate change.’

Hunger has been exacerbated in the past year and more, by climate disasters, conflict and  the weaponisation of food, as well as cost of living pressures. Then there are the health impacts of poor nutrition, sometimes associated with obesity, due to cheap and plentiful ultra-processed foods.

Local solutions tend to be easier to implement and help reconnect people to the food system (and nature). This includes the promotion of alternative farming or crofting models, shorter supply chains, reduction of food loss and waste, and public procurement programmes (e.g. supplying schools and hospitals with local produce). Actions such as in Uist (see below) and Broadford (see above) are therefore very relevant.

Separately, a report published by an international collaboration on January 29th, looks at food system economics and reiterates that a ‘transformation of food systems is urgently needed, possible, and offers enormous economic benefits.’

The authors warn that the global food system is on an unsustainable trajectory citing rising food insecurity and undernutrition, unhealthy diets, increasing waste and, of course, vulnerability to climate change. One of the priority actions recommended is to shift consumption patterns towards healthy diets. Apart from the huge benefits to people and planet, they calculate that transformation would  provide economic benefits equivalent to at least US$5 TRILLION – every year!

So, can we contribute to this transformation from a grass roots level? Read on …

artist impression: long low wood building with slate roofUist

Tagsa Uibhist reported last year on its research into strengthening the local food economy ‘with an emphasis on environmental and social sustainability, resilience, affordability and on broadening access to low-cost nutritious food.’

They recognised that the climate emergency, cost-of-living crisis, increasing levels of food poverty, long supply chains, and the many failings of industrial food production necessitate more resilient and sustainable local food systems. Particular local challenges, strengths and opportunities were identified, leading to the recommendation that a community food hub be established.

A Scottish Government grant enabled local architects to design ‘a welcoming and inclusive building’ alongside the existing community garden (the proposed design is shown above). The Hub will be used as a local food market, a kitchen for processing local produce and training, and a refillery. The multi-purpose meeting space can host workshops and other meetings.