Dietary change offers a route to sustainable development

The Brazilian Amazon and Indonesia’s rainforests are burning. For months, thousands of extreme land and forest fires, many of them set to clear land for lucrative palm oil plantations, have ravaged the two countries. These attacks against the rainforest, a haven for biodiversity and a natural defence against global warming, further amplify the increasingly fragile state of our environment and demonstrate the urgent need for transformations in our food and agricultural system

Photo Credit: N. Palmer (CIAT:CCAFS)
Photo Credit: Mike Lewelling/Yellowstone National Park Service


Against the backdrop of these and other environmental events this year, a new CCAFS paper was launched on October 8th in Bali at the 5th Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture, explaining why and how dietary change offers a clear route to achieving the aspirational Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) food system with positive outcomes for both people’s health and the environment.  

What are the paper’s key messages?

  1. In the name of health and environmentChanges in diets are necessary for human health, and particularly to tackle hunger, under-nutrition and obesity. However, they are also absolutely crucial for staying below the 2°C target. According to an IPCC report, the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector is currently responsible for twenty-three per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, mainly from deforestation and agriculture.
  2. Compatibility of healthiness and sustainability: Current diets are failing to reconcile human health and environment sustainability due to an imbalance in food consumption. Vegetables, fruit and nuts should be consumed in greater quantities around the world, while the quanitity of animal products eaten should increase in developing countries but decrease in many developed countries (see Introduction).  
  3. Diets in flux: Historically, diets have been fluctuating across cultures and countries due to socio-cultural, physical and economic factors. This raises hope that change is possible (see Chapter 1). 
  4. Incentives for all food actors: To make healthy and sustainable foods the default option, major changes are necessary across the food system with the engagement of all food actors. Recent research shows that healthy, sustainable foods are more widely eaten if appealing in terms of cost, taste, convenience and enjoyment, if they become more normal, and easier to access. To adjust the food environment, domestic policies should adjust product prices to account for their environmental impact and subsidise healthy food instead of under-nourishing products (see Chapters 2 and 3). 
  5. Concrete examples of change: While no joint effort has yet been made to shift diets in the name of healthy people and the planet, several inspirational examples of ‘climate-smart initiatives’ were presented at the conference. In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, female farmers have learnt about seed and crop diversity and new farming techniques through self-help groups. They have also started using social media platforms to share seeds. Through ‘Science Field Shops’ in Indonesia, farmers have started to gather and digitize their own weather data, helping to improve their resilience to extreme weather. Change is also occurring in West-Java, where farmers have reduced livestock emissions through adjusting and optimising their cows’ diets.


Photo Credit: N. Palmer (CIAT:CCAFS)
Photo Credit: N. Palmer/CIAT:CCAFS


There is an enormous variety of creative ways to improve our food systems, adapt our diets and thereby achieve sustainable development. The CCAFS paper has created a great foundation on which to build on, raise awareness and start transforming how we grow, process and eat for a healthy future.

Get involved and help us share the findings of the CCAFS paper across and beyond the SDG2 community:


The CCAFSCGIAR's Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, brings together scientists, researchers and policymakers who work in agricultural science, development research, climate science and Earth system science from across the world to identify and address synergies and trade-offs between climate change, agriculture and food security