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Transformation of the Global Food System

University of Copenhagen via Coursera


The UN predicts we will be 9-10 billion people on Earth in 2050. Providing so many people with nutritious foods is a massive challenge and one that cannot be met by simply upscaling current practices regarding food production and consumption. Providing humanity with nutritional food is at the center of all decisions related to sustainable development. Agriculture is responsible for 80% of global deforestation. The food systems release 29% of global greenhouse gasses. We use an area equivalent to North and South America combined for the production of meat for consumption or to produce the food necessary to feed the animals we eat. 70% of fresh water use is related to agriculture. These figures are staggering, and they show us, that we need to rethink and transform the way we produce, distribute and consume food worldwide. This course focuses on how food systems can become more sustainable. It consists of four modules where each focuses on an essential ingredient towards developing more sustainable food systems: (1) Boosting the small, (2) Transforming the big, (3) Losing less and (4) Eating smarter. In each of these key areas, we will meet people from different countries around the world, who labor every day to find and spread solutions that work. Connecting the challenges that must be overcome to develop a sustainable global food system with the solutions being developed by the amazing group of people you meet in this course has been a huge source of inspiration for me. I truly believe that the global food system can be transformed to sustainably meet the needs of 9-10 billion people and, with this course, I dare you to join me!


  • Introduction to the Global Food System
    • This first module is an introduction to the challenges facing society when we talk about the global food system. The Doughnut Economics and Planetary Boundaries frameworks are presented and the crucial role of the global food system described. Four areas of intervention in terms of transforming the global food system are identified. In addition, the four “levers” or “tools” identified in the UN 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report that society has at its disposal to transform the global food system are presented: Technology, Governance, Finance and Behavioral Change. These levers are all further developed in the following modules.
  • Boosting the Small
    • One of the essential elements for bringing the global food system onto a sustainable trajectory, is boosting, i.e., improving conditions for small-scale farmers, especially in the Global South. In this module, we look at the major challenges confronting small-scale farmers when it comes to access to information, finance, fertilizers, etc. These challenges can be met through the use of existing technologies, government intervention, and consumer awareness.
  • Transforming the big
    • The second essential element in a sustainable transformation of the global food system takes focuses on changes in industrialized, large-scale agricultural production. These practices must be changed in order to have a sustainable food system. This module identifies some of the kinds of changes needed and presents case studies showing how some actors are beginning the transformation process.
  • Losing less
    • The third essential element for transforming the global food system is reducing food loss and waste. Today, about a third of all of the food produced is never consumed. Thus, no nutritional value was created for the environmental degradation associated with the production of a large percentage of the food produced. If we can limit food loss and waste, it will be possible to stay within our planetary boundaries while feeding the increasing world population. A challenge in reducing this loss and waste is actually climate change. This module examines strategies for reducing food loss and waste.
  • Eating Smarter
    • The fourth and final essential element for achieving a sustainable food system is changing our diets. While an increasing population in the Global South will need access to nutrient-rich foods, the Global North will have to make room for this development by eating smarter. Meat production is especially damaging to the climate and environment. Many people’s health would benefit by eating less meat and it is possible to easily replace meat with alternative sources of protein. This module focuses on when and how it is easiest to change eating habits and what we need to change them to!
  • Conclusion: What does transformation really mean?
    • The Finale. In this module, we examine what it would mean for the global food system if the potentials identified through Boosting the Small, Transforming the Big, Losing Less, and Eating Smarter were to be combined. The module argues that it is possible to develop a global food system that can meet the nutritional needs of 9-10 billion people without destroying the environment and while keeping global warming within the 1.5 - 2 degrees Celcius guardrail identified in the Paris Agreement. Doing so will, however, require a strong focus on transforming the global food system.

Taught by

Katherine Richardson


5.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 919 ratings

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  • Very interesting course. I learn how ideas food production is more important now. Let make better world with better knowledge and make better food consumption.

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