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Healthy Planet, Healthy People

Our health is intrinsically tied to the health of our planet, which is becoming increasingly unhealthy. Urgent transformations are needed to prevent further deterioration of human lives.

What does a healthy lifestyle mean to you?

The absence of disease? The right nutrition from foods? Eight glasses of water a day? Regular outdoor exercise in sunshine and fresh air, perhaps?

Likely all of the above.

For many of us, these are basic human needs that we take for granted. We enjoy our three meals a day, clean water from our taps and the occasional jaunts into nature for rejuvenation.

Yet for people in different parts of the world suffering from poverty, hunger, water scarcity and pollution, these are luxuries that exist only in their hopes.

A healthy environment is both a prerequisite and a foundation for human health and wellbeing

The Sombre State Today

Our planet is becoming increasingly unhealthy, and this is having a direct impact on human life:

GEO-6: UNEP’s Sixth Global Environmental Outlook

The UN Environment Program’s most comprehensive environmental report to-date - GEO-6 “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” - shows that a healthy environment is both a prerequisite and a foundation for human health and wellbeing.

The report emphasises the necessary actions needed to transform three systems:

  1. Food - adopting sustainable consumption practices;

  2. Energy - decarbonising the atmosphere and building sustainable energy systems;

  3. Waste - shifting to a circular economy, one that uses waste as a resource.

In this blog post, we delve into the system that affects us most intimately, everyday - food.

Actions to transform the food system
Transformation through impactful actions

Transforming the Food System

Of the GEO-6’s recommendations for transforming the food system, three areas have been highlighted as being able to make significant amounts of progress.


Farmer in a tractor
Photo credit: Spencer Puch at Unsplash

UNEP recommends for farmers to be given strong incentives to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and use their land as efficiently as they can.

For example, the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) by the Australian government incentivises Australian farmers to cut the amount of greenhouse gases they create and to undertake activities that store carbon.

Under this scheme, landowners and farmers who adopt approved ERF methods can earn Australian Carbon Credit Units, which can be sold to the government or on the secondary private market to generate additional income streams, while benefiting the environment.[4]

Food waste accounts for 8% of greenhouse gases released annually


Food rotting on the ground
Photo credit: Joshua Hoehne at Unsplash

Every year, one third of food produced globally is either lost or wasted. That’s enough food to feed two billion people, or a quarter of the world’s population.

Food loss and waste accounts for over 3 billion tons of greenhouse gases released annually, and would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China if it had been a country.

44% of this wastage occurs in developing countries where much of the loss happens during the production process. Improper storage, a lack of refrigeration, technical constraints in harvesting techniques and other infrastructural challenges are contributing factors.

Innovative thinking and better technologies along the production process have helped to mitigate this loss. More can be done with collaborative efforts by the public sector, the private sector and the NGOs to fully address the issue. Fortunately, the private sector is recognising the need to integrate sustainability into their core strategy, with well-known brands leading the way.

The remaining 56% comes from high-income countries, mainly at later stages of the supply chain. Large quantities of food are wasted at retail and consumer levels due to a variety of reasons - from quality standards that over-emphasize appearance to confusion over expiration labels. An estimated 222 million tonnes of edible food are thrown away by consumers every year - that’s almost as much as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

Crop products need less resource to produce when compared with animal products for the same amount of nutrition


A colourful plate of fruits and vegetables
Photo credit: Anna Pelzer at Unsplash

Better yet, adopt a whole food plant-based diet.

Did you know that half of the world’s habitable land is now used for agriculture? Of this, 23% is used to grow crops for human consumption, and a whopping 77% is used for livestock (grazing and crops for animal feed).

Yet in terms of productivity, livestock farming produces just 18% of the world’s calories and 37% of total protein.[5] That’s more than three quarters of agricultural land use for about a quarter of output. An expensive use of land indeed.

Did you also know that 72% of the world’s water withdrawals are used for agriculture? And that the water footprint (WF) of any animal product is larger than the WF of a crop alternative with the same nutritional value?

For example, the average WF per calorie of beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. The average WF per gram of protein of milk, eggs and chicken meat is 1.5 times greater than for pulses (beans, peas, lentils etc).[6]

From a freshwater resource perspective, it is clearly more efficient to obtain the same nutrition through crop products than animal products.

All of us have influence as citizens, consumers, employees and leaders to demand change

Transforming Our Habits

So there it is. The hard facts about how our consumption habits are harming our planet, our home.

It is not someone else’s problem, it is our own. And it is our responsibility to reverse the toll our habits have been taking on our planet before it’s too late.

Switch to a plant-based diet, or take gradual steps if the prospect sounds daunting. Learn about sorghum, the new superfood, and healthy plant-based alternatives to your daily glass of milk.

Talk to your family, neighbours and friends at your next get-together, and raise awareness about sustainable food practices.

Be a champion for change within your organisation and with your government representatives. Advocate for investing and buying green products and services.

All of us have influence as citizens, consumers, employees and leaders. Let's use that influence to nurse our planet back to health.

When all is said and done - without a healthy planet, there will be no healthy us.

​Our health is intrinsically tied to our planet. We need to get the word out and every little bit of your support goes a long way in helping us get there.



[1] World Health Organisation (WHO) 2016, An estimated 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy environments,, viewed 27 September 2021, <>

[2] UN-Water 2021, Summary Progress Update 2021: SDG 6 - water and sanitation for all, July, Geneva, Switzerland, viewed 28 September 2021, <>

[3] UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2020, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021,, viewed 27 September 2021, <>

[4] Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment n.d., Emissions Reduction Fund - Department of Agriculture,, viewed 30 September 2021, <>

[5] Ritchie, H & Roser, M 2019, Land Use, Our World in Data, viewed 2 October 2021, <>

[6] Hoekstra, AY 2014, ‘Water for animal products: a blind spot in water policy’, Environmental Research Letters, vol. 9, no. 9, p. 091003

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