Feeding humankind without ruining the planet

Feeding humankind without ruining the planet
Feeding humankind without ruining the planet

How do we healthfully feed more and more humans without exhausting the Earth’s resources in a context of climate change? It was in response to this major issue that Université de Montréal and Space for Life joined forces to create the food challenge Transition Pathways. This bold project brought together a diversity of knowledge and expertise, both academic and citizen-based, to supply ideas on the socioecological transition of Québec’s food system. More than 300 people took part in reflections over a period of three years, an approach that made it possible to establish a common vision and to develop the steps to get us where we wish to be over a 20-year horizon.

The socioecological impacts of the food system

At a time of climate crisis and ecological disruption, the world food system and its social and environmental impacts are increasingly coming under fire. And with good reason, because they’re the primary cause of biodiversity loss,1 and in Québec, the agricultural sector is responsible for 10 percent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.2 Paradoxically, this same food system fails to adequately feed the population. According to data from 2021, food insecurity affects over nine percent of people in Québec.3 These figures are troubling, but they also demonstrate that if we collectively address the system’s flaws, the resulting socioeconomic impacts can only be positive and contribute to the greater well-being of the planet, its ecosystems and its inhabitants.

Building a road together to reach a desirable future

But where do we start? What are the major steps and the actions to carry out, and above all, with whom and in what order? Changing so complex a system requires the involvement of all stakeholders, meaning society as a whole. Which is why Transition Pathways focused on defining a common and unifying vision to be used both as a guide in reflections and as a point of arrival in preparing the actions to be taken in order to achieve that vision by the year 2040.

As a result of these reflections, 59 steps were identified as essential milestones to be met if we wish to achieve a more sustainable and resilient food system. Extending from 2020 to 2040, these steps make it easier to look at things in perspective and to have an overall vision of the road ahead. Like a game of dominos, each milestone is connected to the previous one, but also to the next, in a linking that enables us to understand the interactions that unite them.

The fruits of the cooperative approach

The report identifies the 59 milestones along the pathway and addresses healthful eating, agroecology, ecosystem health, our traditions and our food culture, along with the implementation of local food systems. Each milestone is also explained in detail in the form of a fact sheet.

This planning effort brought to the surface certain tensions present on the road. These “knotty issues,” like the question of the fair price of food, are social discussions that have to be conducted in parallel. To bring about the changes in question, six categories of players have been identified: funding agencies, bio-food sector enterprises, civil society, consumers (individuals and organizations), educational, research and expert-appraisal institutions, and governments. The role of each one is essential and complementary.

And now?

Publication of the report is the first stage in the dissemination of the knowledge generated. The Transition Pathways team is offering the community a series of activities to develop, together, an overall and systemic vision of the path to take, fostering collaboration and attempting to break through, by means of a collective movement, the inertia that the scope of the climate situation is sometimes capable of producing.

For more information:


1Benton, T. G., Bieg, C., Harwatt, H., Pudasaini, R. and Wellesley, L. (2021). Food system impacts on biodiversity loss. Three levers for food system transformation in support of nature. Chatham House.

2Ministère de l’Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs (2022). Émissions annuelles de gaz à effet de serre au Québec de 1990 à 2020 (Annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Québec from 1990 to 2020). Inventaire québécois des émissions atmosphériques. Government of Québec.

3Tarasuk, V., Li, T., and Fafard St-Germain, A.-A. (2022). Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2021. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Online PDF.

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