A series by the African Centre for Biodiversity

Factsheet 7 is now released!

In this 6th factsheet in the series on ultra-processed food (UPF) in Africa, we briefly discuss how UPF is impacting ecological health and functioning, and driving the interconnected biodiversity, climate, and pollution crises on the continent. 

Over the last two decades, food systems have undergone massive transformations. It is well documented that increasingly globalised food supply chains are one of the leading threats to the health and functioning of ecological systems. Increased production and consumption of UPF have played a massive role in driving the industrial and technological change across the agri-food industry, including the expansion and growing market and political power of transnational food and beverage corporations, to meet the ever-expanding global sourcing and production networks. UPF’s high availability, affordability and accessibility, hyper-palatability, extended shelf life, and intense marketing, drive their overconsumption, increasing their impacts on human health and the health of the planet.  

The UPF food supply chain requires large amounts of energy and land, causing substantial greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation, biodiversity loss, and plastic pollution. This cuts across the industrial production, processing, packaging, and distribution at all stages concerning the preparation of the many ingredients used exclusively for UPF. 

Research on the environmental impacts of UPF production, consumption, and disposal in Africa is sorely lacking. In general, research has focused on the effects of the commodity crops used for their production, such as vegetable oils and refined sugar. Environmental considerations of foods and diets must include the overall impact of UPF from farm to fork, including all stages of farming, processing, packaging, and distribution. 

There is a desperate need to transform global food systems to halt the rise of UPF production, reduce their consumption and minimise social and ecological harms. There must be a multilateral response to this growing global problem and a paradigm shift in food production and consumption. Africa, in particular, can ensure a holistic, and transformative future, which integrates social, political, and ecological implications into its vision. 

Read factsheet 6 here.

Rising UPF consumption in Africa will drive agricultural biodiversity loss further

In this 7th factsheet in the series on ultra-processed food (UPF) in Africa, we dive into how UPF production and consumption are contributing to the decline in agricultural biodiversity, a crucial component of biodiversity.

Agricultural landscapes are becoming increasingly homogenous, at a genetic and species level, due to the intensive use of cheap, standardised ingredients needed in industrial processing. The production of UPF forms part of an agricultural and food system that is systematically eroding essential agricultural biodiversity necessary for a resilient and sustainable food supply. As a result, we are witnessing a systematic erasure of dietary and agricultural diversity, livelihood and nutritional security, and the associated knowledge needed to maintain, develop, and conserve vital agricultural biodiversity.

The very rapid rise of UPF in human diets will continue to place pressure on the diversity of plant species available for human consumption. More research is urgently required to understand the detrimental impacts of UPF on agricultural biodiversity along the UPF life cycle, particularly in Africa. This includes understanding the impact of linked industries, such as producing their components/ingredients and packaging materials.

Countries need to address rising dietary-related diseases associated with rising UPF consumption, and national dietary and nutrition guidelines. Related policies must recognise the interdependence between diets, health and nutrition, and the social and environmental sustainability of the food system. Linked to this is the need for global food systems, biodiversity and climate change fora to give urgent attention to the destruction of agricultural biodiversity caused by UPF and to craft policies and catalyse actions designed to slow down in the short term and reverse in the longer term, these intersecting crises. 

Read factsheet 7 here.

Factsheet 6

Factsheet 7

Read Factsheets 1-5 here.