Food and the circular economy

There are learning paths that examine the true cost of the current approach to food production. These paths explore how cities can seize the opportunity to change the global food system.

A man holding a tablet with two women looking at the tablet discussing circulat economy for food while at a farmers market. They are surrounded by fruit and vegetables.


The current food system has supported a fast-growing population and fuelled economic development and urbanisation. Yet, these productivity gains have come at a cost, and today’s model is not fit to meet tomorrow’s longer-term needs.

Half these costs – totalling to trillions of rands each year globally – are due to the way food is produced. They are a direct result of the ‘linear’ nature of modern food production, which extracts finite resources, is wasteful and polluting, and harms natural systems.

Intensive agricultural practices are also a significant contributor to the 39 million hectares of soil that are degraded each year globally (an area the size of Zimbabwe), and places demand on approximately 70% of global freshwater.


A circular economy for food mimics natural systems of regeneration so that waste does not exist but is instead feedstock for another cycle.

In a circular economy, organic resources such as those from food by-products, are free from contaminants and can safely be returned to the soil in the form of organic fertiliser. Some of these by-products can provide additional value before this happens by creating new food products, fabrics for the fashion industry, or as sources of bioenergy. These cycles regenerate living systems, such as soil, which provide renewable resources, and support biodiversity.

Creating a systemic shift will require investments of both time and funding, but without either, our agricultural systems are on a trajectory to suffer in the long-term, which will impact all of us.

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