Notes from the Field: True Cost Accounting to Accelerate Food Systems Transformation
Billed as one of humanity’s crowning achievements, the world has succeeded in producing seemingly limitless quantities of a certain food, feed, and fuel ingredients.
Between 1962 and 2012, global production of rice jumped 321%, beef production rose 214%, soybeans saw an 890% increase, and production of chicken grew by an astonishing 1,193%. These levels of production translated to cheap prices for consumers, and a seemingly endless variety of convenient, processed foods designed to make it easier for busy families.
The philanthropic leaders who gathered in 2012 and ultimately created the Global Alliance voted on their priorities for collective action. Addressing the hidden—or “externalized”—costs of food systems ranked first. In the ensuing decade, the Global Alliance acted decisively to elevate the idea of “true cost accounting” (TCA) as a means to unearth and measure externalized costs.
While this work was underway, other organizations and individuals were developing their own efforts to assess food system impacts holistically. These efforts created a dynamic—though sometimes competing and confusing—set of tools, messages, and research findings. Private and public sector decision-makers interested in conducting TCA assessments faced a daunting barrier to entry. Advocates worried that this lack of cohesion risked having TCA labelled as greenwashing.
Drawing on its power as a convening body, the Global Alliance initiated an annual TCA “Community of Practice” gathering for players from across philanthropy, civil society, policymaking, business, and academia. The goals were to bring greater harmony and strength to TCA principles and tools, name knowledge gaps, unearth barriers to widespread adoption, and identify opportunities for collective action.
In coordination with the True Value of Food Initiative (affiliated with the UN Food Systems Summit), the Accelerator is leading the development of an international statement of principles to guide government assessments of food systems. We have also carried on the convening role of the Global Alliance, and bring together TCA champions worldwide through virtual learning sessions and in-person engagements.
Led by some of the most prominent leaders in the TCA community, the TCA Accelerator is today an Allied Initiative of the Global Alliance. Generous funding from Global Alliance members enables us to continue strengthening and mainstream TCA approaches.
This post first appeared via the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.