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Transforming food systems for all
What is a food system?
A food system includes all the aspects of feeding and nourishing people: growing, harvesting, packaging, processing, transporting, marketing and consuming food. It encompasses all the interactions between people and the natural world – land, water, the climate, etc. – and the natural world’s effects on human health and nutrition. It also includes the inputs, institutions, infrastructure and services that support the functioning of all these aspects, as well as the role of diets and cultural practices in shaping outcomes.
A food system is sustainable when it provides sufficient nutritious food for all without compromising the health of the planet or the ability of future generations to meet their own food and nutritional needs.
Why do food systems need to change?
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, food systems faced enormous challenges. Hunger had been on the rise for several years, affecting up to 811 million people as of 2020, while healthy diets were unaffordable for at least 3 billion. Meanwhile, climate change was already affecting production, and the need to address concerns related to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental footprint was growing ever more urgent. And the role of food systems in the emergence of new infectious diseases – as a result of both the loss of biodiversity due to unsustainable practices and the damage to ecosystems that it caused – had already been acknowledged.
Now, because of the effects the pandemic has already had on our food systems – and because of the potential additional effects still to come – nearly one in three people in the world did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year.
Furthermore, only 10 years remain until 2030 – the deadline for achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and many of the goals remain far out of reach. In many cases, unsafe or unsustainable food systems are part of the problem. For this reason, we need a transformation of our food systems.
What needs to happen to change our food systems?
Transforming our food systems would encompass fundamental changes and enhancements in the institutions, infrastructure, regulations and markets that shape them, and the resources invested into them, in a way that makes them more equitable and sustainable – from the perspectives of both the workers who derive their livelihoods from these systems and the consumers who purchase the food. This would allow food producers (and other workers within food systems) to sustainably provide nutritious food for all and to be adequately rewarded for their work, so that they do not themselves become vulnerable to hunger.
UN Food Systems Summit
In 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will convene a Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
There are five “action tracks” intended to highlight essential pathways for the transformation of food systems to support the SDGs. IFAD has been designated the UN Anchor Agency for Action Track 4, Advancing equitable livelihoods and value distribution.
IFAD’s main goals at the Summit will be to:
- put small-scale farmers and other rural people at the heart of food systems transformation and of efforts to achieve the SDGs
- use IFAD’s expertise and knowledge to advance discussions and contribute to action-oriented global commitments towards sustainable transformation of food systems.