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Food systems

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.

Related events

Related events

Committee on World Food Security

October 2022 - EVENT
This session, CFS 50, will focus on the theme of “Global Responses to a Global Food Crisis – Leaving No One Behind" and the findings of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022.

Food Systems: Harnessing nutrition co-benefits of climate-resilient agriculture

June 2021 - EVENT
Join us, along with panellists from academia, research, governments, civil society and development agencies, to discuss the climate-nutrition nexus.

Challenges and solutions for food systems transformation in East and Southern Africa

May 2022 - EVENT
As part of IFAD’s Rural Development Report Policy Dialogue Series, this event will explore using food systems for inclusive rural transformation in the East and Southern Africa region.

Related news

Related news

IFAD to increase investment and presence in transforming food systems in East and Southern Africa

November 2021 - NEWS
The IFAD regional team held its annual East and Southern Africa Business Planning meeting to outline a vision for the next three years, under the IFAD 12 replenishment cycle. With less than 10 years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the region’s small-scale farmers and rural people suffering the effects of the pandemic, climate change impacts, locust infestation and other crises, it is essential to plan bold actions to preserve and advance development gains.

African Development Bank, IFAD and partners redouble efforts to stop hunger in Africa and strengthen food security

April 2021 - NEWS
The African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in partnership with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the CGIAR System Organization, today pledged to work closely with African leaders to address rising hunger on the continent and shore up adequate financing to transform and modernize Africa’s food production.

UN to involve millions of rural people in 2021 Food Systems Summit as part of ambitious public engagement process

February 2021 - NEWS
An unprecedented commitment to ensure that the voices and opinions of millions of the world’s most remote rural people are at the heart of the United Nations Food Systems Summit was announced today by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Agnes Kalibata and the President of IFAD, Gilbert F. Houngbo.

Related stories

Related stories

It’s time to transform African agriculture. These numbers show why

September 2022 - STORY
African agriculture is at a crucial juncture. It has enormous potential to not only feed Africa, but also the world. Yet, global conditions are holding small-scale African farmers back. Five numbers show how transforming African agriculture can make a big difference.

In Turkey, strawberry farms bring opportunities for rural youth

December 2021 - STORY
Youth who grew up in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey have traditionally moved to the big cities to pursue their careers. But recently, thanks to an IFAD-supported project, the region’s farmers have begun growing strawberries. Highland strawberries are proving quite popular, driving the growth of a new regional value chain – and bringing the region’s youth back to the countryside to take part.

Highlights from COP26 – Friday 12 November 2021

November 2021 - STORY
The end of COP26 is fast approaching, and we’re still waiting for a final agreement. However, based on the draft texts that have been released, it’s clear there’s still a risk of gaps between long-term targets and short-term action.

Related blogs

Related blogs

A decade of progress for small-scale farmers in Cuba

September 2022 - BLOG
Marking ten years in Cuba, IFAD’s Country Director met small-scale farmers and partners to discuss progress made and what is yet to be done.

Tackling food loss for sustainable food systems

September 2022 - BLOG
Reducing food losses makes food systems more sustainable. Although the exact causes are different for every crop and in every country, there are plenty of avenues to prevent, detect, and reverse these losses.

The proof is in the pudding: 3 ways to enhance evidence-based policymaking to sustainably transform food systems

July 2022 - BLOG
As the world experiences new and complex crises at an ever-increasing pace, we must back up decision-making with rigorous research and data. Here are three principles to bridge the divide between research and policy.

Related news

Related news

IFAD to increase investment and presence in transforming food systems in East and Southern Africa

November 2021 - NEWS
The IFAD regional team held its annual East and Southern Africa Business Planning meeting to outline a vision for the next three years, under the IFAD 12 replenishment cycle. With less than 10 years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the region’s small-scale farmers and rural people suffering the effects of the pandemic, climate change impacts, locust infestation and other crises, it is essential to plan bold actions to preserve and advance development gains.

African Development Bank, IFAD and partners redouble efforts to stop hunger in Africa and strengthen food security

April 2021 - NEWS
The African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in partnership with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the CGIAR System Organization, today pledged to work closely with African leaders to address rising hunger on the continent and shore up adequate financing to transform and modernize Africa’s food production.

UN to involve millions of rural people in 2021 Food Systems Summit as part of ambitious public engagement process

February 2021 - NEWS
An unprecedented commitment to ensure that the voices and opinions of millions of the world’s most remote rural people are at the heart of the United Nations Food Systems Summit was announced today by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Agnes Kalibata and the President of IFAD, Gilbert F. Houngbo.

Related publications

Related publications

Reinforcing Pacific Food Systems for COVID-19 recovery – key impacts, responses and opportunities to build back better

February 2022
This report offers a consolidated analysis of pre-COVID food security and nutrition challenges across the Pacific Islands and outlines key actions needed to respond to the current impacts, inform medium- to long-term recovery planning, and better prepare for future crises.

Sustainable and resilient Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems for improved nutrition

May 2022
This toolbox provides guidelines on how to design and assess food biodiversity and dietary diversity projects with local communities, with the aim of improving the diets and nutrition of Indigenous Peoples.

Agroecology: a holistic path towards sustainable food systems

June 2022
Agroecology applies ecological principles to agriculture and ensures a regenerative use of natural resources and ecosystem services, while addressing the need for socially equitable food systems in which people can choose what they eat and how it is produced.

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