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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 690 million people as of 2019, 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 – we face the prospect of an additional 83–132 million people dealing with hunger by the end of 2020.

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

25+ Members of the UN Food Systems Champions Network

June 2021 - EVENT
Join IFAD, Food Tank, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and the Champions Network for the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit for a series of panel discussions to explore how to transform and strengthen the world’s food systems.

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

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

IFAD at the 2021 Food Systems Pre-Summit

July 2021 - EVENT
This three-day Pre-Summit will bring together the efforts and contributions of the global engagement process designed to give shape to our ambitions to transform our food systems.

Related news

Related news

Tanzania and IFAD partner to boost productivity, improve food security and build resilience of small-scale farmers in the face of the climate change 

May 2021 - NEWS
A US$77.4 million project signed by IFAD and the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania will bring much needed help to 260,000 rural households facing the impacts of climate change.

FAO, FIDA y PMA crean alianza de cara a la Cumbre sobre los Sistemas Alimentarios de Naciones Unidas

May 2021 - NEWS
La FAO, el FIDA y el PMA realizarán tres diálogos en América Latina y el Caribe para buscar posturas comunes sobre desarrollo rural, agricultura resiliente al clima, alimentación escolar, comercio internacional, innovación y tecnología, y financiamiento al desarrollo.

Potential game-changing systemic solutions for the UN Food Systems Summit: Advancing equitable livelihoods

April 2021 - NEWS
The UN Food System Summit’s Action Tracks offer a space to share and learn, with a view to fostering new actions and partnerships and amplifying existing initiatives. Each of the five Action Tracks is aligned with one of the Summit’s five objectives.

Related stories

Related stories

Climate-smart agriculture supports food systems in rural Georgia

June 2021 - STORY
Through the use of climate-smart agriculture techniques, an IFAD-supported project is helping rural Georgian farmers holistically restore their local and regional ecosystems.

What we are reading on food systems

April 2021 - STORY
As we approach the UN Food Systems Summit here are some suggested reads on transforming our food systems for people, and planet.

The community bakery empowering Egypt’s rural women

May 2021 - STORY
In a country where artisanal bread is the rule rather than the exception, the Qena community bakery stands out among the rest – and it’s run entirely by rural women.

Related blogs

Related blogs

Thriving food systems and nutritious food for all go hand in hand

June 2021 - BLOG
Malnutrition, and the toll it takes on human health and societies, is directly linked with the health of our food systems. Creating sustainable, resilient and inclusive food systems will make lasting improvements in global health, nutrition and productivity.

Why land tenure is crucial for sustainable food systems

May 2021 - BLOG
With nearly half of the world’s population living in the rural areas of low- and middle-income countries, tenure security is fundamental for sustainable development.

Reflections on improving rural people’s nutrition: A conversation with 2021 World Food Prize winner Dr Shakuntala Thilsted

May 2021 - BLOG
Nigel Brett, Director of IFAD’s Asia and the Pacific Division, interviews Dr Shakuntala Thilsted, Lead for Nutrition and Public Health at WorldFish.

Related news

Related news

Tanzania and IFAD partner to boost productivity, improve food security and build resilience of small-scale farmers in the face of the climate change 

May 2021 - NEWS
A US$77.4 million project signed by IFAD and the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania will bring much needed help to 260,000 rural households facing the impacts of climate change.

FAO, FIDA y PMA crean alianza de cara a la Cumbre sobre los Sistemas Alimentarios de Naciones Unidas

May 2021 - NEWS
La FAO, el FIDA y el PMA realizarán tres diálogos en América Latina y el Caribe para buscar posturas comunes sobre desarrollo rural, agricultura resiliente al clima, alimentación escolar, comercio internacional, innovación y tecnología, y financiamiento al desarrollo.

Potential game-changing systemic solutions for the UN Food Systems Summit: Advancing equitable livelihoods

April 2021 - NEWS
The UN Food System Summit’s Action Tracks offer a space to share and learn, with a view to fostering new actions and partnerships and amplifying existing initiatives. Each of the five Action Tracks is aligned with one of the Summit’s five objectives.

Related publications

Related publications

Food-system interventions with climate change and nutrition co-benefits: a literature review

June 2021
This literature review report explores the conceptual linkages between climate change and nutrition using a food system approach.

Research Series Issue 65: Impacts of agricultural value chain development in a mountainous region: Evidence from Nepal

May 2021
This analysis investigates the potential mechanism and the practical significance of the impacts of agricultural value chain development in a geographically challenging rural area of a developing country.

United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021: IFAD’s engagement and key messages

December 2020
A guide to the Summit and a summary of IFAD’s core messages on food systems.

Food Systems Contact

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