This post first appeared on CGIAR's website. View it here.
The global development community has been building toward September’s United Nations’ Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) for much of the past two years. The process has involved dialogues at the local, national, regional, and global levels, consultations with a wide variety of stakeholders, and the dissemination of new studies and reports. As a result, critical failings have been highlighted and innovative game-changing solutions proposed.
One thing has become clear in the process: food systems are complex and interdependent and include a wide range of activities and actors, from those who grow food to those who consume it and everyone who handles it in between. Yet with a healthy diet out of reach for 3 billion people and poor-quality diets driving all forms of malnutrition and contributing to premature mortality, it is also painfully clear that our food systems are failing to provide healthy, safe, affordable, and desirable food for everyone, everywhere.
Food systems involve and affect everyone on the planet, but different individuals experience food systems in different ways. Women, children, youth, migrants, informal sector workers, and small-scale farmers are among those most often bearing negative impacts of food systems in terms of low and unstable incomes, limited access to sustainable healthy diets, and undesirable nutrition and health outcomes. Moreover, current food systems are not environmentally sustainable, and transforming them will require understanding how to make hard choices that consider trade-offs among greenhouse gas emissions, diet quality, food safety, income, and other food systems outcomes.
UNFSS’s stated vision is to “launch bold new actions, solutions, and strategies to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), each of which relies on healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable food systems.” As coalitions emerge and countries prepare to set commitments, how can we ensure that food systems are transforming in ways that provide the sustainable healthy diets people need to realize their full potential, while also ensuring equitable employment and income opportunities and protecting the planet?
With a long track record of innovation in agricultural research for development, CGIAR has now turned its focus to the challenge of transforming food systems to ensure sustainable healthy diets for all. Building on a rich foundation of research, Sustainable Healthy Diets through Food Systems Transformation (SHiFT) is a new initiative aiming to identify transformative innovations and policies, and strengthen stakeholders’ capacity to guide decision-making toward food system transformations that support and enable consumption of sustainable healthy diets for all, while improving livelihoods, income, gender equity, and social inclusiveness. The initiative, which is part of CGIAR’s innovative new proposed portfolio of research to transform food, land, and water systems in a climate crisis, will grow from CGIAR food systems partnerships and work in Bangladesh, Viet Nam, and Ethiopia, and expand its work to India, Honduras, Guatemala, Senegal, and Benin.
Of particular importance for this work will be:
The UNFSS has shined an important light on the shortcomings of our global food systems, highlighting the urgent need for action to remedy them while supporting the consolidation of sustainable, resilient, healthy food systems moving forward. Indeed, we cannot meet the SDGs without transforming food systems across low- and middle-income countries in a way that promotes sustainable healthy diets for everyone, everywhere; fosters environmental sustainability; and builds equity through employment and other opportunities. To do so, research through SHiFT and similar research programs will be crucial to help countries understand the benefits, risks, and trade-offs of paths forward, no matter where they are in their food systems transformations.
Marie Ruel is the Director of the Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Mark Lundy is the Director of Food Environment and Consumer Behavior at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.
The authors would like to thank Christophe Béné, Principal Scientist, Sustainable Food Systems, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT; Inge Brouwer, Associate Professor, Human Nutrition and Health, Wageningen University & Research; Alan de Brauw, Senior Research Fellow, Markets, Trade, and Institutions, IFPRI; and Jef Leroy, Senior Research Fellow, Poverty Health and Nutrition, IFPRI, for their contributions to the writing of this piece.
To ensure adequate fruit and vegetable consumption, the authors argue for a combination of “push” actions, to bring fruits and vegetables to the consumer, “pull” actions, to bring consumers to these products, and policy solutions.
The authors consider how follow-through and sufficient resources for UNFSS commitments can be ensured, building on their article in Global Food Security.
In advance of the UNFSS pre-Summit, the authors identify leverage points to help define priorities for societal support and political action toward healthier, more sustainable, and inclusive food systems.