Food Systems banner

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

IFAD at the Food Systems Summit

September 2021 - EVENT
The UN Food Systems Summit will launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.

Rural Development Report launch event

September 2021 - EVENT
The report promotes equitable livelihoods for rural people, who are front and centre in transforming food systems, alongside the need to improve nutrition and protect the environment.

On Air Dialogues: Rural voices on the global stage

September 2021 - EVENT
To amplify the voices of small-scale farmers and other rural people in sub-Saharan Africa, Farm Radio International partnered with IFAD, World Vision Canada, and the Canadian Food Security Policy Group to conduct a series of On Air Dialogues.

Related news

Related news

African small-scale farmers use radio and mobile phones to send a message of optimism and caution to world leaders attending Food Systems Summit

September 2021 - NEWS
Small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are impacted disproportionately by climate change, poverty and undernutrition, yet a report released today shows many remain optimistic about the future of farming.

To transform our food systems we must reimagine how they are financed, says IFAD President

September 2021 - NEWS
To transform our food systems to end global hunger and be sustainable in a changing world, we must first reimagine how they are financed, said the President of IFAD to world leaders attending the UN Food Systems Summit, which ends today.

Small-scale farmers need decent wages - IFAD calls on world leaders to commit to action at Food Systems Summit

September 2021 - NEWS
It is an outrage that rural small-scale farmers in developing countries, who grow a third of our global food, are paid a pittance for their work, said the President of IFAD who today asks world leaders attending the UN Food Systems Summit to take concrete actions to change this.

Related stories

Related stories

Raising hope and opportunity in rural Tajikistan: Obidova’s story

September 2021 - STORY
Obidova is busy these days. Whether she’s setting up a new shelter for her birds or going to the markets to sell, her days are filled with taking care of her family and her poultry business. But just a year ago, things looked very different.

IFAD’s Rural Development Report 2021

September 2021 - STORY
Our food systems are failing us. From the climate, to the environment, to nutrition, to human health and well-being, they are not delivering the outcomes we all need. IFAD’s Rural Development Report 2021 describes the systemic issues that have led to the situation we are in, identifies priorities for transforming our food systems, and provides recommended actions to achieve meaningful change.

The Lare Milk Dealers find their niche

September 2021 - STORY
Milk processing is normally a profitable venture in Kenya’s Nakuru County, but the Lare Milk Dealers Youth Group struggled to enter the market at first. Thanks to trainings hosted by an IFAD-supported project and some innovative additions to their business model, they’re now thriving.

Related blogs

Related blogs

Amplifying rural needs and voices: A conversation with Helene Papper

September 2021 - BLOG
It’s clearer than ever before: to address global crises, the communities who implement solutions must be involved, their voices heard, their knowledge included. But how do we bring forward voices from the world’s most remote areas?

Preventing the next pandemic by integrating human, animal and environmental health

September 2021 - BLOG
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever that human health is not just a matter of providing people with medical care. To avoid future pandemics, we need to recognize that the well-being of people, animals, plants and ecosystems must be addressed as a dynamic whole.

Re-imagining food systems through the climate–nutrition nexus

September 2021 - BLOG
The food we eat plays a role in not just our health, but that of our descendants. How we grow, hunt, fish or gather it, how we process it and bring it to market, affects the world around us. These simple relationships are the foundation of the climate–nutrition nexus.

Related news

Related news

African small-scale farmers use radio and mobile phones to send a message of optimism and caution to world leaders attending Food Systems Summit

September 2021 - NEWS
Small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are impacted disproportionately by climate change, poverty and undernutrition, yet a report released today shows many remain optimistic about the future of farming.

To transform our food systems we must reimagine how they are financed, says IFAD President

September 2021 - NEWS
To transform our food systems to end global hunger and be sustainable in a changing world, we must first reimagine how they are financed, said the President of IFAD to world leaders attending the UN Food Systems Summit, which ends today.

Small-scale farmers need decent wages - IFAD calls on world leaders to commit to action at Food Systems Summit

September 2021 - NEWS
It is an outrage that rural small-scale farmers in developing countries, who grow a third of our global food, are paid a pittance for their work, said the President of IFAD who today asks world leaders attending the UN Food Systems Summit to take concrete actions to change this.

Related publications

Related publications

Rural Development Report 2021

September 2021
IFAD’s Rural Development Report 2021 is focused on rural livelihoods in the context of food systems transformation. The report promotes equitable livelihoods for rural people, who are front and centre in transforming food systems, alongside the need to improve nutrition and protect the environment.

On Air Dialogues – Listening to rural people

September 2021
In partnership with six radio stations in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania, and Uganda, Farm Radio International asked small-scale farmers, vendors, processors, marketers, and others how the food system should be changed to meet their needs and the needs of their communities.

Stocktaking report on Donor Contributions to Food Systems

September 2021
The Global Donor Platform report provides a mapping of the patterns and scale of food systems-related funding and an assessment of the extent donors are embracing a food system framing and aligning their investments to the UN Food Systems Summit Action Tracks.

Food Systems Contact

Contact information

 

ifadfss@ifad.org