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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

Challenges and solutions for food systems transformation in Near East, North Africa, Central Asia and Europe Region

May 2022 - EVENT
rdr  
As part of the IFAD’s Rural Development Report Policy Dialogue Series, this discussion will focus on finding solutions for adopting a food systems approach to catalyze inclusive rural transformation in the Near East, North Africa, Central Asia region and Europe Region.

Transformational, Sustainable, and Inclusive Food Systems in West and Central Africa: A dialogue on the Challenges and Solutions

May 2022 - EVENT
rdr  
As part of the IFAD’s Rural Development Report Policy Dialogue Series, this discussion will focus on challenges and opportunities to transform food systems for inclusive and prosperous rural transformation in West & Central Africa.

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.

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

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.

On the banks of the São Francisco, where fishing, tourism and social inclusion converge

November 2021 - STORY
Brazil’s São Francisco river is a place of convergences. The river delta, and the stunning tropical forest surrounding it, is home to many different ethnic groups who settled there in search of a fresh start. Plans for a new ecotourism route that would allow visitors to experience the area’s rich culture and traditions were well under way – and then the pandemic struck. Nevertheless, one IFAD-funded project managed to support the region’s artisans and fishers.

Related blogs

Related blogs

Nutrition-sensitive investments for resilient food systems: Lessons from Ethiopia

March 2022 - BLOG
More and more of IFAD’s development projects are focusing on nutrition as a way to optimize their impact. Our work in Ethiopia exemplifies this.  

Nutrition-sensitive agriculture: The cornerstone of a healthier world

December 2021 - BLOG
It might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that agriculture should become more nutrition-sensitive – but many small-scale producers worldwide are at risk of food and nutrition insecurity. We’re committing to more ambitious goals for integrating nutrition into our investments and project activities.

In China, youth are at the forefront of transforming food systems

December 2021 - BLOG
Young people are the future of the world’s food systems, and they should therefore have a say in how the food systems of tomorrow should be configured. In China, youth have long been leading efforts to promote organic farming and sustainable consumption – and now, they’re beginning to act for change.

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.

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

Research Series 85: Financing climate adaptation and resilient agricultural livelihoods

June 2022
Moving to a process that contributes to improving rather than endangering livelihoods is the challenge that climate change adaptation and resilience-building efforts currently face.

Research Series 82: Contributions of information and communication technologies to food systems transformation

June 2022
Using a food systems approach, this paper reviews existing evidence and discusses the conditions, rural population segments, and timelines needed to achieve desired outcomes.

Research Series 81: Food and water systems in semi-arid regions – case study: Egypt

June 2022
This paper explores the role of water in Egypt’s food system and the dilemma the country faces: raise food self-sufficiency by allocating freshwater resources from the Nile to food production, or rely on food imports from water-abundant regions worldwide.

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