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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

UN Food Systems Summit Action Track 4 – Public Forum

December 2020 - EVENT
The ambition of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit is to launch a collective journey of transforming our food systems to give us the best possible chance of delivering on the 2030 Agenda.

Related news

The role of South-South and Triangular Cooperation in transforming food systems within the context of COVID-19

September 2020 - NEWS

On 16 September, the United Nations Rome-based agencies − FAO, IFAD and WFP − celebrated the 2020 UN Day for South-South Cooperation with a virtual event hosted by IFAD.

Related stories

Five reasons IFAD is putting small-scale farmers at the forefront of food systems transformation

December 2020 - STORY
Our current food systems are not sustainable. Hunger has been on the rise for several years, with an estimated 690 million people worldwide going hungry in 2019 – and with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 132 million more people are expected to join this number soon. 

Related publications

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.

Resilient Food Systems 2018-2019 Annual Report

March 2020
Discover how the Resilient Food Systems programme is enhancing long-term sustainability and resilience for food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

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