Skip to Content
X

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

25+ Members of the UN Food Systems Champions Network

February 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.

United Nations Food Systems Summit Action Track 4: Second public forum

February 2021 - EVENT

Join Action Track 4 as we canvass ideas and create opportunities for you to participate!

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

UN to involve millions of rural people in 2021 Food Systems Summit as part of ambitious public engagement process

February 2021 - NEWS
An unprecedented commitment to ensure that the voices and opinions of millions of the world’s most remote rural people are at the heart of the United Nations Food Systems Summit was announced today by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Agnes Kalibata and the President of IFAD, Gilbert F. Houngbo.

Pope Francis joins 25 countries to fight against poverty and hunger in first round of pledges to IFAD

December 2020 - NEWS
 Despite the economic consequences of COVID-19, a growing number of countries around the world today stepped up their investments in long-term development, signalling a greater awareness of the links between hunger, inequality and instability which often spark humanitarian crises.

Multi-million euro contribution from Germany to IFAD will help avert a COVID-19 food crisis

December 2020 - NEWS

In the face of a looming food crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Germany has committed funds to IFAD to help ensure small-scale farmers can continue growing food in some of the poorest regions of the world.

Related stories

Indigenous food systems are at the heart of resilience

February 2021 - STORY
Indigenous food systems represent a treasure trove of knowledge that contributes to well-being and health, benefiting communities, preserving a rich biodiversity, and providing nutritious food.

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.

Contact information