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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

Advancing equitable access to nutrition for all food systems workers

December 2021 - EVENT
Join us in discussing how decent work opportunities, social protection mechanisms and workforce nutrition programmes can help achieve global nutrition security.

Committee on World Food Security (CFS)

October 2021 - EVENT
The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all. Using a multi-stakeholder, inclusive approach, CFS develops and endorses policy recommendations and guidance on a wide range of food security and nutrition topics.

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.

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

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.

Effective micro-organisms: The key to healthy soil and healthy diets in rural Lao

November 2021 - STORY
Agriculture is the main source of income and livelihood in rural Lao. But Lao crops are highly climate-sensitive, leaving farmers with little room for error when it comes to climate adaptation.

Related blogs

Related blogs

Fixing our food systems means getting the fundamentals right

November 2021 - BLOG
The term “food systems” encompasses a huge variety of activities and issues. To make sure we’re all starting from the same place, let’s focus on the fundamentals: the land, and how to treat it well.

Promoting sustainable agrifood systems to combat climate change

November 2021 - BLOG
It’s clear by now that no real progress on climate change mitigation will be achieved without the active participation of today’s top greenhouse gas emitters. In addition to transitioning their energy sectors away from carbon, actions such as making their agrifood systems more sustainable and promoting the use of natural carbon sinks could produce dramatic results in record time.

Managing fisheries for sustainability and resilience: The case of Angola

November 2021 - BLOG
The fisheries and aquaculture sectors fully or partially support the livelihoods of 10–12 per cent of the world’s population. Yet fisheries across the world are under threat from climate change and over-exploitation. The question of how best to manage fisheries under these conditions is a complex one, but in our experience, bringing communities into inclusive governance structures is an indispensable part of the solution.

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

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

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