It’s time we treat the transformation of food systems like the emergency that it is

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It’s time we treat the transformation of food systems like the emergency that it is

Two years on from the first United Nations Food Systems Summit, are we any closer to transforming the world’s food systems?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
© IFAD/Santiago Albert Pons

Ask anyone on the street what “climate change” means and they will have an answer for you. But ask them what “food systems” are and they may not have a response.

As world leaders and key stakeholders gather in Rome to take stock of progress since the first Food Systems Summit in 2021, we explore the issue and see whether this gap in awareness is closing.

The what and the why

Food systems refer to all activities needed to produce, process, transport and consume food. © IFAD/ Imam Ibrahim Albumey


So, what are food systems? Simply put, they are all the activities needed to produce, process, transport and consume food—from farm to plate. To help people understand the urgency of transforming food systems, we must first make the term understandable.

On that, why do food systems need to be transformed? Current food systems were set up to feed a global population of 3 billion people. As we hurtle towards a staggering 10 billion people by 2050, these systems cannot keep up, despite innovations and increases in productivity.

Moreover, food systems contribute up to one third of greenhouse gas emissions and up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss.

Hunger still exists

The latest research shows that around 735 million people still face hunger. These people are for the most part in the world's most vulnerable regions. For example, one in five people in Africa face hunger—more than twice the global average.

To overcome this challenge, we need concerted global action. Yet, global concern for the issue does not reflect the huge number of hungry people.

Change is possible...

Transforming food systems may seem like an overwhelming task, especially in the current state of constant crisis. But it is within reach. Estimates suggest US$ 1.3 trillion in investment is needed every year to ensure food systems survive and thrive under climate change.

While this may seem like a lot, it is just 1 per cent of global GDP. What's more, the world wastes about US$20 trillion each year in environmental, social and economic costs because of dysfunctional food systems.

Given this, investing in food systems and financing structural change is not only good for the planet and for its people, it also makes economic sense.

...and it's already happening

We're working to transform food systems all over the world. ©IFAD/ Didor Sadulloev


At IFAD, we are already taking important steps to transform food systems.

In Liberia, we're working with the government and other Rome-based UN agencies to develop a national post-harvest management strategy to reduce food loss.

In Ethiopia, we are supporting community-led, climate-smart initiatives to improve equitable and sustainable access to natural resources and increase production.

Our new strategy for Uzbekistan uses a food system approach, including everything from adopting adequate health standards for dairy production to using digital technology to promote healthy and nutritious diets. 

Meanwhile, two new agreements with the EU will boost the sustainable production of nutritious and locally grown food—while building small-scale farmers’ resilience to climate change—in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Financing for better food systems

Increasing investments does not automatically lead to better food systems. As a global community, we must make structural changes in the financing of food systems. Governments, donors, food businesses and other stakeholders must work together to broker a financing agenda for food systems transformation.

This means making smart investments in solutions that are proven to be healthy and sustainable, while ensuring that those who produce nutritious food for the world are supported and protected.

As co-leads of the Financing Agenda for Food Systems Transformation, IFAD and World Bank are leading on all the Summit sessions related to financing food systems transformation. Together, we are promoting the use of evidence on financial flows to food systems transformation to help decision makers make smart choices.

The time to act was yesterday

The compounding crises we are facing today are a wake-up call. In an interconnected world, countries must stop looking inwards and instead engage in concerted action to transform food systems.

Drawing upon evidence and data, this summit will showcase changes that have already happened as well as the urgent need to accelerate the pace of transformation and the challenges in doing so. It is an important reminder to the world that food system transformation is not a dim fantasy, but a tangible goal.

We have been complacent for too long. The alarm bells have been ringing for years. The time to act is now.