Food Systems Transformation: People, Planet and Prosperity

Access to nutritious, affordable, and adequate food is a fundamental human right. However, more than 345 million people worldwide face high levels of food insecurity. With nearly a third of the global population lacking access to a nutritious diet, they increasingly suffer from the double burden of malnutrition. Our planet and ecosystems also suffer from the widespread effects of climate change, ranging from droughts and floods to hurricanes and large-scale forest fires. 

Furthermore, millions of smallholder farmers, food chain workers in the informal sector, and small and medium enterprises are unable to derive decent incomes and livelihoods from Food Systems. This limits progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of ending hunger, food security and improved nutrition, sustainable food production, and better health and wellbeing for all. The development of sustainable food systems is thus critical for achieving all key SDGs by 2030. 

Food Systems Transformation 

Food Systems Transformation aims to redesign the way our food is produced, consumed, and distributed in a more nutritious, sustainable, and equitable manner. “Unlike production and market approaches, food systems adopt a holistic and multidimensional approach to address the complex challenges within agriculture and the food sector.” This enables the achievement of the SDG goals through the integrated lens of People, Planet, and Prosperity. 

People – Nutrition and Food Safety 

The health of the next generation is critically dependent on the health of adolescents to ensure that new births are healthy. There are real examples of best practices around the world, such as the Japan school feeding program and the Indian Mid-Day Meal Program, which reaches approximately 120 million children every day. These programs have been effective in not only providing food and nutrition security to adolescents, but also enhancing the quality of school education including attendance and outcomes. 

Planet – Sustainable Food Systems 

Food systems should also protect our planet by ensuring sustainable ways for our farm and food production. Global food systems account for 80 percent of freshwater consumption and contributes to 20 to 30 percent of Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Yet, 70 percent of what is produced is lost or wasted at various stages of the food chain. Efforts have been made to make agriculture environmentally resilient and in harmony with nature. For example, the agri-input industry, which plays a critical role, is working towards sustainable methods of producing food. Extensive research and development efforts are focused towards creating seeds with higher productivity and disease and pest resistance. The introduction of rice herbicides has helped convert transplanted rice cultivation to direct-seeded cultivation, reducing annual water consumption by 1.7 trillion cubic litres and labour costs by 50 percent. 

Scientists are also working to develop environmentally friendly biopesticides in India. Agri-tech start-ups worldwide are working towards reducing food waste and making agriculture more efficient and resilient. Affordable and actionable technologies in cold chains can play transformative roles in reducing food losses. Use of thermal energy and biomass waste for operating cold chains is critical for ensuring energy efficiency. Affordable and indigenously developed cooling technologies have been effective in penetrating green cold chain across sectors. 

Prosperity – Across the Food Value Chain 

Finally, food systems should work towards higher prosperity of the people, including producers, farm laborers, and all others involved in the agriculture and allied sectors ‘value chains. While food systems contribute to climate change and natural resource depletion, efforts to reduce emissions and contribute to the larger cause of mitigating climate change can help increase farmers’ incomes. This is especially true in the case of evolving carbon markets. This demonstrates that both people and the planet can support the prosperity of producers and laborers involved. Both agricultural technologies and open data architecture play an enormous role in food systems transformation. 

Although a large part of the increase in farmers’ income is led by the government through various welfare programs, research and development, and extension work, several agri-tech innovations have helped augment farmers’ incomes. Although business and welfare are opposing concepts, inclusive business models have opened doors through reciprocal dependency between production systems and consumption systems and can help align value chains. 

With rapidly changing technologies such as AI and IoT, among others, food systems transformation requires strong collaborative efforts among academic institutions, industry, government and entrepreneurship. More importantly, these efforts must be multilateral, cutting across nations and recognized as the collective responsibility of all global citizens. 

Transforming food systems requires a holistic approach that spans public health and nutrition, sustainability and climate change, and livelihoods and poverty alleviation domains. It requires harmonizing public policy, private sector activity and investments, and civil society actions at different levels. This must consider complex interdependencies, possible synergies, and the likely trade-offs. 

Global Dialogue on Food Systems Transformation 

Being the B20 secretariat, CII organized the Global Dialogue on Food Systems Transformation and Post Harvest and Logistics summit in 2023, with the objective of finding pathways towards implementing food systems transformation to ensure sustainable production, food security and nutrition for the global family and to outline the priorities and defining actionable goals under the B20 umbrella. 

The Dialogues looked at the production system, biodiversity, soil health and all other constituents that contribute to the production and consumption of food. Deliberations at the B20 Dialogues have been summarised in the report “Global Dialogue on Food Systems Transformation” which is a compendium of perspectives from different stakeholders.

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