26.06.2020 |

HLPE calls for policy shifts to radically transform food systems

Food systems need to change (Photo: CC0)

A radical transformations of food systems is needed in order to achieve food security and nutrition for all, a new report finds. According to the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), the science-policy interface of FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated the challenges that food systems were already facing and made it obvious that the global community is falling short on Agenda 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially on ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms (SDG 2). “We are currently not on track to deliver against SDG2 by 2030,” said Martin Cole, Chairperson of the HLPE Steering Committee during the online launch of the report. “The next decade must focus on accelerating the implementation of policies and innovative solutions, if we are to ensure global food and nutritional security for future generations,” Cole added. The report first looks at concepts and frameworks around food security and nutrition, analyses current trends, challenges and potential opportunities in food systems and recommends promising policy directions that are vital for meeting SDG2.

The first chapter updates conceptual and policy frameworks. Understandings of the concept of food security have changed and evolved in important ways over the past 50 years, the authors explain. The most widely used definition of the concept today is: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” This definition features four dimensions that have been seen as central pillars to the concept over the past decades: Availability of food, access to food, utilization (referring to nutritional uptake) and stability (referring to the constancy of the other three dimensions). “Although the above four dimensions of food security remain central to the concept, they still miss some elements that have come to be seen as essential for transforming food systems in the direction needed to meet the SDGs,” the authors write. They call for agency and sustainability to be elevated as key dimensions of food security. Agency refers to the capacity of individuals or groups to make their own decisions about what foods they eat, what foods they produce and how that food is produced, processed and distributed within food systems. It also refers to their ability to engage in processes that shape food system policies and governance. Sustainability refers to the long-term ability of food systems to provide food security and nutrition in a way that does not compromise the economic, social and environmental bases for future generations.

The second chapter addresses current trends and challenges with regard to food systems. Progress on SDG2 has been uneven. The number of people suffering from hunger in recent years has increased. More than 820 million people in the world are chronically undernourished and the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the situation. Some 1.9 billion adults around the world are overweight, and about one-third of those people or 650 million people are obese. At the same time, approximately 1.5 billion people suffer from one or more forms of micronutrient deficiency, for example a lack of vitamin A or iron. In addition, food environments in different contexts are deteriorating and food safety is an ongoing concern. Food system livelihoods also continue to be precarious for many of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized people and there are wide differences in productivity. The report also points to the fact that there are enormous external costs linked to the way food systems currently operate and food systems have crossed several of the “planetary boundaries” that establish a safe operating space for humanity to ensure long term sustainability.

The report recommends four policy shifts to achieve more sustainable food systems and thus SDG2. First, the most promising policies support radical transformations of food systems. According to the authors, “policies that promote a radical transformation of food systems need to be empowering, equitable, regenerative, productive, prosperous and must boldly reshape the underlying principles from production to consumption.” They point out that such policies empower the most vulnerable and marginalized food system actors, promote regenerative production practices, such as agroecology, and support the development of diverse distribution networks, such as territorial markets, which help to overcome economic and sociocultural challenges such as uneven trade, concentrated markets and persistent inequalities by supporting diverse and equitable markets that are more resilient. Second, policies that appreciate the interconnectedness of different systems and sectors are required to ensure more regenerative, productive and resilient food systems. The authors argue that initiatives and policies that build on lessons about inter-system connections from past crises, or current such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are also important.

Thirdly, the report calls for policies which have a broader understanding of hunger and malnutrition. Policies that address hunger and all forms of malnutrition require food systems that are equitable, empowering, sustainable, healthy and nutritious. The report finds that policies in this area support nutrition-driven agricultural production, food environments to encourage healthy diets and the availability of diverse, local fruits and vegetables. Other policies improve nutrition, including infant and child nutrition, and are aimed at improving rates of exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age. Measures that address specific forms of malnutrition are also important, especially for the most marginalized populations. Fourth, the HLPE calls for policies that develop context-specific solutions, taking local conditions and knowledge into account, in order to achieve more resilient, productive and empowering food systems. “Measures must tackle the distinct challenges that arise in diverse types of rural and urban contexts, including support for small-scale farming systems as well as support for access to healthy foods in urban areas that link up with small-scale producers in rural areas.” HLPE’s “theory of change” is that the four critical policy shifts together work to bring about more sustainable food systems that support the six dimensions of food security and ultimately support the realization of the right to food and the achievement of the SDGs. (ab)

Back to news list


Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
English versionDeutsche VersionDeutsche Version