Developing Resources to Support Policymakers to Take a Food Systems Approach to Policymaking

R4D and City, University of London created resources to understand what it means to take a food systems approach and support policymakers around the world to do so.

The Challenge

Food systems have enormous potential to support healthy diets and nutrition while also advancing livelihoods and prosperity and protecting the planet. Currently, however, food systems fail to deliver on this potential. Too often existing food systems are largely shaped by an array of piecemeal and even contradictory policies, resulting in widespread hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and environmental degradation. Because all the elements of the food systems interconnect, policies that influence one part of the food system have ripple effects across other parts, with implications beyond their immediate objectives. They thus bring both benefits and risks for different system objectives. Yet typically, these interconnections are not leveraged, with policies made in separate sectors siloed from each other. History shows that this approach is no longer adequate to tackle the huge global burden of multiple forms of malnutrition.

The Opportunity

International agencies, academics, non-governmental organizations, and businesses are increasingly calling for a food systems approach to policymaking to address these interrelated challenges. In 2021, the UN Food Systems Summit was called to address this missed opportunity. It sought to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals by leveraging the many connections between food systems and global challenges, such as hunger, climate change, poverty, and inequality. By taking a food systems approach to policymaking, the Summit suggested, governments could harness the power of food systems to benefit people and the planet. But what does it mean to take a food systems approach? How can interested policymakers adopt this approach and apply it to their contexts?

Our Work

To articulate what it means to take a food systems approach and support policymakers around the world to do so, R4D and City, University of London created a package of resources — consisting of an evidence review and four technical briefs— designed to address these questions. These resources define a food systems approach, explore potential entry points in different sectors, present ways to identify and engage relevant stakeholders, and discuss the cost and financing considerations. Building on existing knowledge, frameworks, and thinking, they provide pragmatic and practical ideas for how to operationalize a food systems approach holistically and effectively to achieve a greater impact on food system outcomes. They provide country examples that illustrate real-world lessons and give links to existing tools and resources that policymakers can use to get started or bolster ongoing efforts.

The evidence review explores what policymakers should consider as they design policies—and associated means of implementation—to achieve multiple benefits across the food system. Drawing on existing studies, it provides examples of the impacts of policies and programs in five policy areas (cash and food transfers, food safety, road transport infrastructure, agricultural extension, and land tenure) on five food system outcomes (diets and food environments, agricultural production, livelihoods, gender equality, and environmental sustainability).

The four technical briefs aim to support policymakers on how to make policy decisions to shift the food system toward better outcomes. The list below outlines the focus of each brief.

  1. Brief I. Taking a Food Systems Approach to Policymaking: What, How, and Why: Articulates what a food systems approach is and why it is valuable for policymakers
  2. Brief II. Taking a Food Systems Approach to Policymaking: Managing Stakeholders and Identifying Policy Entry Points: Explains how to take a more collective approach to policymaking by identifying the relevant stakeholders, using multistakeholder mechanisms to bring these stakeholders together, and identifying policy entry points for action
  3. Brief III. Taking a Food Systems Approach to Policymaking: Developing a Shared Agenda: Shares tools and methods to guide policy decision-making, help assess policy coherence, and mitigate and manage conflicts
  4. Brief IV. Taking a Food Systems Approach to Policymaking: Costing and Financing: Discusses some of the cost and financing implications of a food systems approach

The resources were developed through a highly collaborative process involving consultations with experts and government representatives working on food systems at the global, regional, and country levels. These resources are targeted primarily to policymakers in government ministries and agencies with responsibility for any policy with the potential to influence diets and nutrition, such as policies on food, agriculture, the environment, health, transport, trade, education, and the economy. While the focus of the resources is on public policymaking and associated actions taken by governments, the what, how, and why can also be applied to actions outside of government, as well as to food system challenges beyond healthy diets and nutrition. They can be used by advocates, funders, program managers, and any other stakeholders seeking to understand, encourage, and/or pursue a food systems approach to policymaking.

Photo credit: Ursula Trübswasser

Global & Regional Initiatives

R4D is a globally recognized leader for designing initiatives that connect implementers, experts and funders across countries to build knowledge and get that knowledge into practice.