Taking a Food Systems Approach to Policymaking: A Resource for Policymakers

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.

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?

Resources for Download

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.

Acknowledgments: This resource package was developed by the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London and Results for Development (R4D), with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The team from City, University of London comprised Corinna Hawkes and Ursula Trübswasser. The resource package was developed through consultations with global and country actors, and the authors are grateful to members of the Advisory Group for providing advice and feedback throughout the process and reviewing drafts.

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