There is growing acceptance that food systems need to be fundamentally transformed: so that they deliver diets of a high quality (diverse, nutrient-rich and safe) which are available and affordable for everyone; become sustainable; and achieve shifts in dietary patterns.
But the steps necessary for a successful transition are stalling. This is for diverse reasons which include:
- The complexity of food and environmental systems in a context where policy actions on food, health, agriculture, and climate
are currently siloed.
- Competing priorities for:
- governments who have to make difficult policy choices
- private companies making investment choices on product portfolios or retail strategies, and
- households making food-purchase choices.
- Uncertainty about and mistrust in scientific evidence, sometimes exacerbated by political polarisation.
Managing transition steps is the first order of business.
- All governments should engage
politically with the collective global agendas which set goals based on the best available science (such as the climate change targets).
- There is an urgent need for improvements in the quality and coordinated uses of scientific information to inform policy decisions. Governments should facilitate engagement with stakeholders to define a national vision for a transformed food system.
Policymakers need to think through how to navigate the difficult trade- offs which will need to be decided upon – some of these are within the food system, but others go much wider – for example how to balance resource expenditure between education, stimulating economic growth, and investing specifically in food systems. Budgetary allocations and institutional strengthening (in terms of human as well as capital resources) are essential to enable public sector actors to engage fully in the process of food system transition, partnering with business entities as appropriate.
Several factors are impeding necessary progress on policy change and need to be addressed
These include the emphasis on production at the expense of the wider food system; the historic bias in favour of producing staples; agriculture-sector subsidies; research biases; and how environmental externalities should be reflected in food systems.
A food system transition needs to be conditioned on several priorities. These include: do no harm and avoid closing off options for the future; invest in strengthening institutions and capacity building; ensure transparency; base decisions on evidence and transparent expectations; and establish feedback mechanisms for adjustment.
The costs of the transition need to be assessed and managed from production through to retail. There also needs to be an articulation of how those costs, and the ensuing benefits, will be distributed among stakeholders – the public and private sectors, and citizens. A dedicated Global Financing Facility, supporting resource mobilisation and incentivising increased allocations of domestic resources, should be explored – as an innovative way to mobilise funds supporting transition.
Part I of this report shone a light on inter-linked and deepening crises. First, food systems are currently failing to deliver healthy diets, which has profound impacts on human health and national economies. Second, food systems are contributing substantially to the climate crisis and to ongoing degradation of natural resources. Third, the climate crisis and resource degradation have significant impacts on the capacity of food systems to deliver sustainable, healthy diets for all. But how these inter-linked crises unfold in the decades ahead is not pre-determined. Part II of the report set out the categories of actions that must be pursued, particularly by policymakers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) who are the most affected, to underpin the process of transition. However, all nations, including high-income countries (HICs), need to act without delay. Part III now focuses on the political and economic realities of change. Much will depend on the political will and courage of leaders to challenge the status quo, to act boldly, and to drive a process of transition on the basis of evidence. In the absence of high-quality leadership, the necessary transition will not be achieved. For any leader, there will be challenges, policy trade-offs and political hurdles to overcome. These are real but not immutable. The transition process must be pursued with a vision of alternative possible pathways forward, a clear explanation of tangible benefits to be expected, and an understanding of the costs of inaction relative to the price tag of necessary investments.
8.1 Beginning the transition to sustainable food systems
Since the Global Panel’s first Foresight report in 2016 recommended serious policy attention for repositioning food systems to deliver healthy diets, similar calls have been growing (see Box 8.1). 1 2
However, inadequate progress is being made, as explained in Chapters 2 and 3.
There are many reasons for the lack of action around the globe, including absence of political consensus, institutional inertia, vested interests defending existing policies, the lack of coherent strategies which unite common interests across public sector and businesses, and the daunting complexity and assumed costs of the task.
This report argues that the aim of sustainable, healthy diets for all is achievable – but the transition of food systems will be complex and difficult, with inevitable winners and losers. This calls for bold and courageous action by policymakers and food-industry stakeholders. It is not easy to transform any system as complex and dynamic as one that influences and is influenced by food supply, distribution, processing, and demand. Seeking to bring about fundamental change in any part of a food system has profound economic and political implications. This is because multiple and sometimes conflicting goals need to be considered simultaneously. This calls for an in-depth analysis of trade-offs or possible synergies among healthy diets, sustainable resource management, more resilient food systems and equitable development. 3
Box 8.1: Calls for a transformation of how we produce and consume food are growing
Several agencies of the United Nations (UN) recently acknowledged that food systems must be ‘reformed’ to ensure the sustainable production of, and access to, foods which make up healthy diets. 4 UNICEF and Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) have called for food systems to be ‘realigned’ with the dietary needs of nutritionally vulnerable people around the world. 5 The Eat-Lancet Commission concluded that “global efforts are urgently needed to transform diets and food production collectively”. 6Similarly, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) have both argued for a ‘transformation’ of food systems to meet health, climate and poverty goals simultaneously. 7 8
In response, some donor agencies have reorganised to reflect the ‘new’ agendas facing LMICs and the world as a whole, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which created a cross-agency centre focused explicitly on nutrition, drawing on expertise across the entire organisation. Similarly, the World Bank is currently finalising a new action plan on climate change (building on its 2016–2020 strategy), which includes a focus on supporting climate- smart agriculture in regions most affected by both high burdens of malnutrition and increasingly negative environmental impacts on food systems.
Many governments do not have the capacity necessary for such in-depth analyses or, if they do have capacity, do not use it to revise policy approaches to existing food system problems (see Box 8.2). It is a difficult task for any policymaker to start down the road to a different future without a good understanding of what this will entail, what the benefits could be, and how possible benefits would be distributed relative to expected costs.
The global food system needs to be transformed into one that is nutrition- and health-driven, productive and efficient, environmentally sustainable and climate smart.
Box 8.2: Government capacity constraints in the face of human and planetary health risks
The capacity for governments in LMICs to engage quickly in food system transition may in some cases be hampered by institutional, budgetary, and other constraints. The World Bank reports a set of governance indicators for LMICs based on institutional, fiscal, legal, and human capital capabilities. Countries highlighted in bold in the matrix below are ones listed in the bottom quartile of its Governance Effectiveness Index for 2017. The top left quadrant of the matrix includes those LMICs facing high levels of health losses from all causes (measured in terms of disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs) as well as high climate risks (from many kinds of environmental shocks and resource degradation). The bottom right quadrant includes countries currently with relatively lower health and planetary
health risks combined. What this shows is that 17 LMICs classified as having serious governance constraints are facing both human and planetary health risks. These countries include Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Yemen. Another 26 LMICs with governance constraints face either high human or high planetary health risks. In other words, capacity is limited for between 30 and 40 LMIC governments to deal with ongoing climate shocks and healthcare challenges. This means that their ability to engage fully in a food system transition will be constrained in the absence of a significant effort by nations themselves and by their multilateral and bilateral development partners to build relevant institutional, fiscal, legal, and human capabilities.
Each country must formulate its own approach and determine a locally appropriate transition pathway. The technical or political feasibility, and the need versus cost, of each of these recommended actions will vary depending on context. Table 8.1 illustrates how various interventions for improving intake of micronutrients by the poor in LMICs may carry different political, technical, and cost-benefit implications depending on the setting (these are in hypothetical quadrants not based on empirical realities and are merely illustrative). It is important when selecting a policy or intervention to understand (in this hypothetical case), the local extent of nutrient deficiencies, relative food prices on the market, availability of staples relative to nutrient-rich perishables, the degree of commercial engagement in industrial fortification of food products, and political interest in spending to bolster the food intake of poor families via government subsidies, and safety nets.
Just as governments have to weigh up political and economic realities when crafting food system policies, they should also take into account how national domestic policies and business strategies relating to food systems are circumscribed by, and interact with, those of the global community. Food systems do not begin and end at the border, just as planetary challenges such as climate change, access to fresh water, and air pollution do not have domestic solutions alone.
To promote mutually beneficial actions across nations, three important commitments have to be made.
- First, all governments should engage politically with the collective global agendas which set goals based on the best available science (such as the climate change targets).
- Second, governments should facilitate local dialogues which engage stakeholders on the implications of the latest science to define a national vision for a transition toward a transformed food system.
- Third, every policy and investment decision taken at the government or commercial level should be focused on ‘gain multipliers’; that is, on actions that can have multiple beneficial outcomes combined, or at least do no harm to related sectors of activity where gains are more narrowly focused on just one domain.
Where necessary, new analytical capacity must be established as a government and/or donor agency priority to support credible evidence of options and the cost-effectiveness of alternative approaches to facilitate a transition process. These commitments are explored in this chapter.
8.2 Collective global agendas
There are several international initiatives already underway which address separate parts of the food system transformation agenda. These include initiatives focused, mostly separately, on climate, nutrition, and diet. They need to be aligned in ways that ensure each separate agenda is mutually supportive of the others. Positive impacts on climate change (mainly via reduced emissions) and other aspects of sustainability such as biodiversity have to come from the supply side (how food is sourced) and the demand side (what food is eaten) 10(see Table 8.2). In other words, a food system transition process has to encourage, guide, incentivise and reward both dimensions of sustainability and of healthy diets, and this requires all the actions proposed in Chapters 4-7.
The Paris Agreement on climate change
In view of the diverse challenges associated with climate change, all 31 low-income countries that signed up to the Paris Agreement on climate change (and 43 of 50 lower-middle income countries) made commitments to invest in agriculture adaptation to mitigate the expected impacts of climate shocks and resource degradation in the coming decades (see Figure 8.1). 13 For example, Afghanistan committed to spend US$4.5 billion on restoring war-damaged irrigation systems and to develop new ones to protect crop production. Such measures are very important and should be amplified globally.
That said, the Paris Agreement commitments share a problem with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in that the promotion of healthy diets and the sustainability of food systems are not explicitly mentioned. The Paris Agreement commitments are approached largely sector by sector, 14 and the SDGs are approached goal by goal. Also, there is limited attention given to how actions in one area need to be integrated with actions in others. Concerted efforts between different goals or commitments are essential to achieve the desired dietary patterns required to deliver equity, health, and planetary outcomes.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
This independent scientific body was established in 1988 and has 195 Member Countries today. It was created to provide policymakers with scientific assessments relating to climate change, its implications for planetary systems and human well-being, as well as options for adaptation and mitigation.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has played a critically important role in influencing the policy agenda, while also informing public sentiment and understanding of the issues. The 2019 report on Climate Change and Land was its first to address explicitly, and in a structured way, the implications of climate change on key issues relating to food systems, including land degradation, sustainable land management, desertification, and greenhouse gas emissions relating to terrestrial activity, including agriculture. 15 However, while some of the implications were explored in terms of aggregate food security, limited attention was given to the feedback loops linking terrestrial economic activity, climate change, diets and health. This represents a critically important analytical and policy gap which needs to be addressed without delay.
The Decade of Action (2016-2025).
This is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and was endorsed by the General Assembly in April 2016. It calls specifically for “sustainable, resilient food systems for healthy diets”. It seeks alignment among actors and actions around the world to accelerate implementation of commitments “in line with the transformative ambitions” of the Sustainable Development Goals, including the nutrition targets established by the World Health Assembly (WHA). 16 The onus for action is on national governments and institutions, and many nations have made new commitments accordingly. For example, Brazil has set itself the goal of reducing obesity while promoting “sustainable production of and access to nutritious and diverse food” and other countries made pledges in 2017 to dedicate domestic funding to the Decade’s agenda, including Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, India, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, and Zambia. 17
During COVID-19, the bureaucratic, financial, logistical and technological reasons that always seemed to make actions impossible or improbable have fallen away
However, by 2018, a set of resource-constrained countries (Ecuador, Guinea, Samoa, Senegal and Tunisia) drafted a formal resolution to express concern that the world was still not on track to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by 2030, and called for additional efforts “to support the transformational change needed”. 19
Concerns about slow progress towards sustainable diet and nutrition targets are widespread and growing. Despite Herculean efforts by many individual advocates, organisations and some nations, the Decade of Action on Nutrition has reached its mid-way point and there is limited evidence of sustained efforts at global scale to enact the transformative change needed to achieve goals set for 2025 or even for 2030.
This is of particular concern since any delays will make the task ever harder in the remaining time available. What is more, it has been argued that “despite the central role of food consumption and production as a major driver in the climate and biodiversity crises, food has so far not been considered central to global policy agendas such as the Paris Agreement, SDGs, or Convention on Biological Diversity”. 20 This lack of attention to food systems and diets in current global agendas represents a major oversight, and a continuing hurdle to much-needed progress.
8.2.1 Opportunities for coordinated global action
The UN Secretary General rightly observed in 2019 that commitments and pledges to improve nutrition by governments “are not enough to catalyse change and accelerate progress”. 21
He therefore called on all Member States to “explore the ways in which they can incentivise the evidence-based refinement of their own local diets and national food-based dietary guidelines that promote nutritious, affordable, safe and healthy diets within the bounds of planetary resource availability”.
The UN Secretary General also argued that nations must significantly increase investments “in the areas in which progress has been slow” and seek “greater coordination and collaboration by actors at all levels – from global to local”. 22This speaks to the current problem that the important international agendas relating to climate, natural resources, food, diets and nutrition are still poorly integrated, with only limited vision of how they need to interface to generate mutually beneficial outcomes for all. That said, at a global level, there are several key events and potentially related actions where these issues are set to be urgently considered.
The first is the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit to be held in Tokyo at the end of 2021. The first pledging conference for improved nutrition was hosted alongside the Olympic Games in London in 2013. 23 That meeting involved commitments by national governments, donor agencies and companies.
It generated US$4.15 billion pledged by donors alone for targeted nutrition- specific programmes as well as US$19 billion for nutrition-sensitive programmes. It also established two significant global activities: the Global Nutrition Report (GNR), which provides regular updates on progress and on the actual disbursement of pledged resources, and the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition which offers evidence-based policy guidance for governments in LMICs, and which has produced this report. 24 25
The next N4G Summit, hosted by the Government of Japan, will take place with less than a decade to run to achieve all SDG targets. This represents an opportunity to go far beyond ‘another pledging meeting’ (which is needed to accelerate progress on malnutrition in all its forms), to promote far-reaching and long-lasting systemic change through a food system lens. In addition to the usual focus on targets and fiscal resources, there needs to be a set of commitments to more fundamental change upstream from nutrition outcomes, centred on new national policies, company investment strategies and consumer advocacy agendas. The common goal must be a clearer focus on how to deliver sustainable, healthy diets for all.
The second global event is the world’s first United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit. That the United Nations Secretary General has called for this Summit represents clear acknowledgement of the importance of a food systems lens to policymaking aimed at supporting human and planetary well- being. The stated aim of the Summit is to generate momentum to help countries and all stakeholders “unleash the benefits of food systems for all people”. 26The main challenge for this event under UN the imprimatur is for it to be game-changing. Conventional new pledges will not suffice. Instead, a clear path forward is urgently needed for all nations. Preparations for all necessary agreements to be made at the Summit need to start immediately. In particular, these need to include agreement on
- the immediate (10-year) actions required by all to take the world through a period of transition towards the transformative change desired, and
- concrete measures to improve the science and evidence needed to support aggressive policy and investment pathways. In respect of the latter point, the Summit needs to agree: the organisational structures that should be established and charged with delivery of the improvements, necessary funding and governance, and also the intergovernmental backing that will be essential to ensure the resulting science and evidence are acted upon.
Looking beyond the forthcoming international events, there need to be substantial improvements in the ways in which science and evidence support the transition of food systems. These improvements have two distinct dimensions:
Step 1: Evidence for policy change. An essential first action is to quickly distil the most current science and modelling relevant to a better understanding of the dynamic feedback loops discussed in Chapter 3 (the loops connecting the functions of biological, climatic, and economic systems). The goal is to identify:
- priority actions which are still not being pursued despite clear and compelling evidence of need but also feasibility and
- gaps in knowledge that represent urgent priorities for future policy-relevant research.
Transition is often challenging rather due to the process of change rather than the object of change.
Both forms of information must be made available to the UN Food Systems Summit stakeholders to frame discussions and commitments. The current and future role of dietary patterns on human and planetary health are both important. Considerably more needs to be understood from a scientific standpoint: what is occurring, what options exist for change, what are the costs and benefits from multiple perspectives? Equally, much more needs to be agreed as a way of developing the broad consensus required to allow for common, cross- national visions of transition pathways.
There is already high-quality research which informs policy development on pathways toward the mitigation of climate change. However, there is considerable potential for the research community to do much better in support of policymakers facing difficult decisions at the intersection of human and planetary health. 28
Step 2: Governments and their development partners, the UN and other international organisations should work together without delay to improve and build on existing mechanisms to support science and policy engagement with sustainable food systems transformation.
Effective transition towards a different kind of food system will require decisive leadership, building on existing institutional mandates, supported by robust, broadly accepted evidence, coupled with transparent public dialogues on important issues relating to the policy levers used, costs (borne by whom) versus benefits (for whom), synergies and trade-offs. The key question beyond an agreed global agenda is how to transition towards a common future at the national level. Coordination frameworks will be needed at this level to champion policy formulation, resource mobilisation and coordination of strategy implementation. In the context of delivering Steps 1 and 2, the Global Panel notes that the idea for a creation of an IPCC-like organisation for sustainable food systems (an ‘International Panel for Sustainable Food Systems’, or IPSFS) has been mooted in recent years.
This is one of a number of ideas that could be considered to deliver the necessary improvements.
8.3 Visions of the future
In defining what nations should aspire to in the longer term (the food systems transformation agenda), policymakers and food industry stakeholders must keep a clearly articulated set of goals in sight. Four important features should define fully transformed food systems locally and globally:
- Shifts in dietary patterns would be achieved by empowering and encouraging people to access healthy diets which are sustainably produced. It is not enough to make sustainable, healthy diets available and affordable. People must want them. The goal is not a single universal diet for everyone, but dietary patterns which encapsulate cultural traits and entail a marked shift towards enhanced and informed choices favouring nutrient-rich foods produced sustainably.
- Food systems would be better aligned to support sustainable, healthy diets. Major reform is needed, from production through to retail. This will create major challenges, not least around affordability of the improved diets, ensuring a ‘just transition’ (recognising that change always results in winners and losers), and ensuring that the poor are protected during the transition and beyond.
- Food system impacts on climate, natural resource depletion and biodiversity loss would be significantly reduced. This means that they would operate within the boundaries of the planet and its environmental resources. This goes far beyond sustainability in agriculture; it extends to rural livelihoods based on farming, the marketing and trade of food, its processing and packaging, wholesale and retail, and demand.
- The resilience of food systems to external shocks of all kinds would be significantly strengthened. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how a single zoonotic disease can have ripple effects across the entire global food system. The ability of producers, traders, food processors, retailers, and consumers to manage all kinds of shocks must be enhanced.
An approach which prioritises a whole-of-food-system transformation, works to ensure food systems are not only productive in terms of the amount of food they deliver, but they also bring about qualitative improvements across multiple dimensions of the entire system.
We still have some way to go before diets can become healthier and more sustainable worldwide.
While this vision is ambitious, it is not unrealistic. But it is not yet shared. Work has to be done to engage across and within nations to determine what is working well today (which elements of current food systems do not need to be changed), and what cannot be left as it is. The ways forward will be many and varied and cannot be prescribed. However, certain broad principles and approaches can be drawn on in negotiating the challenges of the transition process. A number of these formed the basis for scenarios which informed the project and can be found at the end of this chapter, in Section 8.7).
8.4 Why has action to transform food systems been so limited?
Part of the answer to this question relates to competing visions which determine the overall direction of national policies and investments. Without a national and local understanding of why current systems must be changed, and what characterises transformed food systems, it is almost impossible for policymakers or corporate leaders to take first steps as part of the transition process.
Given the size and diversity of benefits that could accrue from a successful transition process, the limited actions taken in recent years represents a wasted opportunity. It is important to ask why it has proved difficult for policymakers to make the necessary shifts in policies, companies to shift their approach to food product development and retail, and individuals to shift their dietary choices. Three major challenges are inhibiting progress:
- The complexity of food and environmental systems in a context where policy actions on food, health, agriculture, and climate are generally managed separately;
- Competing priorities for
- governments who have to make difficult policy choices,
- private companies making investment choices on product portfolios or retail strategies,
- households making food-purchase choices
- Uncertainty about and mistrust in scientific evidence, sometimes exacerbated by political polarisation.
In view of the complexities of the transition of food systems, it is unsurprising that many policymakers find it difficult to decide where best to focus, which policies to develop, and what actions to prioritise. This Foresight report aims to distil this complexity into straightforward advice on how to manage the necessary transition. But first, the relevant actors have to commit to take the first important steps, focus the transition on pathways towards the ultimate goal, and engage with the trade-offs that will be inevitable en route.
8.4.1 Constraints, challenges, and trade-offs
If the end point of food system transformation is clear, how to manage the transition from the current status quo is much less so. To date, this transition has received scant attention by researchers, yet it is the arguably the most pressing issue for policymakers in LMICs, not least since they are faced with a plethora of challenges.
LMIC government actions are constrained by relatively low levels of investment and finance. For many, food needs are rapidly growing. But at the same time, food production in many of these countries (particularly towards the equator) is increasingly threatened by climate change. Rapid urbanisation is also transforming lifestyles and eating habits. Against this background of multiple constraints and challenges, the transition to sustainable, healthy diets for everyone will require change throughout food systems.
For example, it will require profound shifts in production patterns, innovation in value chains, and shifts in demand, so that people are informed and empowered to make better dietary choices. It is also likely to require change in wider areas of policy such as infrastructure development,a move to sustainable energy sources, and more.
For example, tree nuts are products with a large water footprint. They are water-intensive per unit of mass produced and per unit of protein generated. According to one recent modelling study, almost two-thirds of irrigated nuts are produced in countries facing ‘severe water stress’, including India, China, Pakistan, and parts of the Middle East. Water stress is monitored as part of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (indicator 6.4.2) 31 which reinforces the need for policymakers in LMICs to determine appropriate approaches to securing adequate quantities of a nutrient-dense foods (be it nuts or fruits or legumes) in environmentally sustainable ways. 32
An important challenge for policymakers in transforming food systems is the inevitable trade-offs which need to be negotiated when allocating resources and prioritising where to focus attention. Negotiating a way past policy pinch-points is a day-to-day reality for all decision makers, particularly in LMICs where resources are severely constrained. The following examples illustrate just some of the difficult dilemmas to be faced:
- How to allocate scarce resources between addressing the different forms of malnutrition (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, or overweight and obesity) which may affect a population simultaneously. Each of these has a different profile in terms of who is affected (by age, gender, religion and socio-economic group) and their different impacts on health and healthcare budgets, their differing consequences for physical and mental development through life, and their impact on peoples’ productivity and earning potential as adults.
- How to strike a balance between investing in agriculture versus other jobs in rural communities. To what extent should inward investment in the food system be allowed or encouraged, at the risk of the investing country exploiting local environmental resources, and possibly repatriating highly nutrient-rich foods? To what extent should countries promote greater in-country food output and self-sufficiency, versus increased trade in food commodities which might support national-level food security and diversity in the food supply?
- How to address potentially competing policy imperatives. There will be hugely significant policy trade- offs between, for example, agriculture policies focused on ‘cheap staples’ and policies aimed at supporting higher intake of nutrient-rich foods; agricultural exports for foreign exchange versus domestic goals; fiscal policies that facilitate the profitability of food companies versus the affordability of healthy
diets for citizens; productivity goals in agriculture versus efficiency targets for sustainability; and a vision for human and planetary health versus a vision of increased aggregate economic growth.
- How to balance priorities between avoiding coronavirus- led debt default in the short-term and investing in steps required for longer-term food system transition. This is important if countries are to achieve the health and economic benefits associated with more sustainable, healthier diets for all.
There is no easy or straightforward way of resolving these trade-offs. Much will depend on diverse factors such as local circumstances, resource constraints, and political choices. It is a reality that an effective food system transition requires a more pronounced role for governments in precisely those countries where the institutional and resource capacities to fulfill such roles are limited. In addition to traditional oversight of fertiliser, seed, land and trade policies, there is a greater need now for government attention to industrial, labour, environmental, and food safety policies as supply chains lengthen and the business landscape becomes more crowded. However broad principles to guide decision making can be identified (see Box 8.3).
8.5 Addressing systemic policy distortions
Today’s food systems operate against a background of multiple policy distortions. These have a strong influence on the foods that are delivered, their price and accessibility and, in particular, in encouraging the supply, demand and consumption of foods which may be less conducive to healthy diets and to sustainability in food systems. Unaddressed, these systemic distortions will act to maintain the status quo, and will make it much more difficult to bring about the required transition.
Box 8.3: A checklist for analysing trade-offs
- Be clear about the ‘ground rules’ for assessing the trade- offs. This is about clear definition (and agreement) of objectives, and what is important and what is less so.
- Map out existing policies and how they affect a given trade-off.
- Understand the costs/benefits and who pays/ benefits from various strategies; the types of benefits; timescales for investment and ‘payback’.
- When considering externalities, it is generally best for costs to be incurred close to where they occur.
- Focus on the future and not just the current situation. Foster collective decisions (important where other areas of policy are potentially involved).
- ‘Get prices right’. This is particularly important as most poor people around the world are already unable to access minimally adequate diets just in terms of calories and micronutrients.
Systematic bundling of different policy measures can help to mitigate the potential trade-off between political feasibility and problem-solving effectiveness.
However, addressing these policy distortions is within the gift of policymakers. Important distortions requiring action include the following:
- Emphasis on production, at the expense of the wider food system. Agriculture will clearly remain vital. However, a new conceptual framing needs to be adopted by policymakers which recognises that all parts of food systems need to work together as a whole if they are to deliver diets that are high quality and sustainable. This policy approach was highlighted in the Global Panel’s 2016 Foresight report and is gaining traction, but much remains to be done.
- A historic bias in favour of producing staples. As explained in Chapter 2, diets in LMICs are typically based on just a few foods, with a heavy reliance on cereals or starchy roots and tubers. Staple foods will remain as core components of diets for millions of people, but the balance needs to shift towards diversity.
- Agriculture sector subsidies. A high proportion of these are used to support the supply of staple grains. As supply-side subsidies account for an estimated US$620 billion per year, 34 a relatively small shift in allocation towards nutrient-rich foods could be valuable in developing crop varieties which are more robust to environmental extremes, less perishable, and more affordable through lower cost.
- Research biases. These also tend to target staples. More generally, research is also biased to agriculture and food production, rather than all parts of the food system.
- Environmental externalities. Many aspects of food production and food systems more generally benefit directly and/or indirectly from diverse environmental externalities which are not reflected in the price of foods. Examples include the generation of greenhouse gases, depletion of aquifers, pollution, and biodiversity loss due to deforestation and land-use changes in favour of food.
8.6 Priorities for managing the transition
The following should guide policymakers as they implement the various actions laid out in Part II of this report, to change though transition how food systems function:
- Seek multiple benefits or ’wins’ across all policy and investment decisions. Pursue what is feasible, be bold, and seek actions and outcomes which have potential for pursuing policy pathways with the capacity to deliver wins on multiple fronts simultaneously.
- Do no harm. It should be recognised that very large numbers of producers, traders, retailers, and purchasers of food are poor (in income terms) but also vulnerable (in terms of nutrition and health risks). Ensure that any transition process involving a resource as critical to their well-being (taking up more than 50% of total spending) as food is carefully calibrated and monitored with a view to protecting those potentially most at risk of harm.
- Invest in strengthening institutions and capacity building. Evidence-based policy decisions will be critical to managing an effective transition process: one that leaves no-one behind, does not harm what is working well in today’s food systems; and optimises efficiency and other gains to ensure that economic returns on investment reinforce government and food industry commitments to necessary long-term change.
- Be transparent in decisions on how, where, and when to act.
- Challenge the seemingly impossible.
- Identify early opportunities for success.
- Avoid closing off options for the future. Strategies and implementation plans must be flexible.
- Perform systematic analyses of trade-off options.
- Implement change based on evidence and transparent expectations
- Ensure the various parties (actors in the public sector and across the commercial landscape) are all committed to a common plan from the outset, with clear ownership of goals and milestones.
- Explicitly mitigate risks for different stages of implementation. This includes adopting a ‘do no harm’ principle.
- Establish feedback mechanisms. This allows for real-time adjustments to policy and process and is important due to possible unforeseen consequences, changing circumstances, and the difficulty of managing trade-offs. Flexibility will always be important, without losing sight of agreed goals.
- Implement bundles of measures that promote pathways toward multiple wins. This is preferable to one-at-a time actions that only tackle individual problems in silos. Coherent multi-sectoral policy strategies will call for system-wide actions rather than small changes in the margins.
8.7 Managing the costs of transition
From a food systems perspective, the costs of change will manifest in one or more (most likely all) domains of the system from production, through to trade, food processing, retail, and consumption. The distribution and impacts of these costs need to be identified, understood, and managed effectively.
8.7.1 Food production (making more nutrient-rich foods available sustainably)
Cost structures (inputs, labour, output prices) will shift as policy actions move to realign current support systems, including for example a repurposing of long standing, macro-level subsidies for agriculture (commodities, services) from staple cereals towards cost-neutral investments in the sustainable production of nutrient-rich foods (see Chapter 4). Additionally, new technologies, practice innovations and a reorientation of patterns of food demand will all serve to reshape the costs of doing business in food production. Changing cost structures will affect different scales and types of food production entities differently, with various price effects on products being promoted more than in the past, including fruits and vegetables, dairy products, nuts and seeds, pulses, and fish. Traditional grain-centric producers and trade companies could see some costs rise and demand moderate or fall. Obviously, some nations will have greater flexibility to adjust quickly to shifting incentives around production and relative changes in commodity prices.
8.7.2 Markets (making sustainable, healthy diets accessible to more people)
Domestic trade costs should decline in line with required investments in infrastructure which better links producers and markets. Increasing the role of international trade in meeting national dietary goals should enhance the use of foreign exchange to support appropriate levels of import of nutrient-rich foods. New technologies will offer higher food income streams linked to reduced perishability of nutrient-rich foods (storage innovations), farm-to-fork delivery apps and urban-based, next-generation production systems (for example hydroponics and other soil-free cultivation, insect-breeding for protein).
8.7.3 Food processing, wholesale, and retail (making sustainable, nutrient-rich products accessible and desirable)
Some of the more significant changes from business-as-usual will need to take place where foods are transformed (processed and packaged) and sold (wholesale and retail). The promotion of a range of formerly much higher-value perishable products that require careful handling, minimal processing, and nutrient- retention will pose risks to profitability for SMEs which have hitherto invested in producing products that focus on low costs but provide limited nutrients.
There will be greater costs associated with the marketing of certain nutrient-rich foods in higher demand, requiring food companies to invest in new technologies, new storage and retail locations, and new ways of presenting products. At the same time, the benefits of food system innovation will offer growth potential across a sector which has for too long focused on lowest-price and cost-containment models.
8.7.4 Consumption (making sustainable, healthy diets affordable and desirable)
Current food systems around the world were established to deliver high quantity (mainly calories) at relatively low cost. The outcome is a skewed system which has reduced the threat of famine globally, and which feeds more people today than ever before. However, as already discussed, food systems also deliver diets which are having significant negative impacts on human health, the climate, and other aspects of the environment in diverse ways. Shifting production, prices and the promotion of high-quality diets globally will likely increase the cost of diets for many. 35 As the relative price and availability of foods shifts in line with transition steps, the overall price tag associated with healthy diets will likely rise in many contexts. That reality must be well understood and managed by rebalancing relative prices, increasing incomes and the purchasing power of the poor, and bolstering social protection programmes in ways that also support the affordability of healthy diets, as discussed in Chapter 6.
As of today, governments need to do much more to ensure at least minimal food intake for nutritionally vulnerable people. Improved targeting of income support, education, economic policies to tackle income inequality, access to food markets, relative prices of food to non-food essentials – all of these must be tackled by governments willing to take responsibility for the welfare of their citizens.
Also, to embark on the set of actions needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, all nations will have to go much further to protect the poorest people during the transition from a poorly functioning food system which leaves billions behind, to a system that is resilient, environmentally sustainable and provides healthy diets for everyone. The important message here is that the costs and benefits are predictable. The transition steps will need to be explicit, transparent, and honest about this.
The next and final chapter of this report sets out recommended steps to be taken by governments, business, and individuals. The recommendations represent evidence-based transition steps into a new transformed future for food systems.
8.8 Scenarios and policy development in an uncertain world
The world is changing fast from many different outlooks: social, economic, technical, and environmental. 36 The planet’s population is still growing rapidly, with more people who are mobile, connected, and less poor. Yet there is also greater and, in some cases, growing inequality between the wealthy and the poor, and a massive draw-down of natural resources (e.g. food, water, energy, soil). At the same time, we are closer to the ‘planetary boundaries’ 37 beyond which planetary processes may degrade even faster. Climate change is having noticeable effects as extreme weather becomes more common, impacting people through floods and droughts, affecting food supply and market infrastructure.
At the start of the 21st century’s first decade, the future looked very different from today. International rule-based cooperation had led to unprecedented stability and global integration, such that there was discussion of the potential of a post-nation state world. 38 39 However, growing radicalism, the threat of terrorism, and a growing inward-looking nationalism, partly driven by inequality growth and immigration, have now led to a very different world. We are radically diverging from the Bretton Woods-based international architecture of inter-governmental cooperation which has underpinned globalisation for decades. These changes are increasingly challenging from environmental and geopolitical outlooks.
Within this ‘changing and challenging world’ context, some issues are becoming both more urgent (as the time available to drive positive change diminishes) and more significant (as the scale of the challenges grows). These factors set the context for the future of food systems in the decades ahead. Rare but high-impact events – unexpected and perhaps unprecedented – lead to rapid and often long-lasting transformative impacts. The coronavirus pandemic may be one such event; it has distorted the functioning of national economies and social dynamics in ways unprecedented since World War Two.
Global systems are non-linear and complex. Some examples of substantial projects and actions that have yielded (or which have the potential to yield) multiple benefits or ‘multi-wins’ are presented at the end of Chapters 4–6 of this report. Although the empirical evidence for cost-effective politically viable ‘multi- wins’ is generally sparse, the evidence of initiatives at all levels of society aimed at pursuing pathways that are supportive of diets which are both healthy and sustainable is growing.
They range from local government initiatives and advocacy agendas, to international agreements and a proliferation of commercial activities (see Box 8.4).
Pathways towards multiple-win strategies and best practices are being studied, and policymakers are increasingly aware of the need to engage not just in food supply agendas, but to meet growing demand for sustainable, healthy diets across all segments of society. From the perspective of governments, some actions would be cost-neutral, but are necessary to catalyse transformative change. Examples include: rebalancing subsidies to better support a wide range of nutrient-rich foods; increasing both the quantity and quality of food-related research and development to protect past gains on cereal productivity; enhancing past gains related to climate-smart needs (for example drought and heat tolerance, pest-resistance); applying equal attention and resources to all non-cereal foods, and enhancing understanding of the economic and policy drivers of sustainability, efficiency, and shifting patterns of dietary demand.
It bears repeating that sustaining output and productivity of staple grains and tubers remains a global priority. In many LMICs, ‘zero hunger’ agendas remain critically important. But all countries will see falling numbers of absolute poor and undernourished people in the coming decades, and fundamental shifts in dietary demand linked with population growth and poverty reduction are already underway.
Shifting thinking and practices to be forward-facing is central to a ‘just transition’ which supports income growth across the whole system, but especially for the poor. The transition must be carefully managed, calibrated, monitored, and financed, with care to do no harm to the world’s already most vulnerable people.
Box 8.4: Initiatives that can support the goal of sustainable, healthy diets
There are many possible innovations and initiatives across food systems which can simultaneously support both objectives. For example:
- New approaches to marketing direct from farmer to buyers to minimise loss of perishables and enhance production returns.
- Growing numbers of technology applications aimed at confined spaces and reduced inputs (particularly water and heat) for urban production of nutrient-rich foods.
- Market information systems and innovations in processing technologies, packaging materials, shelf-life extension combined with food loss/waste reduction.
- Food processing businesses for new markets and consumer-direct services, many of which are SMEs which have grown rapidly across LMICs.
- Full and partial-service restaurants expanding healthy choices and serving as ambassadors for climate- and healthy diet-agendas.
8.8.1 Plausible scenarios: strategies under uncertainty
The world’s food systems are changing rapidly, but they are also increasingly fragile and at risk from shocks related to the climate crisis, resource degradation, pandemics or financial and humanitarian crises. The challenge for policymakers is to develop policies for a future that is far from predictable. This unpredictability is summed up with the TUNA acronym: Turbulent, Uncertain, Novel, Ambiguous. 40 The future is turbulent because of its fragility and non-linearity, meaning that events can lead to escalating and potentially unmanageable impacts; 41 uncertain because these are often highly unpredictable; novel because technological, socialand environmental changes create unprecedented situations; and ambiguous because of incomplete and contradictory requirements. Scenarios provide important insights 42 when past trends cannot be extrapolated into the future with confidence. Each scenario is therefore constructed as its own plausible future, and is typically based on a set of assumptions concerning which drivers of change are likely to be important, and how they might develop. Consideration of individual scenarios can help to assess the effectiveness of specific policies and actions. The usefulness of scenarios is enhanced when several contrasting scenarios are produced and compared in the context of specific policies.
There are a number of ready-made scenarios about the future of food systems which can help
For this report, the Global Panel organised a workshop to discuss a set of four contrasting scenarios presented in Box 8.5.
Choosing Foresight scenarios
While scenarios take many forms, a common approach is to frame them around two intersecting drivers of change which are likely to exert a particularly strong influence on future outcomes, but about which there is uncertainty. The two drivers define two axes, with four scenarios determined by the resulting four quadrants, as illustrated in Figure 8.2. For the Foresight 2.0 scenarios, the two drivers chosen were: environmental risks and the nature of economic growth. These were elaborated as follows:
- Environmental risks. In line with the environmental perspectives taken in this report, the risks considered related to climate change, and also the many forms of natural resource degradation that affect the planet’s environmental services, and therefore the ability of food systems to function effectively and efficiently. Future uncertainty was captured in the workshop through discussions relating to questions such as: how severely will agriculture be affected by volatile weather patterns as the climate changes? What will be the future quality of soils?
How might biodiversity loss develop? What might be future water quality and availability? Workshop participants used questions like these to discuss possible impacts on crop yields, livestock productivity and food production more generally. The impacts of environmental risks on trade were also considered, given that local food systems interact with international commodity markets and food price signals. Broader social effects were also discussed.
- Inclusive versus exclusive growth. This axis represents a purely profit-driven scenario at one extreme, where economic gain is the only measure of growth and income inequality increases. The other extreme represents an inclusive conception of growth, taking into account many factors other than profit, such as shared prosperity and reduced inequality. At this end of this axis, there is a world with influential civil society organisations, strong social safety nets, highly developed corporate social responsibility, fair employment, pro-poor policies, and a general consensus around the need for green, people-centred and equitable growth.
Box 8.5: Outline of future food system scenarios
Scenario 1: Perfect storm, business as usual
It is 2040, and predictions made decades ago about the impacts of climate change have turned out to be correct. Average global temperatures have risen by more than two degrees. Sea levels are higher and extreme weather events – such as heatwaves, ‘super-typhoons’ and droughts – are regular occurrences, impacting more people with greater intensity.
Everyone is affected, but especially those living in low-lying continental lands and in small-island states. The biggest losers are smallholder farmers who struggle to cope with extreme and unpredictable weather, as well as the millions of people earning a living downstream in the food system who provide goods and services to those same smallholder households. This puts rural livelihoods under severe pressure, leading many smallholders to abandon farming altogether and migrate to urban areas. The outcome is a shift of most arable land into the hands of a few large-scale agricultural producers.
The lack of resilience of production means that yields, efficiency and profit are prioritised over sustainability and biodiversity, worsening the environmental degradation still further. The result is a shift to cash crops, produced on a vast scale for the world market. Monocropping provides economies of scale and higher profits, but more nutrient-rich crops such as tomatoes, beans, and leafy vegetables have
become riskier and more expensive to grow and buy. Price spikes are common, causing social unrest. Food is a globally traded commodity and a flashpoint for geopolitical tensions.
The unpredictability and volatility of global food production is mirrored in public health and nutrition outcomes. In the world of 2040, disease pandemics have become more frequent due to antimicrobial resistance, vector-borne diseases and cross-species transmission. The continued R&D, investment and subsidy concentration on commodity crops ensures that the world is calorie-rich but remains nutrition-poor. There is a wide and growing gulf between those who can afford healthy diets, and those who cannot, but these diets are unsustainable and contribute a growing share to resource degradation and climate change. Warnings about the double burden of undernutrition and obesity have proven accurate. Every country around the world is now grappling with some form of malnutrition and diet-related disease. In this profit-driven world, anyone can be left behind, and many are. There is little in the way of social safety nets, employment is less secure, and social mobility has slowed down.
Scenario 2: Volatile, but inclusive
As in the first scenario, global temperatures have risen and the world in 2040 is experiencing extreme weather events on a more regular basis. But now the prevalent economic model is one aimed at inclusive growth, encompassing many objectives other than profit.
Box 8.5 continued
Growth is measured in broad terms, not just financially, and the goal of national policies is that no one be left behind. Climate costs, and other environmental risks, have increased. To cope with the dual burden of malnutrition, governments have acknowledged that old ways of working are untenable. Many countries have restructured their economies to ensure inclusivity and sustainability as policy priorities, as opposed to profit-taking by and for the better off. Smallholder farmers in LMICs are facing the brunt of erratic weather patterns, as they are the least resilient to droughts, floods, soil erosion and pests. More nutrient-rich crops are riskier to produce which means they have become more expensive, adversely affecting the diets of the wider population.
While opportunities to limit the extent of climate change were missed decades ago, this is also a world that believes in inclusive growth above anything else. This means that the worst impacts of climate change on the rural poor have been mitigated to some extent. For example, at the start of the 21st century, the problem of weak or non-existent land tenure had been recognised as a threat.
Through land reform, the development of large-scale farming has worked in tandem with smallholder farmers, rather than simply displacing them. Smallholders have benefited from the provision of public extension services as well as private support when they work as contract suppliers to larger agricultural producers. Women farmers, in particular, have benefited from these changes and have been able to significantly increase their productivity and income earning potential.
Scenario 3: Green, but unequal
In this scenario early action to tackle environmental breakdown leads to a world resembling today’s, but one in which the climate crisis has been somewhat abated. At the same time, a rising GDP is still the top priority and the sole measure of growth, leading to more extreme inequality and a wide spectrum of sub-optimal health outcomes.
The environmental warnings issued in the early part of the 21st century have been heeded, so weather extremes have been somewhat muted. However, social objectives are largely irrelevant. Agriculture is focused on extracting the most value, but through relatively clean, hi-tech efficiency and economies of scale, with larger farms dominating the picture. We might think of it as a new Green Revolution, but genuinely green, rather than one that prioritises yields.
In 2020, certain Asian countries already had a growing presence in sub-Saharan Africa. This raised questions about how far foreign ownership of land and resources was desirable. In 2040, smallholders with weak or non-existent land rights have been evicted or bought out with relative ease.
Some still work as farm labourers for large foreign- owned producers, while others have migrated to cities.
Inequality manifests itself in extremes of wealth and poverty at a national level, but also globally, with a greater and rising gap between rich and poor countries. Poorer countries in 2020 saw agriculture as an engine of development, and expected over time to diversify their economies and move into services and value addition. Instead, today they are still largely producers of raw materials exported to HICs. They have a natural advantage as producers of rice or other staples, especially under the stable environmental conditions, but they are not capturing most of the value.
In poorer countries, power and wealth are concentrated narrowly at the top. Health and nutrition are also treated much more as commodities than as public goods. With less crop diversity, fewer people working in agriculture, and a weaker social safety net, it is more difficult for many to access a good diet. Local farming still exists, but small-scale farmers are excluded from the skills, inputs and technologies that large producers use. Those that grow leafy vegetables for the local market must sell at high prices. A good diet is still available, but only to those who can afford it, and overall, the nutritional outcomes are poor.
Scenario 4: Perfect calm
This represents the most positive scenario. The effects of climate change have been mitigated, or even reversed, thanks to measures put in place long ago and natural resources are managed in optimal ways. Successful economic growth is measured in broad terms, not just financially, and no one is left behind. It was recognised that progress towards the SDG 2030 agenda had stalled, leading to a resurgence of effort to deal with many development problems. It was recognised that GDP-based growth, and ‘trickle down’ economic policies, underpinned the inequality which undermined progress towards the goals.
Significant actions were taken in the 2020s to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Global warming remains comfortably below the most extreme projections, and economic restructuring has also reduced inequality. There are farms of all sizes (including urban and peri-urban production). Some large farms do exist, but they grow a variety of crops. This is because there have been shifts in a range of factors which influence diets (subsidies, tax structure, public procurement, and health, agricultural, and trade policies) to facilitate adoption of healthy diets.
Demand for fruit and vegetables has risen while the demand for processed grains has declined – partly because people eat fewer ultra-processed foods based on traditional commodity crops, and partly because, on average, livestock produce is eaten less, so demand for livestock feed globally has fallen.
Box 8.5 continued
Agriculture is thus more geared towards diversity than it had been in 2020.
Smaller farms are economically viable. They have access to appropriate forms of ﬁnancing, and invest in inputs and technology. Farmers have market information and infrastructure is in place, meaning they can respond to demand and access the market for their crops. Well-planned urban development means there is strong demand in cities for healthy, varied agricultural products. A diverse diet is both accessible and affordable. Fair trading terms are in place for overseas markets, providing reliable income earning opportunities.
Environmentally harmful production processes are a thing of the past. Agroecological farming systems are common, with many farms using ‘closed loop’ systems as much as possible to reduce the need for artiﬁcial fertilisers and pesticides. Economic, ecological and social factors are all measures of success and well-being in this scenario. Equality is particularly important. As a scenario it suggests the achievement of health and resilience through diversity in all sorts of different ways: a diversity of localised farming landscapes, environmental biodiversity, and social diversity with maximum opportunity for nutrition achieved through dietary diversity.
8.8.2 Making policy decisions today: lessons from these scenarios
Each of the four scenarios that were produced at the workshop is plausible; together they reveal the extent of the uncertainty facing global food systems over the next few decades. Also, since the scenarios workshop took place in 2019, the global challenge of the coronavirus pandemic has arisen, highlighting the urgency to strengthen resilience of food systems to future uncertainties. The key question for policymakers is: what do the four scenarios mean for decisions being taken today?
Certainly, the extent of climate change remains a critical uncertainty. But the above scenarios argue the need for policymakers to also consider carefully the type of growth that their respective countries should pursue. Gross Domestic Product has long been a measure of growth, but other measures have gained traction in recent years. Some leading economists consider GDP a poor indicator of progress, and have argued for a change to the way economic and social development is measured. 43
In all the policy interventions described above, the issue of land ownership stands out because it is such a pervasive problem. Addressing it would enable other forms of progress. Small-scale farmers are a large demographic, responsible for the majority of food production in most LMICs, but in many countries the laws governing their land ownership are weak or unclear. The problem has been recognised, but more action will be needed. The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has been tackling it through LEGEND (Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development), a global programme designed to improve land governance as an essential basis for economic development, and to improve land rights at scale. Programmes such as this will need to be accelerated.
Stronger land tenure is an important way of improving resilience, but other interventions are also key, such as access to finance. A simple example is access to loans with a six-month grace period, to give farmers a chance to harvest a crop before they have to start repayments. At present, such loans are difficult or impossible for many farmers to secure. Banks in LMICs are sometimes undercapitalised and see farming as high risk, which
then prevents farmers from investing in measures which could make their risks more manageable. That cycle needs to be superseded by new approaches which provide farmers with the ability and confidence to move beyond subsistence farming and diversify into higher-value, nutrient-rich crops and livestock, which can improve their income and increase dietary diversity at both a household and local/national level.
Other financial services are also important: climate risk insurance, for example, in which pay-outs to farmers are triggered based on an index or set of parameters, such as rainfall or temperature within a defined place and time. In 2015, Germany, under its G7 Presidency, launched the ‘InsuResilience’ initiative: a commitment to increase climate risk insurance protection to an additional 400 million people in developing countries by 2020. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, G7 countries reaffirmed their support for the project by pledging US$420 million; this amount was increased to US$550 million at the Marrakech Summit in 2016. Maintaining these commitments will be important.
A move towards preventative healthcare coupled with agricultural policy that is more nutrition-centred could see a significant reduction in the strain that diet-related ill health currently places on national health systems. More diverse production and more diversified farming will also build climate resilience. Green technology emerges in these scenarios asba pathway to sustainable agriculture, although accessibility is a concern. For example, drones can be used to scan fields and detect water stress or pest infestations. This may be suitable for large landowners, but less relevant to smallholders. The challenge is to identify and scale-up solutions that work at different levels. Solar-powered irrigation systems specifically designed for smallholders already exist. Again, finance can be a barrier, but prices are declining. For the benefits of green technologies to be felt, they must be diverse enough to offer solutions to small urban gardeners in Kampala as well as large agribusinesses in Nigeria or China.
Finally, increased urban migration can be expected to varying extents in all scenarios. The strain on public services could be immense, as evidenced by Cape Town’s recent issues with its water supply.
The impact on nutrition is significant because the urban poor have little choice but to buy food rather than grow it, which means incomes and food prices are important. Shocks in either of these will lead to many people being forced to eat less or eat poorer quality foods, and/or reduce their spending on other basic needs. This can have long-term health impacts (e.g. stunting) and slow down economic development as a whole.
A final word of caution. Taken together, the above scenarios are only a sample of possible futures. Therefore, a mix of policies that would work in all four scenarios would not ensure successful outcomes for other possible developments which might occur. COVID-19 illustrates just how unpredictable the world can be. The scenarios outlined here give some indication of the potential benefit for policymakers to produce and explore scenarios tailored to their own circumstances.
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