Chapter 9 Transitioning food systems to achieve ambitious new goals

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The Global Panel urges all nations, including low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and  their development partners, to take urgent action to change the ways in which food systems  are currently managed, governed, and used. This is essential to achieve the goal of sustainable,  healthy diets for all, which is vital for the health of millions of people and the health of the  planet, but also for progress in almost all of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The starting point for this report (Part I – Chapters 2 and 3) was a call for policymakers to  pay urgent attention to a set of inter-linked and deepening crises: the global nutrition crisis,  the climate emergency, and the planet-wide natural resource crisis. Negative feedback loops  run through and across these crises: from dietary patterns related to the ways that food is produced, processed and sold, to ecological damage, through to the impacts of climate  volatility on food systems and the accumulating health effects of sub-optimal diets. Food  systems are at the nexus of these crises. The economic impacts of compounding food system  failures are profound, exposing systemic weaknesses and fragility in the face of a dangerous  new threat in the form of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is LMICs and the poorest in all societies who are likely to suffer most from exposure to  climate shocks, to the unsustainability of food systems, and to the livelihood threats posed  by ill-health. These threats will only become more severe, and more difficult to rectify, in  the absence of appropriate actions across the food system. They are already a reality. Today,  a minority of the world’s inhabitants eat well. Future food systems need to deliver healthy  and sustainably produced diets to everyone. How the transition is managed will be critical,not least to ensure it is orderly and protects the poorest. This report has set out a framework  for achieving that.

The goal of sustainable, healthy diets for everyone depends on  the fundamental reform of the food system. The food system  contributes to multiple aspects of planetary degradation and  is in a spiral of decline with environmental systems. But reform  will only take place if there is political will and commitment to turn aspiration into reality. Without decisive action, policymakers  must expect increased inequalities in terms of incomes, health,  and diet quality across and within countries, and increasingly  fragile and risk-prone food systems degrading the planet’s natural  systems on a vast scale.

For a century or more, our food systems have been largely  successful at delivering what they were primarily designed to  deliver: an abundance of relatively cheap staples. That goal  remains important, but the benefits fail to address many aspects  of malnutrition or inequality, and the dominant business model is one that has made itself unsustainable. The incentives and  disincentives built into current production, marketing, processing,  retail, and

demand systems reflect the past and prevailing choices  of policymakers, businesses, and the expressed demand of  billions of food purchasers. This makes any food system transition  complex and challenging, but the ways in which decisions are  made today cannot be sustained. The choices that drive the  interlocked climate and health crises have to change.

Delivering healthy and sustainable diets will require a re-engineering  of each domain of the food system. The process of transition,  which must start without delay, will not be without challenges.  This report sets out a framework for that process (see Chapter  8), and a coherent set of actions (Part II – Chapters 4-7).

Upcoming international summits on food systems and nutrition  must promote greater donor support to enable all nations to move quickly through a transition phase. This chapter lays out  the Global Panel’s recommended actions, and proposed first  steps to making the transition possible.


9.1 Turning crises into opportunities

The cost of inaction will rise so fast that no country, rich or poor,  will easily cope with its negative impacts by 2030. Estimates of the health and economic burdens likely to beset countries  around the world by the escalation of diet-related problems  (human diseases, nutritional deficiencies, GHGs, failing food  production systems, and more) are estimated at US$16 trillion  per year by 2050. 2

Those estimates were made before the pandemic. In May 2020,  the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation  (OECD) estimated that wealthy nations alone (not including  LMICs) could see government debt rise by US$17 trillion as a  result of collapsed tax revenues, a deep fall in economic output,  and rising public sector borrowing. 3 Figure 9.1 illustrates the scale  of rising indebtedness for OECD countries, showing the sharp rise  that followed the 2007–2008 world food price crisis (the effects  of which are still being felt). Debt levels are expected to rise just  as sharply in LMICs, representing less total value in absolute terms,  but are likely to be just as significant in relative terms.

The huge human and economic costs of the pandemic will be  compounded every year by the growing human and economic costs of unsustainable, unhealthy diets. The expanding deficit  in most national budgets due to the continued healthcare costs post-pandemic, lost labour productivity, growing economic  inequality


and the unpredictable impacts of climate volatilitywill be highly destabilising for LMICs which already struggle to  service high levels of debt.

While the growing debt burden due to the coronavirus is now  inevitable, the future costs linked to failing food systems are not.  Modelling undertaken for this report on dietary shifts towards  food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) estimate savings in the  range of 10-15% of global GDP, which represents roughly US$8  trillion to US$13 trillion (based on 2019 global GDP of US$88  trillion). 4  5 Another study suggested an ‘economic prize’ from changing food and land use systems to avoid health and  environmental costs at US$10.5 trillion a year by 2050. 6

Part of these gains would come from tackling malnutrition  in all its forms. For example, there would be significant gains from finally resolving child undernutrition. Ending stunting for a single cohort of children (which would translate into improved  schooling, productivity and wage rates) would generate an  estimated US$177 billion per cohort year (at nominal exchange  rates), rising to over US$616 billion per year if exchange rates are adjusted for purchasing power parity. 7 In South Asia,  currently home to the highest number of stunted children, a 40% reduction by 2030 (the SDG target) would boost the earnings of the cohort of workers entering the workforce not  stunted by US$2,148 billion over their working life; the same  calculation for sub-Saharan Africa suggests a net present value  of earnings gained by 2030 at US$588 billion. 8

9.2 Food system transition: who needs to act?

Governments, donors, civil society, food companies and all  other stakeholders must work together to deliver food systems which are safer, more resilient, and sustainable. The starting point  for transforming food systems lies with global institutions and  national governments. The Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit  in Tokyo and the UN Food Systems Summit both offer important  opportunities for governments and donors, but also businesses,  to make not just new pledges for nutrition but to agree how to  invest in actions which facilitate a transition towards enhanced  food systems. The technical recommendations made in Part II of  this report can be used to inform concrete proposals for action.

The 2030 SDG target year is, however, poorly aligned with the  goals of food system transformation. Given the varied nature of  food systems globally, and disparity in capacities and resources  to enact necessary change across countries, it is infeasible that  transformation could be completed in a single decade. The  various transition steps chosen by policymakers in the context  of their own specific needs must be clearly planned, feasible and  proportionate in their ambition (see Section 9.5). They need to  be initiated by assessment of appropriate actions location-by-  location, identifying cost-effective instruments, re-purposing, re-balancing, and re-aligning incentives and disincentives across  the food system, and establishing effective social protection  mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable during the transition.  The sequence of actions needs to be tailored to local needs, and  be supported by wide stakeholder commitment.

9.2.1 Governments and their development partners

Governments have much to gain from the transition of  food systems, and they have a lead role to play. The gains to  governments will be employment created across the food system, reduced health care costs for both undernutrition and  diet-related chronic diseases, and reduced environmental losses  associated with ecological degradation and the economic  impacts of climate change. The transition process will require  wide and sustained support, and a mandate for change.

The principles that should guide government action on food  systems are laid out in Chapter 8. These apply to all governments,  and not just those in LMICs. 9

Specific government policy recommendations laid out  in this report include:

  1. Rebalance subsidies going to the agriculture sector  in ways that better support sustainable, healthy diets. The challenge is to better align government support  away from a narrow commodity focus towards national  public health goals, while also shifting resource incentives  towards climate-smart agricultural technologies, sustainable  approaches to intensification and carbon sequestration, and  support for innovations which can catalyse a rapid transition  of investments and activities across the food system.
  1. Rebalance agriculture-related research and development  (R&D) to invest in ways that enhance sustainable  intensification. Specifically, this requires ensuring that national  and global funding for crop research and other related food  systems research be both increased in total, but with a much  larger share dedicated to non-cereal crops than at present. This does not mean reducing research on the productivity  and protection of stable grains and tubers, but it does mean  significantly increasing funding towards similar work on the  nutrient-rich foods needed to support sustainable, healthy  diets. In other words, the quantity of research funding and  support, as well as its balance, must both be improved.
  2. Bolster research on food systems, not just foods.

    An ambitious, forward-facing research agenda must pay  close attention to joined-up system-wide investments, the cost-effectiveness of policy instruments used, scalability  of innovations, and rigorous documentation of multi-win  examples and best practices. The future needs and demands  of citizens should be built into the research agenda from the  outset. Achieving systemic change will require policymakers  to adopt a perspective that encompasses all parts of food  systems – from production through to processing, storage,  transport, retail and households. This will enable governments  to engage with and facilitate actions by all stakeholders, with a view to motivating integrated and concerted action.  The economic and environmental feedback loops (positive  and negative) associated with altered food product mixes  in agriculture and trade, both nationally and globally, must  be carefully modelled, measured, and managed.

  3. Rebalance agriculture technology R&D towards efficiency  gains which narrow the gap between higher- and lower-performing producers. Existing gaps in productivity  and output of both staple and non-staple foods must be  significantly reduced. Local agroecological conditions, and  the availability of (or constraints on) domestic factors of  production, such as arable land, water, labour, and capital,  must be addressed through new strategies aimed at shifting  the product mix both in agriculture and in diets.
  4. Rebalance relative market prices among foods. Using  a range of policy levers, including taxes and subsidies asappropriate, realign the price of nutrient-rich foods relative  to the cheapest locally available staples, and ensure that  ultra-processed foods (high in unhealthy fats, sugar and salt)  are no cheaper than nutrient-rich foods. This also includes  reducing transaction costs along supply chains through  investments in market infrastructure and support for  technology and innovations which cut food loss and waste.
  5. Realign public procurement and institutional activities  from the goal of feeding people to nourishing them.  The local purchase and programming of meals in schools,  hospitals, and prisons should include nutrient-rich foods  within healthy diet options.
  1. Focus national job-creation strategies on enabling an  efficient transition of the food system. While income growth within agriculture will still be important in the coming decade,  the greatest potential for new jobs lies in post-production  value-addition and services. Governments should ensure that job promotion, tax incentives, investment subsidies and  the promotion of technology innovation are aimed at rapid  increases in incomes associated with post-harvest activities  in the value chain. One important aspect of this agenda is to  facilitate improved hygiene and food safety conditions alongall food value chains, especially in traditional informal markets.
  2. Significantly increase funding for effectively designed  poverty reduction and pro-poor income growth  policies, as well as social protection policies. Cost-  effective programmes are needed on a much larger scale  to support the purchasing power and diet quality of the  poorest households, and to ensure vulnerable people are  much more resilient to crises (including lockdowns during  global pandemics). LMIC government budgets are always  constrained, but the scope and scale of social protection  interventions enacted quite swiftly in the face of the  coronavirus crises shows how valuable such programmes  can be to protect people from food system disruptions of  many kinds. Donor agencies should play a more active role  in supporting the establishment and systematisation ofeffectively managed, diet-supporting safety nets in countries  most vulnerable to global and local shocks of all kinds.
  3.  Prioritise ecosystem regeneration and food system  sustainability. To first ‘freeze the footprint’ and then invest in  reducing that footprint, governments must increase budgets  relating to agriculture, health, natural resources, transportation  and market development, dedicating these funds to coherent  cross-sectoral activities required to sustain food system  support for sustainable, healthy diets. This would include  repurposing land for carbon sequestration and enhanced  ecosystem services. The pandemic has also highlighted the  need for all nations to conserve natural habitats and provide  enough space for wild animals to live without overly close  human interactions. Adequate protection from poaching and  trapping is also important since this may increase the risk of  zoonoses and related virus mutations.
  4. Invest in a next generation of enhanced food-based  dietary guidelines (FBDGs). These are needed as part of  building a mandate for change, and they have the potential  to inform and guide policymaker actions, not simply to  inform or encourage individuals. They must contain much  more information and evidence on the impacts of food  choice on natural resources and climate, as well as the  implications for human and planetary health of healthier,  more sustainable dietary patterns.
  5. Promote data-driven accountability of SMART  commitments made by actors in the run up to the  Nutrition for Growth Summit in Tokyo, now scheduled  for 2021. A robust accountability mechanism that uses  better data and measurement in nutrition is essential to drive  equitable progress and leave no one behind. An important  adjunct to this specific recommendation is the need for

much greater investment in evidence building, database  management and dissemination of information relating  to all aspects of national and local food system functions.

The urgent need for robust science to answer key questions  on appropriate policy actions to achieve sustainable, healthy  diets cannot be over-stated.

  1. .Use the upcoming summits to catalyse global support for  a science-based policy agenda, including agreeing specific  ways to improve and build on existing mechanisms to  support science and policy engagement with sustainable  food systems transformation. Policy decisions based on the best available science and evidence will be more cost  effective, better focused, and more readily accepted by key  stakeholders (see Section 8.3.1 and also Box 9.1). Moves to  ensure greater clarity and transparency in global and local  actions towards sustainable, healthy diets should build on,  strengthen, and complement existing inter-governmental  mechanisms which influence the world’s agendas on  agriculture, food, and climate.
  2. Strive to keep food trade functioning as seamlessly as  possible. This will be important in a post-pandemic world.  Indeed “global supply chains and co-operation are themselves  a source of resilience, allowing countries to focus on their  strengths and share expertise”. 10 The supply chains and the  co-operation must be significantly enhanced rather than  disrupted to build resilience, equity and sustainability into  their fabric. The potential exists – and should be urgently  considered in the context of World Trade Organization  negotiations – for stronger agreements on maintaining a  smooth flow of food via global trade during multi-country  crises as well as between crises.

It is important to highlight that while each of the 13 actions  applies to every government in the world, in practice there  are important additional recommendations which must be  considered as primarily high- and middle-income country  responsibilities. These include:

  1. Pay attention to how domestic actions in high-income  countries are likely to influence food availability,  accessibility and affordability in other settings. This  applies particularly to low-income food deficit countries,  when designing and implementing domestic food policies  of all kinds. Pursue a ‘do no harm’ principle by off-setting  any negative impacts for those nations through targeted  fiscal, trade or other mechanisms.
  2. Actively pursue politically viable conclusions to  outstanding multilateral agriculture and food trade  agreement issues. Make binding commitments to resolving  and avoiding future bilateral impediments to effective trade  flows (and retaliatory measures).
  3. Realign donor policy priorities towards supporting  actions which promote simultaneous achievement  of planetary and human health goals. Significantly  increase funding support for cost-effectively changingthe mix of food products and technologies in agriculture.  Ensure a wide understanding that sustainable, healthy  diets are a key driver of success for the SDGs and beyond.  Make major new commitments to accelerating progress in  improving malnutrition in all its forms. Adjust international  poverty lines to account for the affordability (or lack  thereof) of sustainable, healthy diets and support national  governments to update domestic poverty lines and public  investments accordingly.
  1. Establish significantly increased funding for new research  agendas focused on measuring ‘what works?’ This can  improve sustainable, healthy diets across geographies, income  groups, and cultures over time. The grand challenge of this  decade is to link climate modelling with equivalent initiatives  aimed at economic modelling and natural resource modelling  to understand food system patterns, dynamics and trends. A range of innovative policy instruments and programmes  must be rigorously assessed in terms of cost-effectiveness across  multiple outcomes or ‘wins’ simultaneously (for example health  and nutrition, incomes, resource use and climate impacts).
  2. Explore a dedicated Global Financing Facility for the  transition of food systems. Use N4G and the UN Food  Systems Summit to discuss multilateral resource mobilisation  which supports and incentivises increased allocations of  domestic resources towards making food systems more  resilient and diets more sustainable and healthy.

9.2.2 Commercial food companies

The food industry exerts very substantial influence throughout  the food system. Commercial food companies need to have an  improved evidence base upon which to make more informed  decisions about investment patterns, their responsibilities to  citizens, the impact of their products on human health and food  system sustainability, product R&D, and retail and advertising  strategies. At the same time, governments have a crucial role to play in leveraging business investments by providing more  extensive and effective regulation, oversight, and responsibility  and by incentivising best practice. This is likely to be most  successful through the development of a trusted (rather than  adversarial) relationship. The aim should be to agree a common  agenda of promoting sustainable, healthy diets, while respecting  that each operates under different constraints.

Companies must be persuaded to revise the ways in which they  currently operate. Under a business-as-usual scenario, many  companies profit from a food system that exploits natural  resources and influences individual choice towards an increasingly  wide range of ultra-processed foods. The benefits accrue mainly  to industry stakeholders while the costs (population-wide ill  health, ecological degradation, natural disasters) are mainly borne  by the public sector and wider society. That imbalance will have  to be addressed during the transition.

Many businesses will need to adapt. There will be costs involved  in adjusting investment portfolios towards fresh strategies  focused on providing diverse, perishable, nutrient-rich foods

to a much larger consumer base. There will also be costs involved  in compromised market share for some ultra-processed foods as  profitability falls in line with reduced demand, rebalanced relative  prices, and greater government regulation (taxes and subsidies)  across dietary goals.

Many companies stand to gain from the potential for innovation  in business models, technologies, and product shifts. They will  also gain from enhanced productivity through a well-nourished  workforce. However, a transformed food system requires a shift  away from reliance on ultra-processed foods as the bulk of the grocery bill. Profits and market share in that space will be  squeezed and companies in the food product, retail or service  space will have to accept the need for strategic investments  aimed at supporting different future demand patterns. That  represents a normal cost of doing business.

The following key actions are needed:

  1. CEOs lead this agenda, ensuring that all employees  understand each company’s links to and impacts on food  systems, and their potential role in supporting change. The  governing boards of companies should play a major role in  monitoring and rewarding actions which translate aspirations  into genuine results in the form of public goods.
  2. Support greater understanding of the source and hidden  costs of all foods in the retail domain through engagement  with national and local business associations, including  chambers of commerce. This will mean that governments  must engage with all commercial stakeholders in defining  how the businesses should be incentivised to play a much  bigger role in achieving national goals in public health and  food system sustainability.
  3. Support healthy diet choices. Food industry stakeholders  must accept responsibility for partnering with national  governments to support a public health agenda which  pursues sustainable, healthy diets.
  4. Commit to reducing the price of nutrient-rich, perishable  foods relative to cheapest staples to support the  affordability of healthy food choices.
  5. Substitute sales of ultra-processed food products with  nutrient-rich foods, reformulate products to reduce levels  of sodium and added sugars significantly, and phase out  unhealthy ingredients (such as trans fats).
  6. Reduce food loss and waste in line with SDG goals. This  applies to commercial food companies (wholesalers, new  product producers and retailers). In the case of producers,  enhanced production and harvesting practices, as well as  post-harvest gleaning 11 can make a large contribution to  reduced farm-based losses.
  1. Make perishable, nutrient-rich foods accessible year-  round. Increase the number of weeks each year during  which nutrient-rich foods are available in the market. This will  require innovations in packaging, cold storage, transportation, and retail distribution.
  2. Commit to clear targets and plans for reduced emissions / carbon footprints for all commercial food activities. Each  commercial entity must seek to lower their natural resource  and/or climate impacts, while also seeking ways in which to  support carbon sequestration and ecosystem regeneration  through their activities.
  3. Commit to a significant reduction in energy and other  inputs, investing in production and processing efficiencies,  reduced leakage of energy (heat/cold loss, water, and gas  waste, etc.), and a significant adoption of renewable energy.
  4. Increase private R&D to support locally appropriate  nutrient-rich foods and share related intellectual  property with public research entities. This would  add huge value to the public research agenda and serve  as a genuine contribution in terms of Corporate Social  Responsibility (CSR) or blended financing models.
  5. Improve workplace canteen food choices to support  healthy diet choices. Increase the selection of nutrient-rich  foods available to workers and use meal spaces to enhance  people’s knowledge and insight regarding the implications  of dietary choices on health and the environment.

9.2.3 Civil society and citizens

The benefits of a transition towards a new food system will be an  opportunity for most people to eat better, leading to improved  health, less time lost at work due to sickness, reduced out-of-  pocket costs for treatment of sickness, and less dependence on social safety nets. For children who would otherwise suffer  one or more forms of malnutrition, their physical and mental  development would be enhanced, leading to increased earning  potential through life. There will be job opportunities across the  food system in countries where governments choose to support  innovation and growth across all value chains, as well as less  exposure, particularly in LMICs, to climate-related shocks.

Reduced spending on ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened  beverages (SSBs), and higher purchasing power deriving from  higher and more equitable incomes, will be important goals to be promoted by advocacy groups and non-governmental  organisations. These groups have important roles to play in  supporting people’s awareness, influencing patterns of demand,  and protecting the rights of all individuals to high-quality diets.

Individuals have the potential to drive change, both through their  own diets and through their collective demands on the food  system. But they need to make informed decisions to shift food  systems in different directions. The changes needed in diets will  require enhanced awareness of the natural resource and health  implications of food choices, supported by higher and more

equitable incomes, shifts in the relative prices of food products,  and the management of supply chains to reduce loss and waste.  Everyone should be able to demand sustainable, healthy diets  for their own benefit and for the benefit of all. They need to be informed, capable of accessing nutrient-rich, sustainably produced  foods, and have the purchasing power and desire to make these  choices. Individuals have a primary responsibility for their own  health, but they also have a responsibility for their contribution to public health challenges and to the planet’s biological integrity.

The following are objectives and changes which are needed  by civil society, action coalitions and advocacy groups:

  1. Promote and facilitate a vision for a food system  transition. Local and international civil society organisations  and action coalitions should urgently engage with policymakers  and other stakeholders to this end. Local governments,  professional associations, private charities, and religious  entities all have an important role in supporting national  change agendas but also in mobilising grassroots engagement  with, and support for, such change. Advocacy should always  be based on rigorous science and seek to support cost-  effective policy actions.
  2. Establish rigorous and transparent mechanisms  for monitoring and reporting. These mechanisms  can track commitments made by governments and businesses, and actions and outcomes, to ensure strong  accountability mechanisms.
  3. Advocate for institutional investors and asset managers  to link human and environmental health goals to their  core strategies. The ethics-focused ‘sustainable investing  market’ is growing fast, requiring that investment mechanisms  pay increasing attention to longer-term societal goals beyond profit. Civil society has a potentially powerful role in advocating  and monitoring the engagement of business actors and social  enterprises supporting the goal of achieving co-benefits to  people and planet of transformed sustainable food systems.

It is accepted that the various tasks set out in the previous  subsections (9.3.1–9.3.3) may appear daunting. However,  looking across all of these, 10 priorities are proposed which are considered to be generally applicable. These are set out in Box 9.2.

9.3 Improvements to facilitate science-to-policy action: inter-governmental backing is needed

Decisions regarding steps to be taken in a transition towards  more sustainable, healthy food systems should be guided by the  best available science and evidence. The coronavirus crisis once  again exposed how mistrust and manipulation of science can  sow confusion, lead to misplaced government spending, and  risk lives. Appropriate policy actions must be based on a robust  foundation of science and evidence of costs and benefits.

Governments will need to assess the impact of their policy  choices relative to food system goals: human health supported  by diets which are sufficient, diverse, nutrient-rich and safe, and  environmental health via ecosystem restoration, repurposing  of land use and vastly increased agricultural efficiencies. This  assessment calls for multi-sectoral coordination across sectors which influence food systems. Each country has a responsibility  to ensure that nutrient-rich foods are made available but with  a reduced carbon footprint.

Government leaders and development partners should work  together without delay to agree on concrete ways to improve  and build on existing mechanisms to support science and policy  engagement with sustainable food systems transformation (see Box 9.1). Such improvements would enhance what  institutions such as the FAO are already mandated to offer in  terms of normative guidance relating to agriculture and food.  The aim would be to provide the robust foundation of science  and evidence on which a transformative policy agenda for the  global food system could move forward both with authority  and efficiency.

The improvements should be underpinned by inter-governmental  backing to help ensure the resulting science and evidence is driven

by the most pressing needs of policymakers, and to ensure  uptake of the results. The improvements would build on,  and be entirely complementary to, existing efforts and need  to add value in three ways:

  1. Establish a credible and authoritative consensus on the  evidence, while reflecting diversity of opinion and lack of consensus across disciplines and countries. Resolve key  issues with new research.
  2. Improve efficiency in research by improving exchange  and coordination among science disciplines and research  efforts at scale as well as between science and policy  domains. Specifically, better link science practice across  climate, natural resources, food, health, and nutrition.
  3. Increase transparency in the synthesis and assessment  process based on rigorous peer cooperation and  review. Raise the profile of food systems so that they  are widely understood as a necessary focal point for  policy action. Increase the legitimacy of assessments  and recommendations, ensuring a more rounded and global evidence perspective, inclusive of research  from different geographies.

Box 9.1: Improved support for policy decisions: key tasks and functions of improved science and evidence mechanisms

Resolving controversies. Along with regular assessments on  the state of science, an authoritative and trusted mechanism  is needed to resolve controversial and conflict-laden  assessments: on nutrition interventions, market stabilisation  policies, technologies and innovations (potential, risks,  regulation), land use change, land ownership (including land investments) and multi-level governance structures  and responsibilities that often slow decision making.

Identifying data and knowledge priorities. This role would  be critical in view of the very important gaps in current  knowledge which urgently need to be filled. In particular,  there are substantial data gaps in the current understanding  of food systems. For example, many of the private enterprises  operating in local and regional food systems are SMEs which  are unlicensed and unregistered. Also, global, corporate food  industries are generally extremely protective with their data.  Exactly which people (by age, sex, residence, income level)  eat which diets and why, is little understood. The relationship  between diet and nutritional status in various settings also  needs to be better studied. This is highly variable because of differences in access to water, sanitation and hygiene,  nutritional beliefs, and social mores. The productivity ceiling  for key commodities/foods is also unknown, especially with  regard to the potential for greater dietary diversity.

Modelling. The same ambitious methods used in the past  decade to model future climates and

agricultural impacts  must be matched by modelling the economics of diets, and the multidirectional relationships among diet, human health  and planetary boundaries.

Streamlining and coordinating research. There is a need  to facilitate new divisions of research tasks and efforts, and to help overcome current duplications, as well as the limited scale  of science engagement. The aim would be to improve the  efficiency and cost effectiveness of existing research funding.

Facilitating peer-reviewed assessments on food and  nutrition security. This is needed to deliver evidence-based  analyses for action. This function goes far beyond any ofthe existing science advisory bodies for policy at nationalor international levels. The entire international science system  related to food and nutrition security, and food production  and harvesting, needs to be engaged in inclusive ways for the purpose. Policymakers need to carefully consider a set  of criteria such as:

  1. How to enhance the use of evidence across many  sectors in decisions on policies and investments across  the food system.
  2. Political and organisational feasibility of actions proposed.
  3. Costs, including transaction costs of actions including how  these would change over time, who would bear them, and  importantly, how the poorest could be protected from  increased food prices during the transition.

The Global Panel notes that the idea for a creation of an  organisation like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate  Change 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 in the  support of science and evidence for policymakers. However,  whatever organisational structure is used to deliver the  improvements, Box 9.1 provides an outline of the proposed scientific tasks and functions which are needed. These functions  are informed by the experience of the Intergovernmental Panel  on Climate Change (IPCC).

9.4 Getting started: managing the transition

The set of actions recommended in this report may seem  daunting, especially to LMIC governments burdened with many  existing priorities, competing advice from donors, severe fiscal  constraints, and limited space for political manoeuvre. This is a reality to be acknowledged and addressed. It is important,  therefore, to spell out not just what should be done, but  how policymakers should start engaging with this complex multifaceted agenda, and how their development partners can  realign current economic and technical resources to more fully  support new national priorities. The transition process itself needs to move forward on multiple  fronts simultaneously (Figure 9.2). It will never be enough to  pick one or other domain of action, or one or other policy instrument alone.

Put simply, if people are not empowered to  spend more (through higher incomes and purchasing power)  on diets that they know (through information and education)  to be both sustainable and healthy, such foods will not become  available to them because retailers will not stock them. Effective  demand must therefore be better informed and incentivised,  while different foods must be made more desirable and  aspirational, primarily by commercial food companies.

The transition requires actions to promote both supply and  demand, but also appropriate support for key interventions  in the middle segments of supply chains where value addition  through processing and marketing all take place. The four  domains of intervention, associated with the four technical  chapters that together comprise Part II of this report, are  therefore inseparable. What must change remains clear:

  1. Sufficient nutrient-rich and staple foods produced sustainably  must be available to all.
  2. Foods must move along value chains more efficiently,  becoming more accessible, with lower costs of doing business  and less food loss.
  3. Sustainable, healthy diets must be affordable to all.
  4. For sustainable, healthy diets to be desirable, individuals must  be empowered to make more informed food choices, thereby  fuelling rising demand.

Figure 9.2 lays out how the priority actions in this report’s  recommendations relate to the four critical domains of food  systems. While there are highly significant benefits to be realised  where fundamental change is achieved, the individual actions  recommended in each of the figure’s quadrants will be most  effective when undertaken in concert.

The technical or political feasibility, and the need versus cost,  of each of these recommended actions will vary depending on  context. To achieve a particular outcome could entail a range  of possible configurations of actions in one or more of the four action domains. Figure 9.3 illustrates this idea by suggesting that  the actions required in each of the four domains can, under  different contexts or scenarios, have more or less relevance to desired outcomes locally, and therefore must be selected  based on the key parameters of cost relative to benefit (where  benefits are determined in terms of natural resource and  broader environmental terms, not just in economic or human  health terms), as well as political and technical feasibility across  alternative options.

A number of important first steps are needed for initiating the  process of policy and investment transition. In particular, the  following are about establishing necessary governance structures  as well as ensuring appropriate linkages are in place. They will  apply in most contexts.

  1. Establish an independent high-level commission of  trusted experts and thought leaders to ‘make the case’  for investing in the time and effort needed to transition  domestic food systems to support fundamentally  different outcomes than today. They would:
    • distil evidence pertinent to local conditions,
    • cost out bundles of policies, and estimate their benefits  relative both to costs of intervention but also to the  economic costs of inaction, and
    • present domestic priorities for government as well as for food industry stakeholders.
  1. Empower cross-party and cross-ministerial working  groups to identify ways to reconcile trade-offs across  sectors, including agriculture, health, and environment,  as well as balancing short-term gains against long-term  losses for different constituencies.
    The feasibility of  adopting and implementing key policies depends heavily  on how individual and group preferences are derived, and  on the role of information in shifting those preferences.
  2. Establish linkages with the World Bank and other  multilateral agencies to collaborate on modifying  international poverty line and purchasing power parity  (PPP) calculations.
    The aim is to update the calculation of national poverty lines in ways that pay attention to the  affordability of healthy diets as recommended by national  guidelines and based on current national food prices. The  new (higher) poverty thresholds would be used to enhance  the value of income and other resource transfers through  safety nets, minimum wages, and pro-poor growth policies to  ensure that millions more people can afford at least minimally  adequate diets.
  3. Empower subnational authorities to assume practical  responsibilities for the transition. Countries as diverse  as Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, and Zambia have been  devolving some sectoral responsibilities, in both agriculture and health, to elected sub-national authorities. These trends recognise the need for vertical coordinating mechanisms  which reconcile variations across sub-national administrative  units in capacity, finances, and political influence. It also  means that global and regional commitments on climate  change and food security need to be balanced by ongoing  decentralisation processes which aim to prioritise local  citizens’ needs and priorities.
  1. Build engagement and momentum across all stakeholder  groups about the gains associated with a food system  transition through a series of national, regional, and local  dialogues. Gauge understanding of, and support for, change  which promotes both human and environmental health.
  2. Establish specific responsibilities and accountability  mechanisms to allow commercial and civil society  entities to take ownership of various parts of the  transition process. They can be tasked with finding  actionable solutions to challenges at the interface of  consumer and the retail environment.
  3. Actively engage at regional and global levels with UN  and other initiatives supporting the setting of targets  for a successful food system transition. This includes  championing national scientists working in this space and  promoting the need for independent consensus on priorities  and appropriate practices.

Each of these steps is separately important, but collectively  powerful; each can be initiated immediately. They can then be  amplified in the context of upcoming global summits relating  to food systems, climate change, and nutrition. A more granular  identification and selection of locally viable and impactful  policies and programmes would represent the next step. This  involves implementing those actions carefully (well-designed and monitored), coherently (across domains and reconciled with  existing policy frameworks) and effectively (measuring aggregate  net benefits against detailed assessment of costs). These steps  represent ways to promote government leadership for collective endeavour around commonly defined goals.

9.5 Concluding remarks

Today’s food systems are in a spiral of decline, placing both  human and planetary health in jeopardy. Millions of people are  suffering from diseases, growth impairment and productivity  deficits linked to inadequate diets, while food systems are  operating beyond planetary boundaries. These negative trends put a brake on development, meaning that national  governments, particularly in LMICs, face huge economic burdens  and risk not achieving many of the Sustainable Development  Goals. When current trends and the multiple impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are taken into account, there is no  real prospect of the SDG2 goal for 2030 being met. Failure  to meet this and other SDG targets will lead to more people experiencing inequality and malnutrition, and cause even greater  environmental damage. This report’s recommendations offer a pragmatic way forward: if the right decisions and investments are made today, there is potential to not only avert catastrophic  damage to human health and the environment, but to secure  massive benefits from positive change.

A strategic focus is needed on catalysing, supporting, and  facilitating new business models, investments, technologies,  and practices across the whole food system. This means  ensuring appropriate government policies not only focus on a sector (such as agriculture or health), but also on a system of  activities encompassing the complex value chains that convert  commodities into food products which enter people’s diets.  The growth potential from investments in a future-facing food  system is substantial. Already the food sector (agriculture,  processing, wholesale/retail, institutional procurement, food  service, and food-related R&D) is the single largest employer  across most of the world. Modern approaches to production,  transportation, packaging, and digital retail have already  transformed an ‘old sector’ into a vibrant ‘new’ economy in countries as different as Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.

But a more fundamental transition toward sustainable, healthy  diets is essential. As with the fossil fuel transition, it will eventually  become so costly to not change, that change risks being forced  upon us, leading to a transition that will likely be more unjust  and challenging. An effectively managed transition, starting now,  is critical. Box 9.2 provides 10 priorities for the transition which  are considered generally applicable. However, local conditions are likely to be important. Locally tailored strategies are needed  which pursue pathways toward multiple gains, incorporating the  recommendations made here, bringing together the many actors  through appropriate incentives and regulations, and more clearly  articulating the benefits to be gained while being transparent  about the costs.

This will require a major overhaul of the governance of the global food system, involving a move towards enabling  different nations and communities to develop their own  unique responses. It will enable a ‘just’ transition in which  the poorest are protected and all stakeholders are involved  in shaping a jobs-focused strategy which unleashes the  compounding potential of the food system as a whole  (not agriculture as a source of cheap calories and foreign exchange), and which involves climate-smart investments to  make the entire system more resilient and nurturing of human  and planetary health for current and future generations.

While the gains of the past must be respected and protected  (feeding more millions than ever before in human history), the  future focus must be on food systems which nourish all people  in ways that respect the planet’s boundaries.

This remains the paramount challenge. The outlook is bleak,  but this report shows that the future is not set in stone.

By casting the problems into their constituent parts, this  report has set out a range of pragmatic and achievable actions  which together, can reverse the current situation. The Global  Panel believes that with renewed leadership and sustained  action, these new opportunities can be grasped. The moment  has come to commit to the challenge.

Box 9.2: Ten priorities for transitioning food systems to protect human and planetary health

The report contains many recommendations for action by  different classes of stakeholders, and which need to take  account of local circumstances and constraints. However, the  following priorities are considered to be generally applicable:

  1. Policy makers must build on existing global  development targets (such as the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change) so they embody  the goal of sustainable, healthy diets for everyone as a shared objective. These targets need to recognise  the central importance of sustainable, healthy diets as a key enabler for progress on diverse agendas – equality,  economic growth, climate change, the environment, and  job creation.
  2. Policy makers in relevant government departments  must address planetary and dietary challenges  simultaneously, since they are so fundamentally  interlinked. The approach to date, involving tackling  these issues piecemeal and in silos, simply will not work.
  3. Donor agencies must support LMICs to ensure that  the transition of food systems is socially and ethically  just. They have an important role to play to ensure that  the poorest are protected during and after a period of  food system transition.
  4. Governments in countries at all stages of  development must resolve policy distortions which  could fundamentally impede change – or even  drive food systems in the wrong direction. Examples  include: taxation and regulation, subsidies, and food-  related research and development. The aim is to give  much greater weight to the importance of nutrient-rich foods and to better support measures which further both  human and planetary health simultaneously.
  5. Relevant ministries (e.g., agriculture, health, transport  infrastructure, environment) need to work together  to implement policies to realign production systems  so that they support healthy diets in sustainable ways.  Food systems today do not produce enough nutrient-rich  foods to meet today’s needs, let alone projected demand  over coming decades, nor are they producing most foods  sustainably. Narrow targets relating to productivity need  to be replaced with broader measures valuing efficiency  and sustainability.
  6. Major trans-national businesses and local SMEs must  work closely with the governments on more clearly  articulated common agendas to deliver sustainable,  healthy diets. While already contributing much, the many diverse commercial actors too often pull in directions that are not

conducive to health or to the sustainability of food systems. It is important for governments to incentivise  businesses to make a much wider range of nutrient-rich  foods affordable to the entirety of ‘bottom of the pyramid’  families. More generally, a comprehensive framework for  food-industry engagement is needed.

  1. Policy makers in relevant government departments  need to prioritise building resilience of food systems COVID-19 has highlighted their current deficiencies  and vulnerabilities. A broad approach is required which  addresses: the causes of lack of resilience within food  systems, the root causes of the threats, and mitigation  measures which may be needed during times of stress.
  2. Civil society advocacy groups and citizens need  to play their part. The former have a major role in leveraging change in businesses operating across food  systems and holding policy makers to account, and  the latter have considerable influence to drive change  through their purchasing power. However, shifts in  demand in favour of sustainable, healthy diets, will need  encouragement and empowerment through information  from trusted sources.
  3. Policy makers in relevant ministries in LMICs should  creatively target actions which can create multiple  ‘wins’ across health and sustainability. Opportunities  need to be sought throughout food systems from farm-  to-fork. Major projects in sub-Saharan Africa and South  Asia have already shown that this is possible, creating  substantial and lasting benefits in terms of jobs, equality,  and the development and prosperity of individuals and  regions. Technology innovations across food systems from  production through processing, storage, and retail hold  considerable promise.
  4. Leaders and decision makers should capitalise upon  upcoming global fora to agree to new commitments  for making food systems more resilient and diets  that are healthy and sustainable. The Nutrition for  Growth (N4G) Summit and the United Nations Food  Systems Summit are important opportunities to explore  the creation of a dedicated Global Financing Facility for food systems transformation and to secure national  endorsements for change, including much improved  capacity for research and evidence to better support  policy decisions. A new vision for sustainable food systems  delivering healthy diets for all must be supported through  the best science and evidence of what works as informed  by practical evidence.
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