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IFAD: Global food systems must be changed

  • Published at 02:34 pm September 21st, 2021
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The report calls for the need to make food markets available to rural people on fair terms

Transforming global food systems to become more inclusive, fair and sustainable may seem an insurmountable challenge, yet there are concrete actions policymakers can take, says a new report.

The report was released by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on Tuesday.

“We are living in a world of huge and unfair contradictions. There are 800 million hungry people and yet high obesity rates. Nutritious diets are expensive yet many small-scale farmers are poor. Current food growing practices are not good for our environment. It is clear that we need a revolution. A revolution so dramatic that previous versions of food systems are unrecognizable,” said Dr Jyotsna Puri.

Puri is the Associate Vice President of IFAD’s Strategy and Knowledge Department that leads the production of the Rural Development Report, IFAD’s flagship publication.

Puri sees this week’s UN Food Systems Summit as a watershed moment to commit to real change, with the Rural Development Report offering governments recommendations for concrete actions that can be taken.

The Food Systems Summit on September 23 under the leadership of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, is intended to result in actionable commitments from heads of state and other leaders to transform global food systems. 

It is a culmination of 18 months of engagement with governments, food producers, civil society and companies on how to transform the way we produce, process and consume food.

The report, “Transforming food systems for rural prosperity", stresses the importance of focusing investments and policy changes on rural food value chains so that all people can access adequate nutritious food in a manner that does not harm the environment, and so that food producers can earn decent incomes.

The majority of people in rural areas earn an income from working in small-scale agriculture, which is a vital source of national and global food. In fact, farms of up to 2 hectares produce 31 percent of the world’s food on less than 11 percent of the farmland.

The key recommendations of the report include:

Invest more in rural farms and local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that support activities after the farm gate, such as storing, processing, marketing and food distribution. A focus on local ownership and employment will increase job opportunities, particularly for women and young people, while giving small-scale farmers access to new and diverse markets.

Make available innovations (such as nature-based solutions and agro-ecology) and affordable digital technologies to boost rural small-scale farmers' production so that farmers can be climate-resilient, using low carbon and sustainable techniques.

Develop and focus on pricing systems that reflect the full and true cost of production, including rewarding farmers for ecosystem services, such as maintaining healthy soil and regulating pests.

Promote accessible and affordable nutritious food. At least three billion people cannot currently afford healthy diets. 

Changing this requires focusing on nutrition education, empowering women to make nutrition decisions, and stronger government policies to regulate and steer market choices. 

Governments can use market-based instruments, income support and public procurement to focus on nutrition-rich foods.

Engage to rebalance global trade and governance to correct power imbalances. 

The present concentration of power within food systems calls for rethinking regulations and trade arrangements so that rural people in developing countries can benefit. 

Food markets need to be accessible to rural people, and on fair terms. Incentives need to be in place to reward nature-based practices and local, healthy diets.

“We know what needs to change to make the production, marketing and consumption of food fair and sustainable, which results in nutritious, affordable food for all. This report gives strong evidence and recommendations for specific actions. Now we need the investments and political will to take action,” said Puri.

Over the past 70 years, a focus on industrial farming and producing more calories at low cost has been accompanied by growing malnutrition, increased food waste, and a high environmental cost. 

Food systems are responsible for 37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and are also highly vulnerable to a changing climate.

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