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The Zero Hunger Challenge – Advisory note for action

View the full Advisory Note on “All food systems are sustainable”

I. Definition

A food system is defined as a system that embraces all the elements (environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructure, institutions, markets and trade) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution and marketing, preparation and consumption of food and the outputs of these activities, including socio-economic and environmental outcomes.

A sustainable food system is a food system that delivers food and nutrition security for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised. 

II. Policy measures

• A sustainable food system is a dynamic process, and context-dependent.

• The core objective of this ZHC element (all food systems are sustainable) is to transform the way we produce, process, exchange and consume food. Thus, obtaining food and nutrition security today will not compromise future generations’ capacity to achieve food and nutrition security.

• Transformative policy measures would need to influence the key determinants of a sustainable food system with a view to support an enabling environment for sustainable food systems.

• Policy measures for sustainable food systems, should increase agricultural productivity and gender-sensitive agriculture production, enhance climate resilience, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and related land use change, improve nutrition, strengthen value chains and improve market access.

III. Metrics

Environmental, social and economic conditions required for achieving a sustainable food system are country specific and associated metrics will need to be reflective of these country conditions. Guiding these metrics is a set of principles that every country will need to better align with in order to achieve sustainability in food and agriculture, as the following:

• Improve efficiency of resource use (such as land, water, fisheries and forests).

• Protect and enhance natural resources' sustainability (by reducing environmental externalities of agriculture such as methane emissions in the air and nitrous oxide in the soil).

• Protect and improve rural livelihoods, equity, women's empowerment, and social well-being.

• Enhance people's, communities' and ecosystems' resilience.

• Ensure a responsible and effective governance system, particularly with respect to the use and the protection of natural resources.

IV. Messaging

• A sustainable food system encompasses the production, distribution and consumption of food.

• Policy measures for sustainable food systems need to link food production, distribution, consumption, and nutrition.  The policies must also address social-economic, biophysical and institutional elements. Policy measures should help increase agricultural productivity and gender-sensitive agriculture production, enhance climate resilience and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions for agriculture and related land use change, improve nutrition, strengthen value chains and improve market access.

• Sustainable food systems need support from a vast range of stakeholders from the farmers to the final consumer, from governments to private sector to civil society.

V. Conclusion

The group focused on highlighting existing knowledge gaps and additional work needed at element or inter-element level. Furthermore the group highlighted the links between sustainable food systems and the sustainable development goals.

Creating the enabling conditions for the shift to more sustainable food systems will help hunger eradication in a sustainable manner. This requires a systems-based approach that can consider the complexity of interactions between food production, distribution, and consumption.

These links will ultimately affect the quantity, quality and affordability of food, as well as people's health.

Creating the enabling policy conditions at a national level to support the transition to more sustainable food systems could be based on the following principles:

• Interdisciplinary thinking: Stakeholders across the food system need to be represented in, for example, a nationally convened dialogue, and, where possible, they should actively participate in developing SFS policy and action.

• Consensus building: Consensus-based participatory approaches to policy development can address causes rather than symptoms of food system sustainability.

• Mapping and assessment: Understanding the food system from production to nutritional outcomes helps discover priorities areas for action. Acknowledging the differences in priorities among stakeholders, and taking both bio-physical and socio-economic factors into account, can help develop long-term sustained change in food production and consumption patterns.

• Interconnected decision-making: Stakeholders should communicate on the interconnectivity of actions in the food systems.  This can impact decision-making across production, consumption and nutrition. Stakeholders should understand causes and effects within the food systems.

• Evidence-based: Decisions should be based on evidence.

• Measuring: Discussions should be focused on specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound actions to create real change. Stakeholders stay motivated to participate in transformative processes when they see decision-making resulting in real change.

• Continuous learning: Systems thinking requires the use of feedback mechanisms to improve decision-making. The complexity of food systems will mean that some actions will not result in the intended outcomes. Such cases provide valuable learning opportunities; these cases should be used to develop greater understanding of the causes of failure, to improve future decision-making.