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Strengthening Frameworks for Food System Transformation

Food and Beverages | Sunday, January 23, 2022

Food system reform will be a complex process involving many domains, levels, and players.

FREMONT, CA: In the lead-up to the United Nations Food System Summit (UNFSS), a vast number of ideas (dubbed "game-changing" solutions) are being suggested for accelerating food system transformation in low- and middle-income nations.

Transformation of the food system will be a complicated process requiring modifications in numerous domains (consumption, production, trade, and government), at multiple levels (local, sub-regional, national, and international), and for a wide range of stakeholders (producers, traders, processors, retailers, consumers, and policymakers). Such suggestions are frequently confronted with trade-offs between healthier nutrition, sustainability, and inclusion objectives, which can only be resolved via collective decisions and activities.

To effectively shift the game, however, we must identify crucial leverage mechanisms that have the potential to alter the dynamics of the food system profoundly. Establishing priorities to guide food system transformation programs requires strategic decisions in five distinct areas:

Prioritize fair access to nutrition: In an increasing number of rural and urban areas, fresh and processed foods are becoming more accessible. Despite this, many consumers are opting for the less expensive processed options over the healthier ones, indicating that limited affordability is a significant barrier to the shift toward healthier consumption patterns. This is a result of the high pricing of essential diet components relative to the low incomes of disadvantaged populations and the limited negotiating power of adolescents and women regarding their crucial means of subsistence.

Increasing the demand for healthier diets necessitates significant social safety nets (cash transfers), investments, and public procurement programs (school meals, emergency help) to target disadvantaged communities with inexpensive, healthy food. In addition, fundamental changes in social attitudes and behaviors are required to give women purchasing and decision-making authority.

Develop partnerships with the informal sector: Rising urbanization rates necessitate streamlined food distribution systems between rural and urban locations. Informal traders conduct most food trading through open marketplaces, which contribute significantly to the efficient transportation of food from producers to consumers and can occasionally meet food safety regulations better than established supermarkets.

Instead of unnecessarily controlling informal trade, it is typically more beneficial to build transparent partnerships with so-called midstream agents (traders, processors, and retailers), crucial in providing alternative employment and chances for female entrepreneurship. New information and communication technologies (such as food apps, home delivery, and blockchain) can greatly assist in strengthening these market ties.

Invest in nutrient-dense farming systems: Prioritization is shifting from the production and supply of a few calorie-rich essential staple foods to opportunities for farmer participation in the production of a varied array of nutrient-dense foods for expanding (peri-)urban populations. This necessitates substantial expenditures in extension networks, rural financing and insurance, and marketing mechanisms that facilitate advances toward more diverse, intensive, and sustainable agricultural systems.

The focus should be on chances to expand off-season supplies of fresh foods and methods to boost resilience and promote cyclical regeneration of material resources.

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