Transforming food systems: The fertile ground for progress

By Matt Freeman, Executive Director, Stronger Foundations for Nutrition

Our food systems are at a breaking point. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts and a climate emergency are deepening the cracks in systems that were already failing billions of us.

Even before the food crisis, we knew that our food systems were not fit for purpose. More than three million children a year are dying from malnutrition — representing nearly 50% of all child deaths. Over 3 billion people — all over the world — cannot afford a healthy diet. And food and agricultural production is one of the greatest contributors to climate change, responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Now with the food crisis, these long-standing issues are even further threatening the lives of the most vulnerable. It is estimated that every 5% rise in food prices increases the number of children worldwide suffering from wasting — the most tragic form of malnutrition — by 9%. And it is deepening inequalities: the world’s poorest are now spending 50% of their incomes on food compared to 20% for the richest, with the majority of what we are buying more harmful for our bodies than good.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With the will to transform food systems, there is enormous potential to support human health while also improving livelihoods and protecting the planet.

Let’s dream bigger.

Today, almost half of all the calories we consume come from sugar cane, maize, wheat and rice, which fill bellies but do little else to nourish bodies and minds. And for those who can afford it, we fill our protein requirements — and then some — from the harmful and unsustainable production of meat that pushes our planet further to the precipice.

Tomorrow, all of us should have access to diverse, nutrient-rich foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts, as well as more healthy and sustainable proteins from both animals and plants that can help our people and planet flourish.

To make this shift, we need to make nutritious foods the easy and affordable choice. It is estimated that, to meet requirements for global healthy diets, we will need to increase production of these nutritious foods by 50% — 150% or more. That will require changes in policy, investments to scale inclusive innovation, and shifts in consumer demand. None of this is easy, but there is increasingly a path forward to do it.

Let’s make this #EarthDay the moment where today’s broken food systems become the fertile ground for progress. More nutritious food systems will help all of us to thrive in the face of crisis, and build bridges to a stronger tomorrow.

To learn more about how we can work together towards a better nourished, more sustainable and stronger world, check out our ‘Transforming Food Systems’ factsheet or our partnership with Devex on the ‘Food Secured’ series. And if you are a philanthropist, please reach out to join us in building Stronger Foundations for Nutrition.