Reshaping the global food system to achieve multiple SDGs

Photo credit: IFAD/Susan Beccio

The following statement was originally given by IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan at OECD Meeting of the Committee for Agriculture at Ministerial Level.

The global food system is at a crossroads. On the one hand, it currently feeds more than 6 billion people—more than many would have imagined possible. On the other hand, it leaves nearly 800 million people hungry and about two billion people deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, which are components of healthy diets. At the same time, emerging and persistent challenges—such as changing food demand and diets; climate change; and conflicts—contribute to the vulnerability of the global food system and deter the attainment of various development goals.

As the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) anchor the global development agenda over the next few years, they provide a platform for action. Over half of the SDGs are associated to global food security and nutrition, including the goals that relate to poverty, gender equality, water and sanitation, responsible production and consumption, and climate change. Reshaping the food system, therefore, is critical to achieve these goals. A new global food system should be efficient, inclusive, climate-resilient, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to deliver many of the SDGs.

We need a food system that produces more food using the fewest resources possible, and value chains, markets, and trade systems that work efficiently. This new food system must provide opportunities for growth that reach poor and marginalized people, such as smallholders, women, and youth, who have important roles in ending hunger and malnutrition. We must push for a climate-smart food system that would integrate agricultural development and responsiveness to climate, while aiming to reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience. In order to be sustainable, the food system must efficiently meet current and emerging demand for food without jeopardizing the availability of scarce natural resources. This new food system must also make it easier for people to consume safe, nutritious, and diverse diets in appropriate amounts, while limiting processed foods of inadequate nutritional value. Lastly, we must support global, national, and local food systems by promoting an environment that allows entrepreneurs to promote long-term, market-based solutions.

The OECD has a critical role to play in achieving this new food system. The OECD must continue to provide leadership by expanding agricultural R&D for multiple wins, supporting inclusive policies, and strengthening country capacity for policymaking. Improving data, monitoring, and tracking of progress is key to ensure accountability throughout the global food system and the OECD has an important role to play in supporting a data revolution. North-South and South-South learning through broader innovative partnerships should also be promoted.

Transforming the global food system in these ways will not be easy, but having a vision of where we want to be is a vital first step. Ultimately, this vision must reflect a food system that supports a healthy, well-nourished population that can be sustained for generations.