With 821 million people still hungry (FAO et al., 2018), it is clear that the global agriculture and food systems are not meeting the world’s demand for food. This tension is likely to be exacerbated as food systems will continue to face multi-dimensional, complex and mounting challenges including continued population growth, urbanization, climate change and increased pressure on natural resources (land, water, biodiversity) and ecosystem functions (Willet et al., 2019). While world food production measured in calories has generally risen faster than population, current food systems result in different forms of malnutrition (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity) now affecting all countries, whether low-, middle- or high-income. These different forms of malnutrition can co-exist within the same country or community, and even within the same household or individual (HLPE, 2017b). Current food systems also affect food security and nutrition (FSN) indirectly through their economic and health impacts, including: low income and difficult livelihoods for many food producers that are often net food buyers; fragile economic viability for many small and medium-sized food enterprises; and precarious and difficult working conditions for many farm and food workers (HLPE, 2016, 2017b).

At the same time, there are growing concerns around the political dimensions of food systems, including: power imbalances and lack of democracy in the governance of food systems; lack of transparency and accountability; issues around access to and control over natural resources, including land, water, energy and genetic resources (HLPE, 2015); and increased concentration of power in the input and retail sectors (IPES, 2016; von Braun and Birner, 2017; HLPE, 2016, 2017).

Food systems are at a crossroads and new directions are needed. The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), in its previous reports (in particular HLPE 2016, 2017), showed that a profound transformation is required in agriculture and food systems to achieve FSN in its four dimensions (availability, access, utilization and stability) and at all scales (Caron et al., 2018). More sustainable food systems (SFSs) are needed that ensure sufficient food production while also safeguarding human and environmental health as well as socio-economic standards.

Publication Details

  • Published: 2019
  • Publisher: FAO