Nguyen Dang Huu, a coffee farmer in Viet Nam, faces daily weather disruptions, low-quality harvests and dropping prices – with little access to information on how to grow his crops more efficiently. For him, climate is not some far-off future risk but a constant reality impacting the price and availability of the food he produces.
At the other end of the world, a consumer in the US, Meaghan Cryan, shops for groceries for her 5-year-old son who has diabetes. With contrasting information filling her social media feeds, she is confused about what and how to choose – and afford – healthy food to feed her family.
In their daily lives, both Nguyen Dang and Meaghan feel the symptoms of a food system not meeting their needs.
With a fast-growing global population and diversifying diets, a triple burden of hunger, malnutrition and obesity, unabated environmental degradation, severe shocks from climate, and a tsunami of related health costs, the challenge of improving our food systems seems so complex, it’s almost paralyzing.
But something must be done. About 500 million smallholder farmers produce more than 70% of the world’s food, yet they’re the most affected by poverty and the ones most marginalized from decision making.
This wicked challenge of changing the way the world produces and consumes food has increasingly become central to companies, governments, international institutions, civil society and many others. Yet whether we succeed will not lie with them alone. It requires a global mobilization of people to make our food systems more sustainable, nutritious and healthy, efficient and inclusive in the future.
Consumers must be at the heart of solutions. More than 7.7 billion consumers hold the power to shift 100-year old consumption patterns to meet the needs for a better future.
Consumers hold the power to shift their demand to environmentally and socially responsible and nutritious products. This could lead to manufacturers bringing new products to market, empower farmers and input companies to adopt practices to meet health and nutritional needs, pressure governments to put the right policies in place, and motivate investors to invest in companies producing these products.
A new World Economic Forum report shows that better incentives could support and incentivize farmers and consumers to enable a food systems transformation, and offers four major transition pathways to realizing the change needed for better functioning food systems.
On the international stage, there is already some progress taking place.
For example, the Food Systems Dialogues were launched in 2018 and have engaged 1600 leaders across 21 countries to allow diverse actors from a range of food production and consumption sectors to meet, discuss and explore options for transforming food systems. With the aim to identify a consensus on food systems for the future, how to get there and how to draw out tensions and trade-offs, this dialogue series includes voices often less heard to ensure a just and inclusive understanding and catalyst for joint action.
In 2021, the UN will hold a Food Systems Summit, which aims to generate serious momentum and change for food systems around the world as countries work to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this decade. It will bring together the international community to design pathways and raise funds, galvanize leaders and rethink policies.
Together, we can create a future world where all people have access to foods that are healthy and nutritious and produced in a manner to restore and protect the planet. In this world, farmers have resources, recognition and reward for nourishing human health and environmental sustainability, a responsibility supplied with ample tools, data and participatory access to grow that food. Consumers have prosperous livelihoods, good nutrition, a healthy environment and zero food waste, a set of conditions supplied with ample knowledge, trust in the system and participatory access to consume that food.
Next week at the World Economic Forum’s 50th Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, global leaders will come together to discuss how best to galvanize action and change through new partnerships, holistic solutions and a shared vision that benefits all. We hope that we can remind them of the people around the world who face the broken parts of our food system every day and will be our greatest asset on the road to sustainably produced and healthy food for us and future generations.