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3 key levers to address the urgent global food crisis

A woman carries an infant as she queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 15, 2021. Picture taken March 15, 2021.

We need bolder action and understanding on how to fix the way we produce and consume food. Image: REUTERS/Baz Ratner.

Tania Strauss
Head, Food and Water, World Economic Forum
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  • Fixing the way we produce and consume food can boost jobs and buy us time on climate and the race to net-zero.
  • Three levers to address the food security crisis and urgent sustained change: regenerative food, a marketplace for healthy and planet-smart food, and country action.
  • A new report by the World Economic Forum finds some key countries are showing it’s worth the shared risk to drive smart, coordinated investment in transforming food systems.

In 2022, we faced concurrent crises: food distribution, energy and fertilizer shortages. However, we did not address the challenges in time to avoid food systems failures affecting everyone in 2023: many more will go hungry, livelihoods will be lost, and prices will continue to spike around the world.

When food systems fail, societies fail.

Geraldine Matchett, Co-CEO of Royal DSM, Co-Chair of CEOs for Food, Nature and Health at the World Economic Forum.

We need bolder action and understanding on how to deal with this – we must embrace complex and holistic solutions like climate change and food security together.

Fixing the global food crisis

We have identified three levers that can address the urgency and durability of systemic solutions.

1. Enable a return on regenerative food systems

The way we produce and consume food can “buy us time” on climate change and lead the race to net-zero. Today, food systems contribute to over one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, the second largest emitter after energy, and yet a fraction of climate finance is directed to agri-food solutions to reverse these effects. Regenerative food systems can improve crop yields for farmers, reduce emissions across the agri-food value-chain, and turn croplands and pastures into carbon sinks. Natural climate solutions, the food and land use sector could contribute up to 37% of climate mitigation needed to reach 2030 climate goals.

A truly inclusive approach providing clear value for farmers and supply-chain actors with viable financial solutions, data standards and governance, and above all establishing trust will be central in the transition to regenerative and climate-smart agri-food systems. Increased trust for carbon markets would incentivize a chain of actions to mitigate transition risks, further complimented by automating data collection tools and services to farmers, building precision risk models and credit instruments, setting-up verification through supply chains, and engaging an untapped equity finance ecosystem.

Farmers around the world (especially smallholder farmers) bear the burden of climate impacts and food insecurity but can’t bear the burden of making the transition alone, they must feel the return on regenerative food systems and we need the tools and partners to support them.

2. Ensure demand signals don’t fall short

We must ensure market demand doesn’t fall short as we rethink growing food to be healthy and sustainable. Countries and corporates are taking big bets as they transition to more climate-smart and regenerative agri-food production systems. The race to net-zero and ESG commitments continue to drive momentum for business model innovation, innovative public-private partnerships, and policy change, but do we have sufficient levers complimenting this to build market demand for healthy and nutritious, environmentally sustainable food?

At COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, 14 companies pledged to the Agriculture Sector Roadmap to meet 1.5C to remove deforestation from supply chains by 2025, while protecting global food systems and producer livelihoods. African Heads of State from Kenya, Namibia and others announced bold investments and policy for green hydrogen fertilizer to achieve food security and net-zero production goals across the continent.

Strong signals to evolve food production from a supply perspective, however the food sector has been slow on its commitments to procure and consume in new ways. It will require leadership, starting from purchasing commitments, off-taker mechanisms for farmers, procurement policies, to aligning corporate incentives, transparency through standardized data and support for consumers to make these transitions. Balancing the supply and market demand for these transitions will help to avert future food crises which are now certain.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

3. Invest in country-led food systems transformation

Countries are showing it’s worth the shared risk to back smart investment in food systems transformation. Since the first UN Food Systems Summit in 2021, 117 countries have committed to transform their food systems in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A new report from the World Economic Forum and Bain finds that high performing food systems provide healthy and nutritious diets, create inclusive and dignified livelihoods, grow the economy, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and safeguard biodiversity and nature. The report identifies seven early mover countries across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas that show what it takes to invest in food systems transformation.

Strategic sectors in India, Vietnam, and Ghana, show how countries can evolve their food systems to improve a broader set of outcomes by unlocking the potential of small and medium enterprises, particularly those that are farmer-allied and operating in local food chains.

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Countries can use innovation to improve outcomes across productivity, sustainability, and nutrition – as demonstrated in Algeria, which has improved food security in the face of significant resource constraints such as water availability, and in the sustainable intensification of Vietnam’s rice production.

Examples in Canada and New Zealand illustrate how to scale adoption of nature-positive and climate-smart food production, particularly focusing on the case for economic advantage for producers. There are pockets of success in many countries to suggest a model for shifting consumption toward healthier and more sustainable diets through pricing interventions (from both public and private actors), clearer consumer communication and engagement, and increased access and availability.

Each of these early mover country profiles shows how multiple actors and concurrent levers, across sectors, interact and coordinate to enable large-scale transformation over time. Collectively as a portfolio of learnings and insights, they demonstrate the potential for these levers – if applied in tandem and with greater urgency – to accelerate country-led food systems transformation. Success now rests on every country taking action.

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May 21, 2024

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