Food and Water

This is what data tells us about transforming our food

Agriculture.

Radical transformation of food systems is needed to make healthy food accessible to all. Image: Unsplash/Taylor Siebert

Thea de Gallier
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Food Security

  • The UN report, State of Food Systems Worldwide in the Countdown to 2030, is the first of its kind and ranks global agricultural systems by 50 key indicators.
  • Belize, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ireland, Senegal and the UK are among the best places to access an affordable healthy diet.
  • The World Economic Forum's 100 Million Farmers initiative encourages public-private cooperation in the agriculture sector to transform food systems.

World leaders agree that radical transformation of food systems is needed to make healthy food accessible to all, and to improve sustainability in agriculture. In countries where employment depends heavily on agriculture, workers are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change and poor working conditions. The intention and willingness to improve food systems is there – as demonstrated at COP28 last year when several leaders signed a pledge for better agriculture – but, until now, data on the areas that need the most intervention hasn’t existed.

The United Nations’ (UN) Food Systems Countdown to 2030 Initiative (FSCI) has filled that data gap, with a new report. ‘The State of Food Systems Worldwide in the Countdown to 2030’ provides a data-based framework to monitor the status of food systems worldwide, and assess their performance in terms of health, environmental impact and carbon emissions.

Have you read?

In 2021, the UN held its first Food Systems Summit, which highlighted the role of food systems in the journey towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But governments and policymakers, while agreeing that the transformation of food systems was vital, have lacked a mechanism to assess them. That’s what the report aims to address: by using pre-existing data to create a baseline measurement of the world’s food systems, decision-makers can immediately see where they fall short, and take action.

Drivers, components, and outcomes of food systems
Food systems are complex systems with many dynamic components. Image: United Nations

Agriculture’s role in achieving 2030 SDG goals

The FSCI’s stated aim is “a future where all people have access to healthy diets, produced in sustainable, resilient ways that restore nature and deliver just and equitable livelihoods”. With just six years left to achieve that, changes must be made in the areas that most need overhauling. In December 2023, 134 world leaders attending COP28 signed a declaration that pledged action on reducing global emissions from food systems and protecting the livelihoods of farmers, and the FSCI report data are likely to contribute significantly to fulfilling that promise.

The best of global agriculture

The report ranks global food systems on 50 key indicators, including the cost of a healthy diet, availability of fruit and vegetables, percentage of the population using clean drinking water, greenhouse gas emissions and pesticide use. The United Kingdom, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belize, Ireland and Senegal are the best-ranked countries for the cost of a healthy diet.

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Where more data is needed

Data gaps are also highlighted in the report. Countries that rely heavily on agriculture as a contributor to gross domestic product (GDP) were conversely the ones with limited data on the levels of poverty of the food producers. Agriculture’s contribution to GDP is an indicator of the country’s overall development – the researchers found that in countries where poverty reduction and agricultural transformation initiatives were in place, agriculture’s contribution to GDP was smaller. In countries where its contribution was larger, food producers were likely to be independent workers more vulnerable to disruptions like natural disasters or conflict, as well as climate change.

Food waste and food safety were two more areas lacking enough data at the country level. Data on the more general well-being of food production workers were also lacking – levels of decent work, gender equity and violations of human rights in food systems were not measured. No countries in Oceania held data on the quality of adult diets.

By presenting the status of the world’s food systems in easily interpreted charts, and splitting the 50 indicators into five groups (diets, nutrition, and health; environment, natural resources, and production; livelihoods, poverty, and equity; governance; and resilience), the report makes it easy to identify priority areas for improvement, to speed up progress. The FSCI will release a report annually until 2030.

100 Million Farmers project

The World Economic Forum supports the transformation of food systems with its 100 Million Farmers initiative – a project encouraging collaboration between public and private stakeholders in agriculture. It aims to facilitate transition to green practices, and assist farmers in adopting new technologies. With agriculture employing 1.23 billion people globally, it’s a major player in efforts to reach the SDGs by 2030.

Now, with data showing how every country’s agricultural systems fare on all criteria necessary to meet transformation goals, policies can be designed to address the most urgent needs and improve the lives, livelihoods and practices of those billion farmers.

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Food and WaterIndustries in DepthHealth and Healthcare Systems
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