Food Systems for Better Nutrition

Last week on the Blog concluded with ten principles of a landscape approach as outlined in a recent paper by Sayer, et al. Taken together with the announcement of the new Global Landscapes Forum at COP19 in Warsaw, recent public discussions at the World Bank and IFPRI, and other recent events, it is clear there is convergence around the notion of cross-sectoral collaboration and solutions-building for sustainable landscape management.  As we move into July and turn our attention to food security and nutrition issues, we notice a similar tendency toward integration and ‘systems’ thinking. A meeting on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR) convenes this week in Indonesia to tackle issues at the nexus of biodiversity, climate change, and food security. World Population Day turns up mid-July, serving as a reminder of the growing pressure not only natural, but also social and economic resources. And at the end of the month, various experts will provide insights on urban food systems that inherently require thinking beyond city limits, and where an ever-increasing portion of the world’s population reside.

This year, FAO’s annual flagship publication – The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) – honed in on the challenge of addressing malnutrition. But more to the point, the publication stresses a ‘systems’ perspective, considering the interrelated elements along the path from seed to table. What is motivating this recent shift in thinking? Authors of the publication argue that the underlying causes of malnutrition span the economic, social, political, cultural, and physical environment. So naturally, addressing malnutrition requires integrated action and complementary interventions across sectors (food and agriculture, public health, and education). By taking such an approach, it is also more feasible to achieve other benefits beyond better nutrition, including gender equality and environmental sustainability.

Because of these interactions, a “nutrition transition” is in fact tied to the transformation of the agriculture and food system on a whole. The report also discusses the notion of “sustainable diets” – whereby a shift in consumption leads to lower environmental footprints, reduced loss and waste in the system, and increased access to nutritious food – arguing that the full value of natural resources and the environment must be embedded in the planning processes, institutions, technologies, and value chains.

SOFA 2013 makes it clear that agricultural productivity is only one slice of the pie. More emphasis on diversifying production and taking a holistic approach will likely lead to longer-lasting, sustainable outcomes. A landscape approach to nutrition is close at hand.

Read More: 
The State of Food and Agriculture: Food Systems for Better Nutrition. Rome: FAO.

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