Taking stock on food systems transformation for people and planet: where do we stand two years on?

Rome, 7 August 2023 - 

In this blog, Anouk de Vries looks at some of the work underway to deliver on the aspirations set out in the 2021 Food System Summit - making the way we grow, deliver and consume food more sustainable and healthier.

On Monday 24th of July 2023, over 3300 people gathered in Rome, where food systems were back on the agenda. The three-day Stocktaking Moment (STM), gathering representatives from 182 countries including 21 world leaders, took place at FAO’s Rome headquarters two years on from the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) of 2021 – amidst a context of climate chaos and cost-of-living crises from sea to rising sea. The STM was a chance to share efforts, lessons learnt, successes and challenges to steer national and global action for transformative change in food systems. What has been accomplished so far and what challenges are still ahead? 

Looking back, the 2021 UN FSS was a momentous event; the fruit of many months of careful groundwork with inputs from thousands of people. A bold ambition on food systems transformation was set out in the UN Secretary General’s Statement of Action and over 100 countries drafted their national food systems transformation pathways. People from diverse sectors joined forces to come up with innovative ideas and solutions to food systems problems. Governments committed to leading the change, and UN bodies, farmers, businesses, youth advocates, indigenous people, civil society groups, academia and others all pledged to contribute.

GAIN was closely engaged in the Summit and its preparations, both at global and national level. Like many others, we committed to play our part to transform food systems. This is reflected in our new GAIN strategy (2023-2027) placing food systems front and centre. Overall, the recognition of the importance of food systems for sustainable development was unprecedented. 

Where do we stand on transformation? 

Two years later, Rome’s stocktaking moment gave us an opportunity to assess where we stand. How did 2021’s Summit influence our programming and change our work? And more importantly, how do we plan to maintain the momentum going forward?

First and foremost, GAIN is privileged to support governments in ten countries to translate their commitments and ambitions to real action, primarily through our multi-donor Nourishing Food Pathways programme and as a consortium partner in the CASCADE program. First steps of progress are seen in several countries, with the STM adding to momentum for this agenda. Governments work collaboratively with other stakeholders to implement transformative actions that fit their context and priorities best. 

A man talking to the GAIN staff

GAIN is privileged to support governments in ten countries to translate their commitments and ambitions to real action, primarily through our multi-donor Nourishing Food Pathways program and as a consortium partner in the CASCADE programme. © GAIN

The role of the private sector and financing food systems were two central topics in many discussions at the STM. Setting incentives that truly reflect food’s hidden costs and benefits, while using taxes and subsidies to incentivize the sustainable production and consumption of more nutritious and foods are key, as discussed in the True Cost of Food session. 

A common thread across all discussions is the need for financing this transformation. This requires larger government budgets. The stocktaking demonstrated that through using tools offered to them such as the 3FS tool designed by IFAD and the World Bank, governments can get a grip on what budget they have available to spend on food systems. However, this requires significant coordination across Ministries, Departments and Agencies, a challenge that governments will have to conquer as we move forward with this agenda.  

Discussions also alluded to the key role of private sector investment. Favourable circumstances to allow for high-quality and increased quantity of investment is needed, while strengthening accountability frameworks – a requirement that panellists in the Private Sector session were strongly aligned on. Without added and re-purposed finance, food systems transformation will not happen at the scale needed. More good examples both of governments restructuring financial flows for food systems and of private sector investments in food systems are necessary.  

Throughout the three days we were constantly reminded that sustained commitment to 2030 and beyond will be needed to transform food systems. To see where the progress on transformation stands, transparent and objective monitoring are critical, and has to go beyond targets we have available for the SDG agenda. The Food Systems Countdown 2030 Initiative, presented in the session ‘Measuring Food Systems Transformation’, aims to go some way to addressing this. Using such a monitoring mechanism designed to track progress on food systems transformation enables assessment of progress over time, making stocktaking less dependent on descriptive reporting. This will allow for more objective monitoring, leading to easier identification of areas that need more attention and success stories. 

The challenge ahead to the next stocktaking moment 

We must continue to challenge ourselves to make the less obvious and more difficult connections across disparate parts of food systems for more impact. If the COVID-19 pandemic backdrop to the 2021 UN FSS was not a wake-up call, then the inflation crises, the floods, fires, droughts, and increasingly regular climate anomalies surrounding this year’s event must be. Rising food prices have put many people back into poverty, making healthy diets unattainable for even more, while climate anomalies put all of us at risk, both in terms of livelihoods and food availability.  

The stocktaking moment reminds us of the urgency to find the synergies between nutrition and environment, to bring unheard voices into discussions and enable them to be part of the policy process to reshape food systems and to identify opportunities for greater policy coherence – for meaningful change. At GAIN, we are committed to doing this through our Nourishing Food Pathways programme. 

In addition, we continue to support the Food Systems Countdown 2030 Initiative, the True Value of Food Initiative, and the Zero Hunger Private Sector Pledge, which has US$ 559 million worth of pledges, the most recent pledges announced in Rome at the Stocktaking Moment last week. These initiatives all emerged at the UN FSS 2021, each being a piece in the big puzzle of transformation and a part of the answer to challenges described above. 

Clearly the task ahead is not easy, but we cannot shy away from it. While a major step is yet to be taken on objective monitoring and putting words and promises into action, governments have renewed their commitment to the cause and have been reminded that many – including GAIN - stand ready to support. Initiatives are being further developed, challenges addressed and linkages made. One such example at global level being the collaboration between the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub and the COP28 Presidency to strengthen the link between food systems and the environment, while at the national level, renewed emphasis has been placed on strengthening the so-called Ecosystems of Support.

In two years’ time stakeholders will need to be inspired by actions that have demonstrated impact. Between now and the next stocktaking moment in 2025, GAIN will continue to work hard to support governments to transform food systems for the benefit of all.  

Interested to learn more about the National Food Systems Transformation Pathways and how they are rolled out at country level? Listen to our Bite the Talk Podcasts 'UNFSS Stocktaking Series'.