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Food Systems Actions

What are Food Systems Actions?

Food systems actions address complex problems within food systems. They focus on re-crafting our food systems to be healthier for our diets, more inclusive and poverty reducing, and environmentally sustainable.

Food systems actions are activities and practices by any person intending to improve the enabling conditions that give rise to problems in the food system.

Actions include activities such as convening diverse stakeholders in a new process to research solutions for farmers; or elevating existing solutions that perhaps a minority of farmers apply and overcome practical social or cultural barriers to their widespread application.

Food systems actions by their very nature require collaboration. They demand collective action, often with diverse organisations, to address interconnected challenges within our food systems. They recognise that no singular leader or organisation, no matter how powerful, can create sustainable change while working alone. Any person with passion to make change happen can advance food systems actions. They occur from community to global levels. Many change makers apply food systems actions intentionally or unintentionally.

For example:

Food systems actions can address the reasons why farmers choose to apply economically successful crop production practices that also cause soil degradation year on year. Food systems actions could generate new reasons why farmers might adopt new practices that improve the biodiversity and carbon content of their soil while maintaining a sound farm economic status.

Not all actions in the food system are food systems actions. Many actions do not aim to improve the enabling conditions within food systems. They may offer benefit for an individual business or organisation, and they may tackle only symptoms. To improve our food systems to meet global and local commitments, more leaders across food systems, in more situations, need to pursue food systems actions.

So how can we each contribute?

Characteristics of food systems actions

1. Food systems actions organise for collaboration.

For example:

A leader of a business is determined to end sexual exploitation of women in a fisheries value chain, and sets about organising a new form of collaboration with female fish traders, training them up to manage key parts of a value chain, while cutting out predatory ‘middle men’ from the supply chain.

2Food systems actions set the direction.

For example:

A small group of district government officers find common ground with local researchers who are steadily building evidence on the valuable role indigenous African vegetables can play strengthening food system resilience and contributing to healthier diets. 

Stakeholders concentrate efforts on building a shared goal that describes the changes they wish to see in future, including engaging businesses and communities. They agree on immediate next steps. These activities set a clear and shared direction forward.

3. Food systems actions make ‘it’ matter. 

For example:

A small group of CEOs running food businesses and a nutrition-oriented consumer group share frustration with out-of-date regulations on food standards that limit domestic and export opportunities for bringing fruits and vegetables to market. They have solutions but no one is paying attention. 

There is value in working together. They build a narrative in carefully chosen media and meet key influencers and decisionmakers to change food regulations. Critically they make the problem and the solution matter directly to the people that can make change happen in a food standards authority. The change serves them and the sector.

4. Food systems actions change the incentives (both formal and informal). 

For example: 

Policy influencers from think-tanks and NGOs believe it is important for farmers and processors to have reliable and climate smart energy to evolve the food system positively. Yet they also wish to manage negative effects like over extraction of ground water. They lobby and secure a change in legislation that removes sales taxes from the sale and installation of solar panels for agricultural use. 

This changes formal incentives for stakeholders to act. Demand and installation grow for solar panels across farms and food processing businesses. To manage ground water sustainability concerns a campaign is launched encouraging neighbourhood accountability for limited water resources among farmers. This brings informal pressure among stakeholders to act.

5. Food systems actions harness collective intelligence from people across the system. 

For example: 

At an Africa level, analysis and broad dissemination of topical sector wide information such as the Africa agriculture status report, capture dynamics across and within Africa’s food systems. It uses these insights to build a shared understanding among stakeholders of the challenges and solutions. 

Information reports such as these, from community to global levels, are effective food systems actions when efforts are based on elevating diverse perspectives, improving the information flowmore equitably among diverse stakeholders, and encouraging testing new interventions and adapting new interventions.