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What are Food Systems Actions?

Food systems actions involve people actively working to improve the conditions within the food system, by addressing undesirable symptoms like biodiversity loss or labour exploitation. They help people across food systems to collaborate and adapt, driving positive and desired outcomes.

What are the features of food systems actions?

According to the African Food Fellowship, food systems actions have the following characteristics.
They are all about:

  1. Making food systems healthy, inclusive, and regenerative. 
  2. Encouraging individuals and organisations (both formal and informal) to think and act in a way that considers others in the system and promotes collaboration.
  3. They have an entrepreneurial vibe, are adaptable to changes, and focus on both short-term and long-term improvements.
  4. Questioning the way things are currently done and aiming to change key factors that shape food systems, such as policies, investments, power dynamics, and incentives for behaviors and actions.

What actions are not food systems actions?

Actions that do not align with the characteristics and examples mentioned above.

For example: Businesses that pursue their own interests to grow production / processing, introduce new technologies, increase profit without seeking wider pre-competitive benefit for other businesses and/or what is in the health and environmental interests of a local population. It could also include organisations, government departments, or individuals that seek a change but fail to bring a collaborative and agile mindset or to share information in an equitable way.

How to explain food systems actions to a 10-year-old? 

Something you can do that makes growing, transporting, choosing, and eating our foods better for all people and for the planet.

What do food systems actions look like in practice ?

There are five forms of food systems actions any individual or organisation can take:

  1. Food systems actions make it matter. 

    For example: A small group of CEOs running food businesses and a nutrition-oriented consumer group are collectively frustrated by out-of-date regulations on food standards that limit domestic and export opportunities for fruits and vegetables. They have solutions but no one is paying attention. So they work systematically to build a narrative in carefully chosen media and by meeting key influencers to make changing food regulations on this issue matter directly to the people that can make changes happen in a food standards authority. 

  2. 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 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 boosts use of solar panels across farms and food processing businesses. They also work with farmers’ groups and digital providers reaching farmers to mount a campaign to generate peer pressure and implementation standards to manage a growth in responsible solar irrigation.

  3. 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 within Africa’s food systems and orientates stakeholders towards  perceived priorities. Alternatively, an inclusive agriculture network in a district or town that promotes equitable flow of information and learning, meeting monthly online or physically plays a key role to harness collective intelligence and shape the actions of participants.

  4. Food systems actions organise for collaboration.

    For example: A leader of a business is determined to end sexual exploitation of women in part of a fisheries value chain, and sets about restructuring 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.

  5. Food systems actions set the direction. 

    For example: A group of people from district government find common ground with local researchers who are steadily building evidence on why enhancing the role of indigenous African vegetables is a good development. They draw in businesses to build a shared description of the change they wish to see. They commit to a shared goal (perhaps for some years away), and they agree on a set of immediate steps forward to build momentum towards the goal.