2 July 2018
SDG Knowledge Weekly: Food Systems and Nutrition
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

The TEEB Agriculture and Food initiative launched two reports on holistically measuring, evaluating and promoting sustainable food systems.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the US Council for International Business (USCIB) Foundation released a report on public-private partnerships to achieve the global nutrition goals.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzes data on the double burden of malnutrition among adolescents in low- and middle-income countries.

This brief reviews recent reports and discussions on food systems and nutrition, which exemplify linkages among seemingly disparate pieces of the 2030 Agenda. The publications underline the importance of ensuring that the SDGs bring about a more sustainable global food system without detracting from other goals or targets.

Sustainable food systems embody complex relationships between the environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainable development, as part of a collaborative network that integrates food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative uses the term “eco-agri-food systems,” which they define as encompassing interactions between ecosystems, agricultural lands, pastures, inland fisheries, labor, infrastructure, technology, policies, culture, traditions, and institutions that are involved in growing, processing, distributing and consuming food. Recognizing the complex interactions across nutrition value chains and numerous linkages to a variety of SDGs, an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) took place from 19-20 June 2018, in New York, US, organized by the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN).

An SDG Knowledge Hub guest article by Richard China, Bioversity International, calls for the mainstreaming of biodiversity into sustainable food systems. He notes a need to measure how much agricultural biodiversity may be found in a given food system, highlighting the Agrobiodiversity Index as a means of doing so.

TEEB Agriculture and Food (TEEBAgriFood) launched two reports on eco-agri-food systems and the science-policy interface. Similarly to China’s article, the reports underscore a need for better measurement systems. They offer information on a holistic strategy for managing interactions between food production systems, the environment and society, and call for an approach grounded in “systems thinking.”

Current assessment methods ignore important relationships between eco-agri-food systems and our economy, society, environment and health.

The first TEEB publication, titled, ‘Scientific and Economic Foundations Report,’ reviews the underpinnings of contemporary food systems, noting that the current means of production neither equitably nor sustainably satisfies current and future nutrition needs. The report also describes how human health is compromised throughout the food system, both for end-point consumers and those working along the supply chain. The authors propose a framework for evaluation of food systems – the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework – based on universality, comprehensiveness and inclusion as a means of establishing what should be assessed. The report also outlines market and non-market evaluation and valuation tools and means of analyzing both positive and negative externalities along the value chain, maintaining that current assessment methods “ignore a number important relationships that eco-agri-food systems have with our economy, society, environment, and health.”

TEEB’s second report describes challenges facing agriculture and food production from five different perspectives: agronomist, environmentalist, sociologist, economist and health specialist. Titled, ‘Measuring What Matters in Agriculture and Food Systems,’ the report demonstrates how to frame, assess and capture value through a more holistic systems perspective, noting that current metrics—such as per hectare productivity—are overly simplistic. Such metrics, the report argues, are solely focused on production, and ignore non-market stocks and flows that are not yet incorporated into economic modelling. The report flags the importance of measuring these less-often quantified aspects, and notes that doing so will determine whether or not society is successful in attaining the SDGs (particularly Goals 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 14 and 15).

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and US Council for International Business (USCIB) Foundation released a report on “advancing public-private partnerships to achieve the global nutrition goals.” It flags that achieving nutrition goals is dependent on whether markets offer pro-nutrition products, and how public-private partnerships can help to align markets with these goals. Titled, ‘No More Missed Opportunities,’ the report follows on a dialogue between government and business that was held in October 2017, and offers ten recommendations on: cooperation around data sharing and technological innovation, assessment of public policies that drive behaviors across the development spectrum, and transparency and best practices, among other areas. The report was launched in late June 2018 alongside a consultation held at the World Health Organization (WHO) on promoting adolescent nutrition.

Also on adolescent nutrition, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzes data on the double burden of malnutrition among adolescents. WHO defines the double burden as “the coexistence of undernutrition along with overweight and obesity, or diet-related noncommunicable diseases.” Undernutrition early in one’s life can lead to overnutrition or obesity in adulthood. In a study of 57 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the authors find that the double burden of adolescent malnutrition in LMICs is common, and that context-specific interventions are needed in order to achieve SDG 2 (zero hunger). They highlight that macro-level contextual factors, including war, lack of democracy, food insecurity and urbanization have a strong impact on the level of adolescent malnutrition in LMICs.

A post by Emily Payne on The New Food Economy stresses the importance of women in sustainable food systems and climate mitigation activities. Payne cites research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) on increased food production and economic benefits associated with women farmers. She stresses that women’s dual role as stewards of both household and natural resources positions them to contribute to adaptive livelihood strategies. The post also previews the recently-released Nourished Planet, a book authored by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition.

Noting that women are often disproportionately affected by dangerous or inequitable practices in the food sector, Oxfam launched a report and campaign on human suffering in supermarket supply chains. An accompanying blog post highlights that small scale farmers are often squeezed by large scale buyers, and food producers themselves are often food insecure.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.

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