Food Systems Countdown Initiative


Today, food systems are failing to support human health, threaten the long-term viability of life on earth and are similarly threatened by the impacts of climate change. Food systems are responsible for an estimated 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and the foods we eat are linked to six of the top ten risk factors for disease and death globally. Continuing on the present path is untenable for current and future generations. Food system transformation is central to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by their 2030 deadline as well as to meeting the targets and commitments established in the three Rio Conventions on climate change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Meeting these goals is possible, but rigorous evidence is needed to guide the path forward.


The Food Systems Countdown Initiative (FSCI) is working to build a science-based system to track food systems globally. No rigorous mechanism currently exists to measure and track all aspects of global food systems, their interactions, and their changes over time. Deliberately changing complex systems that cut across sectors, jurisdictions, and national borders calls for a comprehensive, ongoing program of observation and assessment of all aspects of the system and their interactions to guide decisionmakers and hold those in power to account for transformation. Tracking food systems facilitates performance assessment relative to established targets and goals and incentivizes action. Doing so for food systems complements other global and regional monitoring and tracking initiatives focused on related outcomes, such as sustainable agriculture, nutrition, and health. Such monitoring can further offer food system actors and stakeholders (e.g., civil society, governments, and international organizations) actionable evidence to hold governments, consumers (specifically, those with the privilege to choose), and the private sector accountable for food system transformation.

The goals of this Initiative are to:

  • Develop an architecture for a tracking system: In 2021, the Initiative published an initial framing paper in the journal, Food Policy, titled “Rigorous monitoring is necessary to guide food system transformation in the countdown to 2030 global goals and beyond,” that develops a framework for tracking food systems organized into five thematic areas.
  • Provide a global food systems baseline and subsequent annual assessments: In 2022, the Initiative conducted an inclusive, transparent process to select a set of curated indicators. A peer-reviewed scientific journal publication aims to provide summary statistics for the curated, parsimonious set of indicators that together cover all important aspects of food systems, thereby providing a food systems baseline. Annual publications aim to keep food systems transformation on the global policy agenda through 2030 and will include assessing performance relative to targets and other benchmarks and analyzing tradeoffs, synergies, and interactions between food system components.
  • Answer new food systems research question: Bringing about food system transformation requires deepening our understanding of the interactions, feedback loops, and distal impacts of changes in food systems. Our research agenda centers around the evidence gaps exposed by moving from siloed, disciplinary analyses of agriculture, nutrition, health, and the environment to a comprehensive understanding of food systems.

Recent highlight

Agri-food Systems Transformation: New, Ambitious Framework Proposed to Monitor Progress
Prof. Fanzo seeks rigorous metrics system in piece published by the Food Policy Journal

Food Systems Monitoring Webinar

UN Food Systems Summit side event: “Rigorous monitoring is necessary to guide food system transformation in the countdown to 2030 global goals and beyond,” held September 24, 2021

Project Team

Name Affiliation Role type
Jessica Fanzo Johns Hopkins University Co-chair
Lawrence Haddad GAIN Co-chair
Jose Rosero Moncayo Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Co-chair
Nancy Aburto FAO Collaborator
Carlo Cafiero FAO Collaborator
Christopher Golden Harvard University Collaborator
Sheryl Hendriks University of Pretoria Collaborator
Anna Herforth* Harvard University Collaborator
Gina Kennedy GAIN Collaborator
Amos Laar University of Ghana Collaborator
Musonda Mofu Government of Zambia Collaborator
Stella Nordhagen GAIN Collaborator
Kerstin Damerau Cornell University Collaborator
Jessica Gephart American University Collaborator
Carlos Gonzalez Fischer Cornell University Collaborator
Mario Herrero* Cornell University Collaborator
Rattan Lal Ohio State University Collaborator
Brent Loken World Wildlife Fund Collaborator
Francesco Tubiello FAO Collaborator
Jane Battersby-Lennard University of Cape Town Collaborator
Christine Campeau CARE Collaborator
Piero Conforti FAO Collaborator
Ismahane Elouafi FAO Collaborator
Alejandro Guarin* IIED Collaborator
Maddalena Honorati World Bank Collaborator
Jikun Huang Peking University Collaborator
Quinn Marshall Johns Hopkins University Collaborator
Mary Nyamongo African Institute for Health and Development Collaborator
Rashid Sumaila University of British Columbia Collaborator
Simon Barquera INSP Mexico Collaborator
Namukolo Covic* International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Collaborator
Danielle Resnick* Brookings Institution Collaborator
Diana Suhardiman KIT Collaborator
Maximo Torrero Cullen FAO Collaborator
Christophe Béné * Alliance of CIAT-Bioversity Collaborator
Paulina Bizzoto Molina ECDPM Collaborator
Andrea Cattaneo FAO Collaborator
Carola Fabi FAO Collaborator
Patrick Foley World Food Programme Collaborator
Preetmoninder Lidder FAO Collaborator
Yuta Masuda The Nature Conservancy Collaborator
Michaela Saisana Joint Research Centre of the European Commission Collaborator
Ty Beal GAIN Collaborator
Fabrice DeClerck EAT Forum Collaborator
Roseline Remans* Alliance of CIAT-Bioversity Collaborator
Patrick Caron CIRAD Collaborator
Jose Luis Vivero World Food Programme Collaborator
Destan Aytekin Johns Hopkins University JHU data team
Deviana Dewi Johns Hopkins University JHU data team
Michael Di Girolamo Johns Hopkins University JHU data team
Lais Miachon Johns Hopkins University JHU data team
Kate Schneider Johns Hopkins University Collaborator & JHU data team
Alexa Bellows Johns Hopkins University other contributor
Ty Frazier Oakridge National Laboratory other contributor
Chiara Gnetti FAO other contributor
Sharada Keats GAIN other contributor
Hernán Muñoz FAO other contributor
Evans Nyamoto Nyang Oa GAIN other contributor
Charlotte Pedersen GAIN other contributor
Catia Pedro GAIN other contributor
Naina Qayyum GAIN other contributor
Kimberley Sullivan FAO other contributor
Catrin Kissick GAIN other contributor
Diana Carolina Arias Alliance of CIAT-Bioversity other contributor
Brayan Mora Alliance of CIAT-Bioversity other contributor
Marie  Urban Oakridge National Laboratory other contributor
Dania Ortia-Aleman 2021 Data team alumni
Marissa Silverberg 2021-2022 Data team alumni
Shijin “Austin” Wei 2021 Data team alumni
Zhongyun Zhang 2022 Data team alumni

* Denotes working group lead

Related Publications

Fanzo, J.C., Haddad, L., Schneider, K.R., Béné, C., Covic, N.M., Guarin, A., Herforth, A.W., Herrero, M., Sumaila, U.R., Aburto, N.J., Amuyunzu-Nyamongo, M., Barquera, S., Battersby, J., Beal, T., Bizzotto Molina, P., Brusset, E., Cafiero, C., Campeau, C., Caron, P., Cattaneo, A., Conforti, P., Davis, C., DeClerck, F.A.J., Elouafi, I., Fabi, C., Gephart, J.A., Golden, C.D., Hendriks, S.L., Huang, J., Laar, A., Lal, R., Lidder, P., Loken, B., Marshall, Q., Masuda, Y.J., McLaren, R., Neufeld, L.M., Nordhagen, S., Remans, R., Resnick, D., Silverberg, M., Torero Cullen, M., Tubiello, F.N., Vivero-Pol, J.-L., Wei, S., Rosero Moncayo, J., 2021. Viewpoint: Rigorous monitoring is necessary to guide food system transformation in the countdown to the 2030 global goals. Food Policy 104, 102163.