Food Systems Countdown Initiative

THE CHALLENGE

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.

.

PROJECT OVERVIEW

The Food Systems Countdown Initiative (FSCI) is working to build a science-based observational system to monitor 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 scientific measurement 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 a monitoring framework: 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 is conducting an inclusive, transparent process to select the 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.

Project Team

The Food Systems Countdown Initiative is led by Dr. Jessica Fanzo of Johns Hopkins, Dr. Lawrence Haddad of GAIN, and Dr. Jose Rosero Moncayo of the FAO. Dr. Kate Schneider leads the data team and overall coordination for this project together with several Johns Hopkins graduate students. The Initiative involves more than 55 collaborators from over 30 institutions; all their names and biographies can be found here. This project has been funded to date by BMZ and the Government of the Netherlands.

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2021.102163

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