It’s Time to Fix Our Food Systems

Crises are driven by multiple compounding forces. They are not one-off events. And so, confronted with hunger on an unprecedented scale, with over a quarter of a billion people facing acute hunger today, now is the time to step up our ambition and tackle the root causes of global food crises.

Weak food systems can drive conflict, poverty, economic inequality and environmental degradation. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was off track to meet Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) of eliminating hunger and malnutrition.

Our global food systems ­– which employ 2 billion people and sustain and nourish all the world’s 8 billion people – have been remarkably resilient in the face of multiple current shocks, from wars to the global pandemic. For many, food still appears on the table.

But this is not enough. Millions face acute hunger every day. According to the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 report, it is estimated that between 691 and 783 million people in the world faced hunger in 2022. Around 122 million more people faced hunger in 2022 than in 2019 before the pandemic.

The food we eat is intertwined with the health of our planet and humanity’s future wellbeing. 

Calls are growing for the international community to step up and act. As the 2023 UN Food Systems Stocktaking Moment brings countries together to review commitments made during the 2021 Food Systems Summit, accelerating bold action to build more resilient food systems has never been more urgent.

GAFSP was born out of the crisis. Launched by the G20 in the wake of the global response to the 2007–08 food price crisis, the Program specializes in building long-term responses to food security crises, by supporting agriculture and food systems in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries – precisely to prevent future crises.

Since 2010, GAFSP has pooled over $2 billion in funds and channeled them to smallholder farmers and agribusinesses across the food chain, from ‘farm to table,’ reaching more than 16.6 million people. GAFSP funding enables collective actions that support entire agricultural value chains to transform rural economies, communities, and landscapes, in three ways.

#1 Channeling funding to smallholder farmers to drive change across the food system. Growth in the agricultural sector is two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest compared to other sectors. As outlined in the most recent 2023 Global Food Policy Report, smart investments to build resilient food systems, while costly, are far more cost-efficient than reacting to crises after they occur. Farmers and small businesses must be supported to not only survive during the crisis but to succeed and mitigate exposures to future shocks, especially in fragile, conflict-affected countries.

A growing share of GAFSP’s portfolio, 40%, is implemented in fragile and conflict-affected states, where smallholder farmers, micro-, medium-, and small enterprises, and rural communities are the backbone of food systems. Experiencing firsthand the negative and often tragic impacts of crises and climate change on food supplies, livelihoods, and hunger, they can chart the best paths forward to bolster sustainability and resilience. For example, in Haiti, the Technological Innovation for Agroforestry and Agriculture Program supported by the GAFSP and the Inter-American Development Bank is increasing farmers’ productivity and food security through the adoption of sustainable technologies, benefitting almost 40,000 producers.

#2 GAFSP is uniquely placed to help countries achieve their zero hunger and poverty reduction targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), drawing on dynamic multistakeholder partnerships. Causes of poverty and food insecurity are complex and vary from country to country, with no “one size fits all” solution. In contrast to traditional funding mechanisms, GAFSP is recipient-led, supporting country priorities, as reflected in national agriculture and food security strategies and investment plans. The finance lever of the UN Food Systems Summit estimates a cost of between $300 billion and $400 billion per year through 2030 to transform food systems, improving sustainability and resilience.

Together, the global community must align around tried and tested solutions that work on the ground. Using the delivery mechanisms offered by both UN agencies and Multilateral Development Banks, GAFSP has the capacity to scale at the pace needed for this kind of transformation. For example, in Uganda, the Multisectoral Food Security and Nutrition Project has empowered over 1.5 million people and contributed to the reduction of stunted growth in young children, while increasing the production and consumption of micronutrient-rich foods.

#3 It’s time to get serious about facilitating private investment in low-income countries. The local private sector must be leveraged to build resilience across agricultural production systems; to move quickly during times of need; or rapidly deploy innovations to tackle emerging threats, such as those posed by climate change. To do this, the private sector, governments and producer organizations must be incentivized to implement projects together, in partnership with the world’s leading development agencies. Connecting producers with regional and local markets, GAFSP can channel investments to both local and international agricultural value chains that have the potential to improve food and nutrition security, while building long-term resilience to future shocks.

For example, an International Finance Corporation (IFC) and GAFSP Private Sector Window investment in Tanveer Food Limited, part of the Meghna Group of Industries in Bangladesh, is funding the construction of a greenfield rice milling plant and will expand local rice processing capacity and employment, while providing reliable and fair market access for over 120,000 smallholder rice farmers. It is expected to improve supply chain efficiencies and reduce food losses, strengthening the country’s resilience to external price shocks. The project is also expected to reduce vulnerability to fluctuations in energy costs, thanks to captive power generated from rice husks.

To build a better, more resilient food system, knee-jerk crisis responses must end. The global community must channel public and private investments to the front lines of the food crisis, to the world’s poorest people in the most vulnerable countries. As a global and multilateral financing platform, GAFSP can enable urgent collective action for the global community, at the pace and scale required to deliver transformational change in the long term.

GAFSP can enable urgent collective action for the global community, at the pace and scale required to deliver transformational change in the long term.