The global community must transform food systems if we are to feed growing populations, build resilience to climate change, support farmers and achieve net-zero. Today, our food systems fall far short of these goals and we are running out of time to fix them. A new report by Bain & Company and the World Economic Forum focuses on the urgent and complex transformations required at the most relevant unit of change: the country level. The report takes lessons from a diverse set of seven “early mover” countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to show the actions and investments required for successful food systems transformation.
Profiles of Ethiopia, India, Vietnam, and Ghana show the critical role governments play in catalyzing food systems transformation in developing and emerging countries, and how these countries can improve a broader set of outcomes by unlocking the potential of small and medium enterprises, particularly those that are farmer-allied and operating in local food chains.
Countries like Algeria have used innovation to improve outcomes across productivity, sustainability, and nutrition. With only 17% of land suitable for agriculture, Algeria has greatly improved food security in the face of significant constraints on water availability, by investing in innovative irrigation systems to boost productivity and targeted crop choice to reduce emissions.
Examples in Canada and New Zealand illustrate how to scale adoption of nature-positive and climate-smart food production, particularly focusing on the case for economic advantage for producers.
Today’s food system challenges require pulling many levers concurrently, including government policy and related tools, public-private partnerships, financing, technology innovation, corporate and enterprise action, and multi-stakeholder coalitions. Each early mover country profile represents valuable examples of large-scale change at the country level. Collectively, they demonstrate the potential for these levers if applied in tandem and with greater urgency to accelerate country-led food systems transformation. Success now rests on every country taking action.
“With fewer than eight annual planting cycles left until 2030 climate goals, the pace of change is simply not fast enough to meet the planet’s needs,” said Vikki Tam, partner and leader of Bain & Company’s global Social Impact practice. “There will need to be more effective multi-stakeholder collaboration to understand, assess and navigate the trade-offs in complex food system transformations.”
In particular, businesses have a strategic role and can anchor more inclusive and sustainable food supply chains that can better meet broader social and environmental goals. For example, the Pacific Island Tuna partnership, a joint venture between the Republic of the Marshall Islands and The Nature Conservancy, reinvented the tuna value chain through supplying sustainably caught tuna to Walmart’s “Great Value” private label. The partnership brought business and food supplier together in new ways creating meaningful transformation.
“Public private partnerships and action-focused multi-stakeholder coalitions will become more important than ever,” said Sasha Duchnowski, partner and leader in Bain & Company’s Sustainability practice. “Businesses have a critical role to encourage farmer adoption of climate-smart and nature positive practices, by creating necessary demand signals in what and how we consume.”
The report also includes a roadmap for action laid out by Bain and the World Economic Forum containing the steps necessary for global stakeholders to enact meaningful systemic change in national food systems. Adherence to these actions, if applied in tandem and with greater urgency, will accelerate country-led food systems transformation.
If countries can set clear roadmaps for more inclusive, sustainable, healthy and resilient food systems, it will be possible to evolve food systems in ways that nourish growing populations, build greater resilience, enable farmers to live with dignity and achieve net-zero climate change goals. But this will only be possible if all stakeholders can collectively step up and work together.
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