Sustainable Food Systems for All: Inclusivity Matters!

On World Food Day, we wish to acknowledge the critical role of forests, trees and agroforestry to global FSN
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World Food Day 2020: underlining the role of forests, trees and agroforestry for food security and nutrition.

Despite the global fight against food and nutrition insecurity, the world still suffers from an increasing number of hungry people, persistently high rates of stunted children, and a growing population of overweight and obese adults. Not enough progress has been made towards reaching the second Sustainable Development Goal related to zero hunger. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these issues even further, exposing the flaws of our current food system. The current  ‘business as usual’ model of feeding the world by focusing on producing more foods does not work; It destroys the environment and leaves marginalized people behind. How can we redesign our food systems to be more inclusive and ecologically sustainable, while providing sufficient and nutritious food for everyone? Today is the perfect time to reflect on this question as we celebrate ‘World Food’ in the middle of a pandemic that has been projected to cause more than a quarter billion of additional hungry people by the end of this year.

As part of the UN SDG Action Zone, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), recently hosted a session moderated by Kuntum Melati and Sofia Cavalleri, entitled “Protection For Resilience: Synergizing SDGs to Achieve Resilient Food Systems”. The panel included voices of youth, civil society organizations, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) and the private sector, all of whom are working to redesign the food systems.

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Nature-based solutions for food system problems

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) food and nutrition researcher Mulia Nurhasan, highlighted the role of forests, trees and agroforestry for food security and nutrition. Scientific evidence has shown that forests and trees are linked to dietary diversity and better nutritional status of children and women.

Amazon wild fruits. Brazil. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT

Forests, trees and agroforestry also provide a multitude of ecosystem services that could simultaneously support food production, nutrition, environment and human health. CIFOR leads the largest research and development program on forests, trees and agroforestry (FTA), to address among other, food security and climate change issues. With findings from FTA research and more, Mulia urged for food security and nutrition programs that maintain forests intact, feed local people, diversify their diets and enhance the ecosystem services of their surroundings.

Above-ground and below-ground biomass in mangrove ecosystems. Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito/CIFOR

Santosh Singh, head of Energy, Climate Change and Agriculture at Intellecap, an impact enterprise that aims to support equitable and inclusive markets,  advocated for the practice of circularity and sustainability to be mainstreamed in food production systems. Circularity encompasses several elements including sustainable production practices, investment in consumer behavioural change and localisation of food systems through circular agriculture approaches. This way, farmers can diversify income sources and reduce their costs of cultivation, helping address both poverty and food waste.

Building resilient food systems requires inclusive action 

Inclusive food systems involve and integrate people from diverse backgrounds and across generations. This takes into account that people are their own agents of change. The 2020 Global Food Policy Report highlights that policies on food security must acknowledge the imperative role of youth, women, indigenous people and other marginalised groups in shaping their food systems.

Happy Grocers, a youth-led, female-led start-up based in Bangkok, is a shining example of the vital role that youth activism can play for food security. Their co-founder Moh Suthasiny, shared how this social enterprise is redesigning city-regional food systems from the bottom-up. The vision of the young Happy Grocers team is to educate and empower conscious urban Bangkokian consumers who can actively support small-scale rural farmers through their sustainable consumer behaviour.

Indigenous communities are sometimes perceived as the target of development support. But interestingly, in these times of the pandemic, many of them seem to be more resilient towards the global food supply shock, due to their self-reliance and nature dependent lifestyle, which is sometimes erroneously interpreted as a sign of underdevelopment. Indigenous communities who live near the forest have also been the custodians of biodiversity through sustainable consumption of wild foods across centuries. We need to acknowledge and protect indigenous food systems for their fundamental contribution to the sustainability of global food systems.

Women in Kapuas Hulu helping prepare for local food. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

The session concluded with a discussion on the necessity to redesign food systems in a way that they are truly sustainable for all. Panellists agreed that in order to achieve a long-lasting sustainability, food systems need to be fully inclusive and ecological. While it is crucial to ensure that we are able to feed a growing population, narrowly focusing on producing more food has hampered efforts to achieve many other development goals. All stakeholders in food systems need to be recognized as agents of change, development programs need to extend their scope beyond feeding the world and need to strive to empower food system actors to be part of the solution, and recognize that we all need to work with nature, not against it. Only then, we can grow, nourish and sustain, together.

Happy world food day to everyone!


By Kuntum Melati, Michaela Lo, Sofia Cavalleri, Mulia Nurhasan. Kuntum Melati is a Policy Specialist – SDGs at SEI Asia. Sofia Cavalleri is a joint PhD Candidate at SEI Asia and Chulalongkorn University. Mulia Nurhasan is a Research Associate at CIFOR. Michaela Lo is a Research Consultant at CIFOR and undertaking her PhD at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent.

This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.


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