Accelerating Food Systems Transformations
In 2019, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development collaborated to create Beacons of Hope: Accelerating Transformations to Sustainable Food Systems in order to understand the power and potential of food systems transformations to address critical issues globally, across different contexts, and in different places. The initiative seeks to:
- Understand the current research and initiatives looking at transitions toward sustainable food systems around the globe;
- Select or develop a Food Systems Transformation Framework drawing from the existing literature and practice;
- Apply cases drawn from the initiatives review to the Food Systems Transformation Framework to deeply understand the context in which transitions are unfolding; and
- Document the positive impacts of transitions toward more sustainable food systems and develop recommendations for supporting and accelerating the transformation process.
Key elements of the research include:
- Developing a methodology that allows for the screening of food systems initiatives according to their approach and path of transformation;
- Identifying 21 initiatives (Beacons of Hope) and examining common patterns among them, their transformation process, and the common challenges faced, as well as distilling lessons from their experience related to sustainability transformations; and
- Developing core elements of a Food Systems Transformation Framework that can be applied, tested, and used by other food systems initiatives.
The first phase of this initiative was launched to coincide with the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Land in August 2019, which spelt out the need for urgent action.
This year, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food has widened the frame of analysis to consider initiatives whose creativity and adaptability embody resilience in the face of global challenges like COVID-19.
Using the same methodology and the seven guiding principles of the Global Alliance — renewability, healthfulness, equity, diversity, resilience, inclusion, and interconnectedness — we have identified a cohort of 9 new Beacons of Hope.
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Food has been a life force for our families, cultures, and societies for millennia. But profound changes in the way food is grown, processed, distributed, consumed, and wasted over the last several decades have led to increasing threats to a future of food that is sustainable, equitable, and secure, particularly when coupled with climate change, species extinction, increasing globalization, and shifting global economics, politics, and demographics.
Ensuring the sustainability, security, and equity of our food systems is one of the most defining issues of our time. Food systems are a significant factor in the creation of these daunting challenges and — importantly — they can provide pathways to the solutions.
The predominant industrial food system is too dependent on fossil fuels and non–renewable inputs that result in pollution and environmental damage. It is often at the root of eroding human health, social cohesion, rural livelihoods, and important social, cultural, and spiritual traditions. It is known to undermine the vital contributions of farming, fishing, and forest communities as innovators, producers, and food providers. It is embedded in and thus further supports an economic system that results in liabilities due to hidden costs, global trade vulnerabilities, declining rural economies, and increased inequality.
Transformative change is needed. Single–focused interventions — increased yields, adequate nutrition, environmental sustainability — at the expense of other interconnected and equally important issues like equity and fairness are insufficient and are bound to have unintended consequences.
As a global community, we need to move beyond questioning if food systems transformations are occurring to recognize that transformations are occurring, and to identify how to embrace opportunities and overcome challenges in implementation, practice, and policy. We need to recognize the ways in which these transitions are transformative and not just “business as usual.” Achieving the ambitious goals outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement requires us to better understand how to support and facilitate these transformative processes in place–based, contextual ways. We look to Beacons of Hope to guide this understanding.
The Beacons of Hope initiative is guided by a shared set of principles for sustainable food systems: renewability, healthfulness, equity, diversity, resilience, inclusion, and interconnectedness. Together, these principles help us to see the whole system in necessary and powerful new ways and to make choices about the future of our shared food systems so we can avoid siloed approaches, unintended consequences, and limited, narrow, short–term solutions.