Improving science-policy interfaces for transforming food systems


Three broad options are proposed below to frame discussions on developing and improving SPIs to support food system transformation.

Increased partnerships between existing SPIs

There are many important panels and initiatives working as IPS for the transformation of food systems as shown in Table 1. The HLPE, for example, was created in 2010 as part of the United Nations CFS. Others include the Global Expert Group on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (GLOPAN), the International Expert Group on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), the Global Alliance for Agriculture Climate Smart (GACSA) and the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU). Many of these organizations have incorporated explicit food systems focus, as evidenced by the HLPE Food Systems and Nutrition Report and the IPCC Reports on Global Warming and Food Systems. This landscape highlights the distinction between ISPs with governmental and multilateral roots (such as the CSA and the HLPE) and other expert groups (Intergovernmental Scientific and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) -Food) who are more independent of political processes. Some of these initiatives and institutions have overlapping and cooperative members to the extent permitted by existing mandates, funding, timelines and interests. Overall, this suggests that it is possible to better align activities, indicators, data, workloads and resources and better integrate results. Some “fruits at hand” in this regard would generate collaborative results of expert groups and organizations, including those anchored in a formal intergovernmental framework, such as the HLPE, the IPCC, the IPBES, the Organization. United Nations Food and Agriculture (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank and others.

Increased collaboration between existing PSIs and other institutions or networks could provide new perspectives and improve stakeholder representation from all dimensions of food systems. For example, connecting existing expert groups could lead to a regular ‘reporting report’ that covers the multiple dimensions of food systems and promotes innovative (and largely unpredictable) initiatives. However, to achieve this goal, many challenges would have to be overcome, including creating synergies between agencies and disciplines, and ensuring the inclusion of stakeholders from civil society and the private sector.

Fostering collaboration (including the publication of collaborative results) would involve reallocating resources to collect, analyze and disseminate comprehensive food systems data, information and knowledge to help global organizations aggregate inputs into systems accessible and referenced knowledge, such as online portals. This should ideally be based on existing online portals such as the Food Systems Dashboard ( and the Countdown to Health and Climate Change ( Financially, realigning the work and resources of existing ISPs (and other cooperation and networking mechanisms) would not necessarily require increased budgets or the creation of new institutions. However, to be effective, increasing partnerships between ISPs would require that some organizations have the resources to ensure overall coordination, facilitate data sharing and ensure multilingual and multicultural perspectives, as well as gender parity and representation.

Improve the mandate and resources of existing ISPs

A second option would be to dramatically improve both the mandate and resources of existing PSIs to develop their capacity to address more complex food systems challenges and expand their engagement to include under-represented regions as well as stakeholder groups. This would ensure better interconnection, improve data integration and accessibility, and create discussion spaces that include all stakeholders. For example, existing ISPs might be empowered to conduct modeling-based assessments to find ways to transform food systems for specific countries and regions by explicitly considering local concerns, solutions and innovations (including indigenous).

Currently, the CFS covers areas related to food security, and its HLPE provides assessments of specific issues related to food systems. However, neither has the mandate or the resources to address all of the concerns associated with transforming food systems in all its dimensions and scales. This could be overcome by focusing on three key areas. The first is to better integrate the knowledge frameworks, priorities, activities and results of existing SPIs. The aim would be to develop more coherent and mutually agreed upon frameworks that include more diverse contributions, address a broader set of concerns and use scientific knowledge in the search for effective global, national and local solutions. This would also imply the creation of more integrated agendas between ISPs and new mechanisms to promote methodological innovations.15. A second strategy would be to improve data sharing, analysis and other policy-relevant information. Such an effort should involve, for example, the African Regional System for Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support (ReSAKSS), Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), FAO, Global Health Observatory of WHO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Trade and Development, as well as various regional networks that have direct links with national research centers, such as the Asia-Pacific Association of Research Institutes Agriculture (APAARI) and the Forum of the Americas for the Development of Agricultural Research and Technology (FORAGRO). A third area for improvement could be the development of better integrated institutional networks (at global, regional and national levels) to ensure that the voices of under-represented food systems actors are heard and to catalyze dialogues on issues and solutions in different geographic areas. Using existing bodies to create these dialogues can facilitate rapid structural adaptation, which may not require legislative change. This option, however, would also require existing ISPs to expand their mandates and responsibilities, expand their membership and resources, and compromise on institutional or political remit to achieve common goals.

Setting up a new mission

In the run-up to the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, some have argued for the need to create entirely new institutions with approved mandates and new scientific agendas at multiple scales – of a similar scale and scope to those of the IPCC and IPBES, which provide assessments, reports and advice on climate change and biodiversity, respectively15.16. Such a body does not exist for food systems, although the CSA and the HLPE cover food assessment and security activities. Therefore, a strong case was made to create a new institution that would advise on integrated policies (covering production, processing, transport, waste and trade) and link efforts to transform regional food systems to global initiatives. , thus providing support for improved diet and nutrition. , smallholder livelihoods, gender equity and environmental outcomes9.16.

This proposal sparked a lively controversy. For example, building an entirely new IPS for food systems would require a level of intergovernmental or international effort (with a specific budget and multilaterally agreed terms of reference) that is hard to imagine after COVID- 19, when fiscal resources are probable. be limited both among donor countries and low- and middle-income countries. Critics have therefore expressed concerns about the risks involved in adopting such a long, politically uncertain and resource-intensive approach, which has also been criticized for its duplication and for its difficulty in defining in a democratic governance process.17.

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