The future of the global food system

Above: Agricultural workers cultivating their produce

A couple of weeks ago, MEDA’s Annual Convention allowed us to see our colleagues, friends, and supporters in person for the first time since 2019. We heard from engaging speakers and participated in various tours and networking events. As part of the Convention, I was one of the speakers at the “Addressing the risks in our global food systems and what it means for entrepreneurs” seminar. Along with my great colleagues, we had an opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities entrepreneurs face in the current global food system (GFS).

To put it mildly, we live in challenging times: In 2021, 2.3 billion people globally (29.3% of the global population) did not have regular access to safe and nutritious food. This represents 350 million more compared to before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, climate change’s impact on weather systems, including the worst drought in 40 years in East Africa, devastated food systems and caused tremendous human suffering. The War in Ukraine and its knock-on effects on global supply chains compound this suffering.

The food crisis has also worsened inequalities in our global food system. 150 million more women and girls experience higher levels of hunger than men and boys (compared with 2018). A much higher prevalence of hunger is concentrated in the Global South. Globally, 690 million people go to bed hungry, despite producing enough food. Healthy diets are not affordable to three billion people globally (Highly processed foods are cheaper). Those who work in the GFS, especially women and youth who are essential participants in the production process, receive few benefits.

The GFS has a large carbon footprint and is not sustainable since they produce about 29% of the global greenhouse gases. Climate change and conflict further reduce the gains in the GFS and impact sustainability. The quality of the global food supply is also substandard. Costly and unaffordable healthy diets are linked with increased food insecurity and malnutrition, including stunted growth and obesity. Women are also disproportionately affected.

So, what can we do?

The worsening global food and nutrition crisis requires us to rethink how our domestic, regional, and international food systems are structured. The GFS needs a dramatic transformation. We cannot feed a growing world by just producing more food.

MEDA’s work

MEDA strives to build more sustainable food systems. It focuses on making food systems fairer by working with local actors to address the root causes of inequality. This change leads to sustainable social, environmental, and economic benefits for small-scale food producers and food sector workers, or MEDA’s Triple Impact Approach in agri-food market systems. MEDA’s Triple Impact approach is key to meeting our goal of creating and sustaining decent work for half a million people, 60% of whom will be women and 30% youth, as outlined in our strategic plan.

Moving forward

There are many opportunities to build a more sustainable global food system, but it comes at a cost. Higher-income countries must fulfill their climate change commitments and help lower and middle-income countries adapt. Financing opportunities for SMEs, particularly women and youth-led SMEs, can spur development.

We already see some movement: Vibrant SMEs tackle these challenges head-on, and world leaders have renewed commitments to build a sustainable global food system. There is also the first UN Food Systems Summit organized in 2021 and AfCFTA, Grow Asia, and Food System Programme-One Planet partnerships.

The time to act is now.

We must develop a sustainable and resilient food system, environmentally sustainable agriculture, sustainable agri-food value chains, and inclusive food systems. We also need to improve food production, particularly for women and youth, to reduce food loss and waste, raise incomes equitably, and improve health and nutrition. It is time to make our agri-food system sustainable and safe for all.

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