Food Systems Innovation Challenge

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has announced that the UN will convene a Food Systems Summit in 2021. WUR, WEF, WBCSD, GAIN, IFAD, DSM, Unilever, Rabobank, WFO, Tufts University, OneYoungWorld and the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs are hosting a virtual pre-event on November 23 and 24 in support of the UN Food Systems Summit.

In support of the Summit goal of involving next generation leaders, WUR in collaboration with its partners from the A5 Alliance organizes a student challenge that will be open for teams from A5 partners and other interested universities all over the world.

The challenge will be completely online, and teams are asked to work with a local supervisor to deliver a 3 minute video to present their final results on November 23 during the aforementioned pre-event.

Aim of the challenge

The aim of the challenge is to bridge the gap between knowledge and practice on the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs, particularly SDG 2, Zero Hunger. Working on food and nutrition does have significant effects on other SDGs for instance climate, sustainable consumption and biodiversity. This so called trade-offs are to be taken into account, we have to  work on the transformation of the entire food system.

By exchanging knowledge, sharing ideas and tackling challenges related to Zero Hunger from different disciplinary angles, participants will gain both knowledge and practical experience in working on both food systems and trade-offs between the SDGs. This will contribute to transforming the complex image of the SDGs into a more comprehensive set of practical approaches related to daily practices. As such, participants create solutions for impact. Teams are expected to present an innovative, practical and outstanding idea during the pre-event of the UN Food Systems Summit, on November 23. A panel of experts (scientific committee from A5 universities) will do a midterm review and asses the final results.


Participants are Student teams from A5 universities and Student teams from other universities worldwide. A team will consist of 4 to 6 students and 1 supervisor from their own university.

Timeline and logistics

  • Registration deadline: October 12 (registration has been closed)
  • Online Kick-off event on October 14.
  • Mid-term report to be submitted, latest on November 4 at 5 pm CEST, in the form of 4 PowerPoint slides containing:

  • The Scientific Committee from A5 universities will give feedback by November 10
  • Teams submit their final report, in the form of a video by November 16 (5 pm CEST)

  • The videos will be shown during day 1 of the pre-vent to the UNFSS on November 23 at a YouTube channel.
  • A winner and 2 runners up will be announced at the end of the event’s program on November 23.
  • The winning team will receive a prize of 2000 euros, the runners up will receive 500 euros per team. The videos of all 3 winners will be presented during the Executives round table session on November 24.


The teams will work on a multidisciplinary challenge, so a multidisciplinary composition will be to their advantage. Each team can select (or come up with) a challenge of their preference.

The challenges can vary from local to global, and can include:

  • Local or global: the covid pandemic showed the vulnerability of lengthy food chains. Appeals to shorten the chain are widespread. How can local politicians support shortening food chains? What is the game changer?
  • Circular foodsystems: Circular food systems require natural resources to be effectively used and managed, on-farm residues to be treated as sources of added value instead of waste, supply chains to be constructed in light of emerging global consumption patterns and consumer behaviour to adapt to new challenges. What is the game changer?
  • Food waste: much of the food production is wasted. A reduction of 50% is feasible say specialists, if all actors work together. What is the game changer?
  • Sustainable Dietary patterns are diets with low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy lives for present and future generations. In the last decades, globalization and urbanization are initiating the switch of dietary patterns towards more energy dense and poor nutritious food, involving a higher intake of saturated fats and sugars and a lower intake of dietary fibres across the world. Parts of the world have food deserts, where the population is not able to find fresh and healthy ingredients. What is the game changer?
  • Financial mechanisms against hunger: Efforts to achieve food security are largely dependent on the financial resources allocated to them. Covid causes an economic crises, decreasing government budget in countries and often the cooperation budgets in more developed countries. This calls for new tools to be developed to meet the increasing demand of resources. What is the game changer?
  • Resilient harvests: are we producing up to our potential? The Yield Gap Atlas shows this is often not the case, and conditions are changing with climate change. How to organise the optimal yield? Better, more climate resilient seed? What is the game changer
  • Genetic diversity: harvest are limited by various processes, like drought, floods, pests, diseases. Throughout history man have worked on selecting the best suitable crop for specific condition. Due to climate change and an increasing demand on the crops for the growing population there is an urgency to find varieties with higher productions (in total of for specific components) or higher resilience to external influences, how to find and select the best suitable crops.
  • Policy coherence: Policy coherence for development integrates the economic, social, environmental and governance dimensions of sustainable development at all stages of domestic and international policy making. The aim is to address the negative spillovers of domestic policies on long-term development prospects. How to increase government capacities to identify trade-offs and reconcile domestic policy objectives with international agreed objectives? And how to foster synergies across economic, ecological and social policy areas to support food security as part of sustainable development