Food Systems

The demand for healthy, sustainably produced food is greater today than ever before. With the global population heading towards 10 billion people by 2050, this demand will inevitably continue to grow. At present, according to the FAO, more than 820 million people are hungry and 1.2 billion people suffer from chronic undernutrition. At the same time, 2 billion people are overweight.

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We face the enormous challenge of feeding people around the world in a healthy and sustainable way. With the 'Food System Approach' we are working on healthy and sustainable food systems that are future-proof.

Resilient food systems

The food system is constantly having to adapt, as we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, the food price rises of 2008 and various climate-related impacts. Whenever a crisis occurs, its effects are felt most strongly by vulnerable people and by our ecosystem. We want to use a Food Systems approach to reduce those vulnerabilities and increase the resilience.

4 aspects of the “Food Systems approach”

Infographic of the Food Systems Framework

There is no single solution when it comes to tackling food problems. If you solve one problem – by increasing food production, for example – you risk creating another, such as pollution or loss of biodiversity. By taking a “Food Systems approach”, Wageningen University & Research is looking at all aspects of the food system, with a focus on 4 “domains”:

1. Food security: sufficient food for everyone

Food systems approach - Food security

More than 800 million people around the world are hungry, and that number is rising every day. At the same time, 1/3 of all the food we produce is lost through waste along the supply chain and by consumers. How can we organise the food system in such a way that enough food is produced safely for everyone in a growing global population?

2. Ensuring a healthy diet

Food systems approach - Safe and healthy diets

A healthy diet is made up of a balance of nutrients such as proteins, fats, minerals and fibre. At present, unbalanced diets are the cause of illness in more than 3 billion people, either through undernutrition or overnutrition (obesity). How do we ensure that our food, nutrition and lifestyle habits lead to good health outcomes?

3. Fair distribution of costs and revenues

Food systems approach - Fair distribution of costs and revenues

Costs and revenues are not equitably distributed along the food supply chain. There are also differences in the accessibility, price and allocation of food. This raises questions about what is an appropriate price for food (both for producers and consumers) and about dependence on local or international food systems. How can the food system contribute to a level playing field for everyone, and a fair deal for producers and consumers?

4. Sustainability: climate change, sustainable use of soil, water and other resources and biodiversity

Food systems approach - sustainability and resilience

The only way to future-proof our food system is to make sure it is adapted to climate change, that it uses resources in a sustainable and circular way, that it takes our health into account, and that it contributes to biodiversity. How can we organise the food system in a sustainable and resilient way?

Integrated view on feeding the world

Looking for solutions following the ‘Food system approach’ requires us to consider all of the different elements that make up the system and influence each other. These include agricultural production, biodiversity, water availability and the risks associated with climate change.

Of course, people are an important part of the system. Farmers, consumers, middlemen, policymakers, technology developers, dieticians and activists all have a part to play. By focusing on various aspects of the food system, and ensuring our research results are solid and applicable, we are contributing to the ongoing improvement of food systems.

We do this in collaboration with our partners: governments, businesses, civil society organisations and other research institutes. And we do it at various levels: regional, national, international and global.

Food Systems approach and COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic and its consequences are having a major impact on the food system. Lockdowns lead to hunger when poor farmers in Africa can no longer get access to seeds, and we have also seen that good nutrition plays a major part in how resilient people are to the virus. The lessons we are learning from the coronavirus pandemic are being integrated into our Food Systems approach.

Read more about the effects of COVID-19 on food systems in the rapid assessments of Wageningen Centre of Development Innovation.

Wondering how the Food system approach can help you? Do not hesitate to contact our experts!