In September this year, the United Nations Secretary-General will convene the Food Systems Summit (FSS). The venue will be the UN Headquarters in New York, in conjunction with the next UN General Assembly. The summit will be a one-off event that sees transformed food systems as a way to advance the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 agenda. It aims to work on the following linked goals:
The reduction of hunger and malnutrition in all its forms
Improved food safety
Reduced Green House Gas Emissions
Reversing environmental degradation
Reducing food loss and waste
Improved resilience & reduced vulnerability
But what exactly is meant by the term Food Systems? Food Systems encompass food supply chains, food environments and feedbacks with systemic drivers such as economics, culture, technology, and demography. Food Systems are the places and spaces where people and food meet, where food choices, food attitudes and food habits are shaped by a combination of personal and other factors.
Sounds complicated? Think of production, storage, distribution, processing, packaging, wholesale, retail, and markets in supply chains. Consider availability, marketing, food quality, food safety, convenience, etc. in the food environments. Find out how consumers choose what to buy and eat. What can they afford, what do they like? How much, how diverse, how safe, and how nutritious is the food they buy for themselves and their families?
And how do the environment, technology, infrastructure culture, demography, and politics influence what we can buy and eat? Finally, to what extend are policies and programs supportive?
The Food System is thus a complex maze of drivers, factors, and actions, that all need to be considered and worked on if we are to improve our nutrition status and health, globally and locally.
In their preparations for the Food Systems Summit, the Minister of Agriculture, Oumer Hussein, as Chair, and the Minister of Health, Dr Lia Tadesse, as Co-chair, called for a high-level meeting last Tuesday evening, 9th February 2021, to reflect on presentations and how to transform the food systems to deliver sustainable and healthy diets for all in Ethiopia. The meeting was moderated by the State Minister of Agriculture, Mandefro Negussie, and attended by representatives of Government and development partners. The meeting was virtually enriched with key notes and recommendations by amongst others, Sir John Beddington, Chair of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition and David Nabarro, Special Envoy WHO.
The outcome of the meeting will be used to further develop the Ethiopia Food Systems position paper and roadmap towards the Food Systems Summit. To do this effectively it is important to align efforts and take a holistic view to transforming the Ethiopian Food System. For this reason, a nutrient-dense diet centred approach is taken, informed by the need to deliver better nutrition and health for all of us in Ethiopia, who face serious challenges when it comes to our diet, health, and the environment we live in. I quote from the background paper presented during the high-level meeting: “While much progress has been made on increasing staple cereal production, productivity levels are still very low, and diversification to provide more nutrients dense foods like fruits and vegetables has been very limited. Ethiopia Demographic and Health Surveys show that some progress has been made to reduce undernutrition. However, Ethiopia’s burden of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are still among the highest in Sub Saharan Africa. In addition, Ethiopia faces increasing overweight, obesity and diet related non-communicable diseases (diabetes and cardiovascular diseases) as emerging challenges particularly among the urban population. Poor diets, with low diet diversity and inadequate consumption of animal source foods, fruits and vegetables are in part to blame for this situation of multiple forms of malnutrition. In contrast, salt consumption is above the WHO threshold of 5 g/day in every region of Ethiopia and the national average salt intake is 8.2 g/day (Challa et al., 2017). The low diversity of the diet, food safety concerns, and the unhealthy trends of salt and sugar intake, could explain the increasing trend in non-communicable diseases, on top of the already high prevalence of communicable diseases, that are stretching the health system. Ethiopia’s food systems also face considerable challenges to assure the safety of food products. Unaffordability of nutrient-dense foods is a barrier to improving diet quality and is likely to continue favouring a predominantly starchy diet, but also could encourage increased consumption of sugar and oils, moving Ethiopia further away from the needed healthy diet. “
The challenge we then face is to identify what needs to be done to transform the Ethiopia Food System to deliver sustainable, people centred, environmentally friendly and healthy diets.