Demystifying food systems


Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) is complex and multi-dimensional. Food systems comprise all the processes associated with food production and utilisation, such as growing, harvesting, packing, processing, transporting, marketing, and consuming and disposing of food remains. A Food Systems approach requires policy alignment and effective collaboration between diverse networks and research communities, government agencies, the private sector, and communities, especially to create a common cause between the agriculture and health areas pursuing nutrition objectives., Simultaneously, there is a growing recognition of adopting a holistic food systems approach to address nutrition challenges with the private sector as a key player.


The framework adopted from CIAT, 2019 (Figure 1) suggests that resilient food systems deliver Food and Nutrition Security (FNS), Socio-Economic Empowerment (SEE), and Environmental Benefits (EB). 

South Asian countries have generally adopted a production-focused approach focusing primarily on 'self-sufficiency’ in domestic food grain production and, to an extent, on access and affordability, especially in the case of cereals, through efforts on increasing production and provision of subsidies to ensure that these remain very cheap and address hunger. However, this approach ignores other critical factors such as desirability, food preferences, and, most importantly, the nutritional dimension-dietary diversity. In South Asia, there is a growing need to look "beyond hunger and self-sufficiency to integrate agriculture with nutrition holistically" as South Asian countries face a triple burden of malnutrition- high levels of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency and increasing level of obesity. Some necessary shifts include:


From self-sufficiency to Food security: The goal is achieving access for all people at all times to enough food for nutrition, health, and active life by moving beyond caloric sufficiency to holistic and diverse diets. 

From food systems and nutrition to food systems for nutrition: An approach that considers the dietary and nutrition needs and then refocuses the food system (from production to processing and retail) to deliver nutrition outcomes by increasing the availability and affordability of nutritious foods that meet the dietary needs of all, especially the most vulnerable.

From a fragmented focus on agriculture to value-focused agriculture: Maximising efficiencies within the supply chain, with the value addition at each step, and often with a focus on improving economic returns to farmers and other actors.


Launched in 2019, the South Asian Policy Leadership for Improved Nutrition and Growth (SAPLING) aims to establish a regional platform for consensus building among stakeholders to combat malnutrition through evidence-based policy and action. The initiative addresses common challenges in South Asian countries' food systems by synthesizing evidence, promoting best practices, and supporting policy leadership. SAPLING's primary goal is to enable a 'food systems' approach to address malnutrition in its priority countries, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.



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