Today world agriculture is facing major challenges, including how to feed a growing world population, how to reduce rural poverty in the world, and how to manage ecosystem goods and services in light of global environmental change. Traditionally, components of modern production and consumption systems have been assessed or analysed in studies to improve the efficiency of a particular element or activity, based on the assumption that this will also improve the efficiency of the whole system. However, over the last few decades it has become clear that a more holistic framework is needed to address these complex issues. As a result, a food systems approach has been widely adopted to identify, analyse and assess the impact and feedback of the systems different actors, activities and outcomes to help identify intervention points for enhancing food security.
The food system therefore includes not only the basic elements of how we get our food from farm to fork, but also all of the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population. Systems can also exist within systems, for example, farming systems, agricultural ecosystems, economic systems, and social systems and within those are further subsets of water systems, energy systems, financing systems, marketing systems, policy systems, culinary systems, and so on.
Population health is also a key factor in addressing food systems challenges, especially as nutrition-related chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer are major contributors to the global burden of disease.
In order to plan sustainable, equitable, and healthy food systems for the future we require integrated and innovative analytical methods and approaches from a range of disciplines, as well as effective intersectoral policy analysis and multi stakeholder engagement.
The food system and its drivers. Adapted from Ericksen 2008