The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations marks World Food Day each year on 16 October, the day on which the Organization was founded in 1945. World Food Day was first held on 16 Oct 1981.
The objectives of World Food Day are to:
Our Actions are our Future - Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life- is the World Food Day theme for 2021.
An agri-food system is a complex term that may seem far from your reality, but do you know our lives depend on them? Every time you eat, you participate in the system. The food we choose and the way we produce, prepare, cook and store it make us an integral and active part of the way in which an agri-food system works.
A sustainable agri-food system is one in which a variety of sufficient, nutritious and safe foods is available at an affordable price to everyone, and nobody is hungry or suffers from any form of malnutrition. The shelves are stocked at the local market or food store, but less food is wasted and the food supply chain is more resilient to shocks such as extreme weather, price spikes or pandemics, all while limiting, rather than worsening, environmental degradation or climate change. In fact, sustainable agri-food systems deliver food security and nutrition for all, without compromising the economic, social and environmental bases, for generations to come. They lead to better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all.
Agri-food systems employ 1 billion people worldwide, more than any other economic sector. Moreover, the way we produce, consume and, sadly, waste food exacts a heavy toll on our planet, putting unnecessary pressure on natural resources, the environment and climate. Food production too often degrades or destroys natural habitats and contributes to species extinction. Such inefficiency, is costing us trillions of dollars, but, most importantly, today’s agri-food systems are exposing profound inequalities and injustices in our global society. Three billion people cannot afford healthy diets, while overweight and obesity continue to increase worldwide.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined that an urgent change of route is needed. It has made it even harder for farmers - already grappling with climate variability and extremes - to sell their harvests, while rising poverty is pushing an increased number of city residents to use food banks, and millions of people require emergency food aid. We need sustainable agri-food systems that are capable of nourishing 10 billion people by 2050.
What exactly is an agri-food system?
It is the world behind our food and much more. It includes the solar system of how food is grown, harvested, processed, packaged, transported, distributed, traded, bought, prepared, eaten and disposed of. Not to mention all of the uses of agriculture for non-food products (including forestry and biofuels as two examples) that also constitute livelihoods. This system encompasses all of the people, activities, investments and choices that play a part in getting us these food and agricultural products. It is a fascinating world but a complicated one. There are many processes and within each one, there are a lot of influences and inputs, a lot of results and repercussions.
Like planets in a solar system, each part of the agri-food system has its own characteristics and acting forces. So when we say, we need to transform diets to transform agri-food systems, we mean changing a series of actors and actions. Fortunately, we, as consumers, are one of those actors.
Where do consumers fit in an agri-food system?
To answer that, we need to understand the main elements of an agri-food system. There is the production of food, what we also call the food supply chain. This includes the growing, storing, distributing, processing, packaging and even retailing and marketing of food. With these many processes, some even occurring across borders, the supply chain is often long and complex.
The food environment comprises the places and situations in which we get our food. This includes not only the physical places where food is acquired like markets and stores but also the signage, labeling and messaging around the food. The food environment is also influenced by trade. Issues like accessibility and affordability of foods are important aspects of this element of the agri-food system.
Consumers and our behaviours, such as selecting, preparing, consuming, feeding others and disposing of food, are a central element of agri-food systems. Consumer behaviours are influenced by cultural, socio-economic, political and individual factors, and ultimately, they determine our diets and influence other parts of the agri-food system.
Consumption, consumer behavior and collective demand
The part of the system that is probably most familiar to all of us is this last part: consumption. We might not know how food got to us, where it was produced or how it was transported, but we do know what we chose to buy, where we bought it from, what we paid for it, how we prepared and ate it or threw it out.
Consumption of food might be the part we are most familiar with, but it may not be one that we think about all the time. In many ways though, this area can be the most effective for transformation. Shaping consumer behaviours and collective demand can help change markets.
The power of consumers
Consumers are more and more interested in knowing from where their food and goods originate. FAO’s Fishing Areas classification is one tool that makes this more transparent. Learning that you are purchasing fish from nearby waters can help support your local economy. This classification also ensures that the catch has been legally sourced, protecting against overfishing and destruction of ecosystems.
Another consumer-oriented initiative that supports smallholder producers is the Quality and Origin Program. For several years, FAO has been working together with partners, governments and producers worldwide to register traditionally made products with Geographical Indication (GI) labels. Some examples include Darjeeling tea (India), Manchego cheese (Spain), and Taliouine saffron (Morocco). These labels help consumers link product characteristics - such as taste or quality - with GI status. As such, they are willing to pay higher prices, translating into higher incomes for rural households.
The aforementioned Mountain Partnership Products (MPP) Initiative is yet another project that taps into the power of choices. This FAO-supported programme provides technical and financial support to smallholder mountain producers from developing countries to improve product marketing and streamline value chains. These products receive an MPP narrative label that provides consumers with information about the product’s origins, processing, nutritional value and role in local cultures. The MPP label helps to make certain unique foods and products more widely available in markets, raising their value and thereby incomes for the producers.
Source : FAO