Evidence shows the importance of food systems for sustainable development: they are at the nexus that links food security, nutrition, and human health, the viability of ecosystems, climate change, and social justice. However, agricultural policies tend to focus on food supply, and sometimes, on mechanisms to address negative externalities. We propose an alternative. Our starting point is that agriculture and food systems’ policies should be aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This calls for deep changes in comparison with the paradigms that prevailed when steering the agricultural change in the XXth century. We identify the comprehensive food systems transformation that is needed. It has four parts: first, food systems should enable all people to benefit from nutritious and healthy food. Second, they should reflect sustainable agricultural production and food value chains. Third, they should mitigate climate change and build resilience. Fourth, they should encourage a renaissance of rural territories. The implementation of the transformation relies on (i) suitable metrics to aid decision-making, (ii) synergy of policies through convergence of local and global priorities, and (iii) enhancement of development approaches that focus on territories. We build on the work of the “Milano Group,” an informal group of experts convened by the UN Secretary General in Milan in 2015. Backed by a literature review, what emerges is a strategic narrative linking climate, agriculture and food, and calling for a deep transformation of food systems at scale. This is critical for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. The narrative highlights the needed consistency between global actions for sustainable development and numerous local-level innovations. It emphasizes the challenge of designing differentiated paths for food systems transformation responding to local and national expectations. Scientific and operational challenges are associated with the alignment and arbitration of local action within the context of global priorities.


  • The overall purpose is for agriculture and food systems’ to make the greatest possible contribution to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): food systems transformation should reflect a consensus on pathways to be pursued and their potential impact—in terms of environmental, social, nutrition, and health outcomes

  • 4 The new food systems transformation. These four parts together make up the food systems transformation that is required if the SDGs are to be achieved

  • This calls for further work to ensure that frameworks and indicators can fully describe the nexus of food and nutrition security, environmental health, climate and social justice, as well as the impacts of food systems on the nexus

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An exceptional process reached its conclusion in 2015. For the first time in history, world leaders have unanimously agreed on a vision for the future of humanity: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It reflects some of the difficulties observed in successive negotiations at the UNFCCC (Campbell 2014) and results from well-developed national positions (Caron and Treyer 2016) related to people’s food and nutrition security, to the organization of international trade, and to the need for increases in agricultural productivity. The need for attention both to agricultural practices and to land use is clearly identified in the vast majority of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC; Thornton et al 2017) to reducing greenhouse gas emissions This reflects the capacity of changes in agriculture to contribute to climate change mitigation as well as to enable food producers to adapt to new weather patterns.

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Food systems transformation for sustainable development: the four parts
Healthy and sustainable food consumption patterns
A new vision of sustainable agricultural production and food value chains
Contributing to mitigate climate change
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A renaissance of rural territories
The new food systems transformation
Assessing contributions of food systems to the SDGs
Achieving impact at scale through local-level action
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