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Building more resilient and equitable food systems is urgent: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made starkly clear the catastrophic impact of climate change on hunger, malnutrition, health, and inequality in the Global South. The 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit was clear that action is needed—and that this action is needed now. 

The Summit convened a range of stakeholders across civil society, government, the private sector, the farming industry, and the research community. The overarching goal? To launch new and concrete action to transform how the world produces and consumes food — an ambitious target requiring real progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  

IDRC has a proven history in investing in exactly this kind of food systems research. For the past 15 years, IDRC has supported research on adaptation to climate change, including in the areas of agriculture and food security, and we welcome these recommendations from the Summit.  

We recognize that in the face of increasing pressures from both the pandemic and the climate crisis, food systems across the Global South must become more resilient, more inclusive, more consumer-driven, and more oriented towards better health and nutrition for all — particularly for women, girls, and other equity-seeking groups.  

 

The challenge now is ensuring our investments in food systems address the evolving needs of the most vulnerable; support transformative, evidence-backed action; and empower regional researchers and practitioners working to improve their local communities.  

As emphasized in IDRC’s Strategy 2030, we are refocussing our efforts to build more equitable societies and economies in the context of a world gradually recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic while transitioning to a low-carbon future.  

Both our current and future food systems programming aims to bring to scale the long-term, pro-poor, ethical, and accountable use of innovations to diversify food systems, empower marginalized farmers and livestock keepers, and ensure equitable access to nutritious food.  

IDRC will support research that focuses on demand for – and supply of – foods associated with healthy, sustainable plant and animal-based diets. We will continue to work on the affordability of healthy diets, reducing food loss, and improving animal health.  

These investments in climate-resilient and inclusive food systems also align with the critical action areas identified by the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit: 

Nourish all people 

The Catalyzing Change for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems partnership between IDRC and the Rockefeller Foundation is supporting research synthesizing new evidence to address the challenge of achieving healthy, equitable, and sustainable diets through transformative food systems. For example, projects are leveraging a systems approach for policy actionscaling micro-businesses, and exploring integrated policy approaches. 

Boost nature-based solutions 

The Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund partnership between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research supports research boosting nature-based solutions within food systems. For example, the Insfeed2 project leverages sustainable insect production and processing to market an affordable, environmentally sustainable alternative protein source for livestock feed, while the NutriFish project uses gender-inclusive financing, certification of processed fish products, improved access to formal markets, and promotion of community-level gender equality to reduce post-harvest aquaculture losses. 

The Innovative Veterinary Solutions for Antimicrobial Resistance partnership between IDRC and the Global AMR Innovation fund, part of the UK Department of Health and Social Care supports the development of safe and effective alternatives to antimicrobials, including antibiotics, to decrease the misuse of antimicrobials in food animal production systems in low- and middle-income countries. Two projects, one based in Pakistan and the other in Kenya, are working to develop antimicrobial alternatives for the poultry sector of these countries using bacteriophages, which are naturally occurring viruses that infect the bacteria that cause disease in chickens. Another team is investigating the use of nanobbubles, a non-chemical disinfection technology to reduce the use of antimicrobials in aquaculture systems. 

Building on the outcomes and recommendations of the UN Food Systems Summit and on the recommendations of several international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), CIRAD, and the Committee on World Food Security High Level Panel of Experts, IDRC is working with the Agropolis Fondation to explore the potential and limitations of alternative food systems such as agroecology to complement conventional agriculture and inform the transformation of food systems structure and their transition towards more resilient and equitable outcomes, particularly for women and Indigenous peoples. 

Advance equitable livelihoods, decent work, and empowered communities 

Empowering communities, especially women entrepreneurs, is a means to achieve equitable livelihoods and healthy families. Our work in Ghana aims to improve the incomes and diets of women farmers and their families by facilitating enhanced participation in the market economy and farming-entrepreneurship opportunities that can be supported by local institutions. A cohort of four projects are focused on supporting women’s agency and empowerment as livestock vaccine users, administrators and distributors, supported by the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund, a partnership between IDRC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Global Affairs Canada.  

Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stresses 

Climate change threatens the ability of agricultural systems to sustainably meet the dietary needs of the global population. In the arid and semi-arid “climate hotspots” in sub-Saharan Africa, this means increasing variability in rainfall, more uncertainty for farmers and herders, and the shifting geographic spread of disease. Its impacts extend to the health and productivity of livestock, which are a key component of food systems in these regions.   

Recognizing the critical importance of building resilience of food systems to climate-related shocks and vulnerabilities, our work with the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction is supporting gender-responsive climate change adaptation in agriculture and in transforming food systems through the role of local platforms such as Climate Smart Villages in facilitating household resilience, women empowerment, social inclusion, diet quality, and sustainable food systems.  

Similarly, a multidisciplinary coalition of IDRC-funded researchers across Latin America is reviewing the evidence on how to accelerate the transition to healthy sustainable food systems that prioritize access to healthy and affordable diets, while keeping greenhouse gas emissions within sustainable limits. 

Accelerate the means of implementation 

Together with other donor partners, our support to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition is helping to map out and identify crucial stakeholders along the food production value chain. This research presents a unique opportunity to learn about and support partnerships with private-sector players, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, to increase the supply and consumption of healthy diets through a series of new tools, models, and approaches.  

Our collaborations in the Caribbean seek to demonstrate how integrated agricultural and public health innovations, implemented through community initiatives and public policy interventions, can provide an effective approach to address the high burden of non-communicable diseases in the region. We are also investing in research to pilot new, scalable models to help increase the availability, access and demand for livestock vaccine for both women and men livestock smallholders. 

Building climate-resilient food systems 

These initiatives address urgent local needs, focus on the most vulnerable people and communities, and stay true to our commitment to invest in high-quality food-systems research and innovation in developing countries. IDRC will synthesize and share results from across these research investments to inform local, regional, and global agendas, sharing knowledge that is ready for use and that responds to emerging challenges. 

The challenge is daunting and requires both the resources to support cutting-edge research and the will to forge innovative new partnerships while giving voice to underrepresented groups. We are committed to taking on this challenge, investing in research to build more climate-resilient food systems. 

Just as we have done in the past, IDRC will continue working directly with local experts on local issues, sharing knowledge for greater uptake, and mobilizing alliances for lasting impact. 

Learn more about our work on resilient food systems: