Food systems are complex, multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral. Better understanding their dynamics and assessing their performances is critical if we want to strengthen their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.
A flurry of initiatives has emerged in the last few years, that propose multi-indicator “compendiums” intended to describe more holistically national food systems. Many of those compendiums, however, are made of 100 or more indicators. As such, they are often overwhelming the policy-makers who they were initially intended to guide, thus defeating their own purpose.
There is a need to find a “middle ground” whereby the complexity, dynamic, and multi-sectoral nature of those food systems is still captured, but boiled down to a more manageable combination of key indicators that help prioritizing entry points for interventions.
The process of identifying those key indicators also needs to follow a clear, transparent and reproducible protocol/methodology so that comparison between countries (and over time) remains possible, yet accounts for the specificity of each country’s food systems and its large socio-cultural and political context.
Finally, the process needs to remain participative, involving the main stakeholders of the country’s food system and not just experts.
The objective of the Food System Country Profile project is to demonstrate the feasibility of such an approach, initially by developing and field-testing a protocol in three pilot countries: Bangladesh in Asia, Ethiopia in Africa and Honduras in Latin America, with the ambition to expand the approach to other low and middle-income countries in the near future.
The final product, which is in the form of Food System Country Profiles, offers a tool to facilitate more informed and evidence-supported decisions by key stakeholders around food systems.
Country profiles are more than a simple compilation of national indicators. They are constructed and designed around a common framework and methodology to identify hotspots of unsustainability in countries’ food systems and prioritize interventions at multiple scales to address these through targeted actions and investments.
An important feature of those country profiles is that they are co-produced with key public and private food system stakeholders engaged in both the identification of data and the validation of results and emerging key messages.
The ambition of the project is to showcase the relevance and utility of this tool, initially in three countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras), and paves the path for the development of similar country profiles in a larger number of low and middle-income countries (LMICs) in the near future, thus progressively building the capacities of a large number of decision-makers in many of those LMICs.
The use of a common framework offers a further opportunity for a global comparative analysis on food system transitions and transformations – thus generating insights and lessons for decision-makers not just at national but also international level. We anticipate that these profiles will contribute to relevant international processes, on the wake of the 2021 UN Summit on Food Systems