Food Systems


Fruit and vegetables on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg).

The rapid transformation of food systems is creating unintentional infectious disease risks that will need to be addressed through effective coordination between agricultural and public health sectors, a new review study says.

A food system includes all the aspects of feeding and nourishing people: growing, harvesting, packaging, processing, transporting, marketing and consuming food.

The review, published in Lancet Planetary Health (Sept 2022), explored how intensification of agricultural production and increasing complexity of food supply chains, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries, change the risks and relative burdens of infectious diseases.

The review covered four case studies:

  • vector-borne disease in irrigated agriculture;
  • zoonotic diseases in livestock value chains;
  • food safety; and
  • antimicrobial resistance associated with food systems. 

For each case study, the authors asked three questions:

  1. What aspects of food system transition are creating unintentional infectious disease risks?
  2. What solutions might exist for these problems?
  3. How would they require better coordination of agricultural and public health policy and practice?

Food systems in transition are characterized by intensification and diversification of food production, as an increasingly urban and more wealthy population demands different diets.

The review showed that successfully addressing the challenges of evolving food systems calls for constructive dialogue between agricultural and public health sectors.

Such a cross-sectoral approach recognises the costs and benefits of disease-reducing interventions and seeks win–win solutions that are most likely to attract broad policy support and uptake by food systems.

For areas such as antimicrobial resistance, it is important to identify the potential agricultural and health outcomes of agricultural interventions to reduce health risks.

Citation

Waage, J., Grace, D., Fèvre, E.M., McDermott, J., Lines, J., Wieland, B., Naylor, N.R., Hassell, J.M. and Chan, K. 2022. Changing food systems and infectious disease risks in low-income and middle-income countries. Lancet Planetary Health 6(9): e760–e768.

Photo credit: Fruit and vegetables on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg)

Delia Grace

We congratulate Delia Grace, professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute and joint appointed scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), on winning the 2022 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award in the research innovation category.

Delia Grace is a renowned scientist with unique and transformative impacts on the safety of food systems and public health in developing countries.

As a trained veterinarian and epidemiologist, she brings a special expertise on the interconnectedness of animal health, human health and ecohealth to her work. A focus of her work is improving food safety in informal markets in developing countries.

‘I’m honoured to be named the recipient of the Arrell Global Food Innovation Award in the area of research impact,’ she said.

‘There is a very critical relationship between animal, human and environment health and I hope we can continue to research and find ways to help improve food safety and thus the health of humans and animals. While there is still a lot to learn, by listening and engaging, thinking and trying, we can achieve much more.’

‘Congratulations to Delia Grace Randolph for being awarded with the Arrell Global Food Innovation Award for excellence in research,’ said Evan Fraser, Arrell Food Institute Director.

‘Food safety is critical to food systems, and Delia Grace Randolph’s research in this field has clearly had a positive impact on many people.’

The mission of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph is to bring people together to conduct research, train the next generation of food leaders and shape social, industrial and governmental decisions, always ensuring food is the central priority.

The Arrell Global Food Innovation Awards are adjudicated by a group of internationally recognized scientists and community activists. This year’s adjudicators are Nadia Theodore, senior vice president, global government and industry relations, Maple Leaf Foods; Florence Lasbennes, managing director, 4SD; Lawrence Haddad, executive director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition; and Adrienne Xavier, acting director of the Indigenous Studies Program, McMaster University.

Browse Delia Grace’s research publications here

Photo credit: Vegetable market in Ethiopia (East African Policy Research Institute/Birhanu Lenjiso)

The rapid evolution of global food safety systems in response to population growth, urbanization, climate change and other socio-economic factors poses many food safety challenges.

Globally, unsafe food causes an estimated 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths annually, with Africa disproportionately bearing the highest burden of foodborne diseases.

To effectively tackle the challenge of foodborne diseases in Africa, a team of scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Ohio State University has proposed the use of risk-based and One Health approaches.

These approaches to food safety management were put forward in a presentation titled Better food safety solutions in Africa: Understanding the complex social, economic and policy perspectives. The presentation was given at the 37th World Veterinary Association Congress held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on 29–31 March 2022.

The main foodborne hazards in the African context were discussed, with local and continental examples of food safety initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of foodborne disease and improving public health. Examples of action research and political decision-making on food safety at the continental level were also described.

In light of the complex nature of global and African food safety systems, food safety interventions to reduce foodborne diseases need to be well designed and coordinated, the researchers say.

Citation

Amenu, K., Alonso, S., Mutua, F., Roesel, K., Lindahl, J., Kowalcyk, B., Knight-Jones, T. and Grace, D. 2022. Better food safety solutions in Africa: Understanding the complex social, economic and policy perspectives. Oral presentation at the 37th World Veterinary Association Congress, 29-31 March 2022, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

Photo credit: Vegetable market in Ethiopia (East African Policy Research Institute/Birhanu Lenjiso)

Transformation of food systems is key to addressing malnutrition, non-communicable diseases, climate change and other global health challenges of the 21st century, a new research study says.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Jan 2022), presents a synthesis of the 22nd Annual Harvard Nutrition Obesity Symposium held in June 2021 entitled ‘Global Food Systems and Sustainable Nutrition in the 21st Century’.

The symposium was a collaboration between the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard and the Harvard Medical School Division of Nutrition and was organized ahead of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021.

A food system includes all the aspects of feeding and nourishing people: growing, harvesting, packaging, processing, transporting, marketing and consuming food.

The authors of the study note that the nutrition and health communities have a significant role to play in ensuring that food systems produce affordable, nutritious and safe food in an equitable manner that safeguards environmental sustainability.

“Food systems need to be better managed and governed to ensure that food system transformation is redesigned to improve nutrition and health, ensure environments are sustainable and resilient, promote fair and equitable livelihoods, and mitigate climate change,” the authors state.

CGIAR-affiliated scientists Delia Grace and Namukolo Covic are among the co-authors of the study.

Delia Grace is professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich and joint-appointed scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Namukolo Covic is the ILRI Director General’s Representative to Ethiopia and previously served as senior research coordinator for the CGIAR Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Citation

Fanzo, J., Rudie, C., Sigman, I., Grinspoon, S., Benton, T.G., Brown, M.E., Covic, N., Fitch, K., Golden, C.D., Grace, D., Hivert, M.-F., Huybers, P., Jaacks, L.M., Masters, W.A., Nisbett, N., Richardson, R.A., Singleton, C.R., Webb, P. and Willett, W.C. 2022. Sustainable food systems and nutrition in the 21st century: A report from the 22nd Annual Harvard Nutrition Obesity Symposium. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 115(1): 18–33.

Photo credit: Fruit and vegetable on sale in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg)

Fruit and vegetables on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg).

The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) published its 2020 annual report on activities and accomplishments from its five research flagships:

  • food systems for healthier diets;
  • biofortification;
  • food safety;
  • supporting policies, programs, and enabling action through research; and
  • improving human health.

Noting that the year 2020 was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, A4NH director John McDermott said: “The pandemic emphasized the importance of A4NH core research strengths: One Health, nutrition, and food systems, into which gender and equity considerations are integrated as critical to improve nutrition and health outcomes. As a result, A4NH research leaders and teams were called into central roles in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts during 2020 by CGIAR as well as in programs and projects in partner countries.”

The 10-year research program ended in December 2021 as CGIAR transitions to a new research structure and portfolio from 2022.

Access the A4NH 2020 annual report or read the online version.

Photo credit: Local food market in Addis Ababa (ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg)

There is a need for better understanding of how food systems operate in order to effectively address food safety and nutrition in low- and middle-income countries, says a new review paper.

The review published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems (Apr 2021) proposes that countries and international institutions provide an atlas of food system maps for key food commodities. This will help to fill current knowledge gaps in food system mapping and governance.

The review by scientists from the Royal Veterinary College, the University of Greenwich, the University of Liverpool and the International Livestock Research Institute presents the state of knowledge on existing methods of studying food systems towards improving food safety and nutrition.

The review found that food systems analyses vary widely in scope and quality, with most concentrating on specific food commodities as opposed to adopting a whole-diet approach when looking at nutrition or assessing a range of infectious agents when looking at food safety.

In the area of food safety, in-depth assessments of food systems can complement risk analysis to identify risky behaviours, understand institutional settings and improve codes of practice and enforcement. There is a challenge, however, in the area of nutrition, as existing tools on nutrition and food systems science are not yet being merged. 

Addressing food safety and nutrition in low- and middle-income countries will require better understanding of the drivers of the food systems and incorporation of codes of practice and enforcement which ensure access to safe and nutritious food.

It is also important to recognize that food systems are integral to health and thus ensure that food systems policy is aligned with health policy. This calls for interdisciplinary research on food systems encompassing consumption behaviour, value chain analysis, policy analysis, nutrition science and gender research.

Citation

Alarcon, P., Dominguez-Salas, P., Fèvre, E.M. and Rushton J. 2021. The importance of a food systems approach to low and middle income countries and emerging economies: A review of theories and its relevance for disease control and malnutrition. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 5: 642635.

Photo credit: Pulses on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg)

Roadside market. Mozambique, Angonia province (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

As the impacts of COVID-19 spread across the globe, the virus threatens more than health systems worldwide. It also poses serious risks to food security, local businesses, national economies and hard-fought progress by stakeholders at all levels towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The global response to the pandemic must be swift and science-based, harnessing knowledge for emergency response, recovery and resilience.

Research leaders in health and agriculture have launched a new COVID-19 Hub to consolidate existing scientific evidence and help support response, recovery and resilience measures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. As United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned recently, immediate action on food systems is needed to prevent a global food emergency that could have long-term health effects.

The CGIAR COVID-19 Hub, coordinated by CGIAR, the world’s largest publicly funded agricultural research network, brings together the latest science on agriculture and health to inform a research-based response to the pandemic.

The International Livestock Research Institute joins the International Food Policy Research Institute, the CGIAR System Organization and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine as co-implementers of the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub.

Hosted by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Hub provides a coordinated research response to the pandemic, convening researchers, funders and key stakeholders.

It focuses on supporting national response and recovery work across CGIAR research themes through the response, recovery and resilience phases of the pandemic, with work from across CGIAR’s global network of 14 research centres and 15 research programs and platforms, in close collaboration with other research organizations, policymakers, non-governmental organizations and many other stakeholders.

Photo credit: Fresh produce on sale at a roadside market in Angonia Province, Mozambique (ILRI/Stevie Mann)