The State of Food Systems Worldwide: Counting Down to 2030

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Food Systems Countdown to 2030 Initiative | 23/03/2023


Transforming food systems is essential to bring about a healthier, equitable, sustainable, and resilient future, including achieving global development and sustainability goals. To date, no comprehensive framework exists to track food systems transformation and their contributions to global goals. In 2021,
the Food Systems Countdown to 2030 Initiative (FSCI) articulated an architecture to monitor food systems across five themes: (1) diets, nutrition, and health; (2) environment, natural resources, and production; (3) livelihoods, poverty, and equity; (4) governance; and (5) resilience and sustainability.
Each theme comprises three-to-five indicator domains. This paper builds on that architecture, presenting the inclusive, consultative process used to select indicators and an application of the indicator framework using the latest available data, constructing the first global food systems baseline to track transformation.
While data are available to cover most themes and domains, critical indicator gaps exist such as off-farm livelihoods, food loss and waste, and governance. Baseline results demonstrate every region or country can claim positive outcomes in some parts of food systems, but none are optimal across all domains, and
some indicators are independent of national income. These results underscore the need for dedicated monitoring and transformation agendas specific to food systems. Tracking these indicators to 2030 and beyond will allow for data-driven food systems governance at all scales and increase accountability for urgently needed progress toward achieving global goals.


Food systems fundamentally shape lives, wellbeing, and human and planetary health, and they are central to tackling some of the most pressing global challenges of our time. The United Nations (UN) held its first-ever Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in 2021, which demonstrated the interconnectedness of food systems with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and provided a space for countries to develop national pathways towards food systems transformation. Food systems also featured prominently at the 26th and 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26/7), and in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework targets.5 This context offers growing momentum to influence public policy, private sector, and civil society actions to transform food systems from their current unsustainable and inequitable trajectories.6–8 Yet while their contributions to other global goals are recognized and the clear need for monitoring has been articulated, no indicator framework has been defined to track food systems. Decision-makers across sectors thus lack a means to assess their food systems, guide action, or evaluate progress.

In 2021, the Food Systems Countdown to 2030 Initiative (FSCI) emerged from the UNFSS as an interdisciplinary collaboration of dozens of scientists. This paper uses the term “food systems” throughout, in line with the UNFSS language. However, the indicator framework presented here takes an expanded concept of agrifood systems given that many indicators cannot distinguish between food and non-food components of production and value addition, although such non-food components greatly influence the environment, social outcomes, and the food people ultimately eat. Hence, food systems as used here encompass activities and processes around non-food agricultural products (e.g., forestry, fibers, biofuels, etc.) that are interconnected with food for human consumption. As a first step, in 2021, the FSCI published an architecture to monitor food systems comprising five thematic areas each with three to five indicator domains. Next, the FSCI undertook a consultative process with additional scientific experts and policy stakeholders to select a set of existing indicators (or modifications thereof). The consultative process selected 50 indicators, a list as comprehensive as possible given available indicators and data, and which constitutes the indicator framework applied in this paper.

Descriptive analysis at the global, regional, and income group provides a baseline of the world’s food systems; an essential first step in a global food systems research agenda and the starting point to track change. For the next seven years (2023-2030), the FSCI will publish annual updates and incorporate new indicators to fill the remaining gaps. Recognizing the descriptive summaries only scratch the surface of potential knowledge this rich dataset can offer, the FSCI also plans deeper analyses, beginning with assessments of interactions between different indicators, establishing benchmarks, and analyzing relative performance over the next two years.

The fundamental contributions of this paper are (1) an application of the global architecture previously developed; (2) the comprehensive yet actionable set of indicators legitimated through consultative process; and (3) a baseline dataset to track progress on food systems transformation to 2030.
Many of these data have long time series available, while some indicators are new1 but expected to be collected/computed globally going forward. Government officials responsible for developing food system transformation pathways coming out of the UNFSS have expressed clear demand for guidance on indicators and the UNFSS 2023 “stock-taking” provides an entry point to support decision-makers in steering food systems.13 The selected indicators address topics that appear in these pathways, offering a menu of indicators that may be most relevant for accountability to stated commitments. At the global level, the framework enables policymakers, advisors, private sector, and civil society actors to monitor food systems worldwide. The indicators can be used to establish local-to-global targets, track progress against those targets, provide accountability for commitments, and drive progress towards desired outcomes, while recognizing the diversity of pathways at national and subnational levels that can be compatible with global goals.

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