Joined up, agricultural and health policies are the cornerstone of a sustainable food system. We need to produce the right food to ensure people have access to healthy, nutritious food in a way which benefits nature, soil and livelihoods, all while we face global malnutrition and climate crises.
Our food system must be underpinned by diversity – agricultural, bio, cultural and economic – all providing us with good health. Diverse diets can reduce micronutrient deficiencies by providing a rich source of nutrients all year round and it can also result in increased income sources for farmers. Yet national food systems are supplying less diverse food. This is reflected in diets that are monotonous and based on a few staple crops, especially in low-income communities where access to nutrient-rich sources of food, such as animal source foods and fruits and vegetables is a challenge.
There is a huge disconnect between agricultural policy and our nutritional reality. Current agricultural policies are focusing on producing the wrong sort of foods, with a bias towards calorie crops. Three crops – rice, wheat and maize – provide more than 50% of the world’s plant-derived calories. At the same time, malnutrition has been rising, as agricultural policy has been focused on productivity not on nutritional outcomes, and we produce more than enough food to feed over 10 billion people, but this growth in calories has not resulted in better health for all.
One area that shows how different policies can be mutually beneficial is sustainable diets. Almost 10 years ago both WWF’s Livewell and the Barilla Foundation’s food pyramids demonstrated the linkage between nutrition and the environment and since then a growing group of leading organisations, including the Lancet and Eat Foundation, have called for joined up policy making to deliver win win outcomes.
A good, working food system should produce healthy, sustainable food that is affordable and accessible to all. Health and nutritional outcomes should underpin all agricultural and food production policies from what we grow to subsidies.