What is the food system approach?
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) the food system can be defined as “the complete set of people, institutions, activities, processes, and infrastructure involved in producing and consuming food for a given population”.
This covers all stages of the value chain - from growing and harvesting agricultural products, forestry or fisheries through to processing, packaging, transporting, selling, cooking, consuming, and the disposal of waste food and packaging. Food system does include a single system, but it is composed of various sub system (e.g. farming system, waste management system etc.).
How do we want to take the food system approach?
Eat Right Foundation takes a Food Systems approach to transform the food ecosystem of the country. It includes both demand and supply side interventions.
On the supply side, it focuses on core regulatory functions to ensure quality and standards of food in terms of safety, nutrition and environmental sustainability. This is achieved by setting globally benchmarked standards for food and conducting monitoring activities such as surveillance, testing of food samples and enforcement of standards through robust protocols.
In addition, it includes improving food safety and hygiene standards in food businesses across the food value chain through a graded approach. This implies using traditional regulatory and enforcement approaches for large food businesses such as testing and inspections, which would eventually evolve to self-compliance by food businesses. For small and medium food businesses, it implies focusing on building capacity and introducing hygiene rating schemes to encourage self-compliance. For petty businesses such as street food vendors, it implies using a cluster certification for hygiene standards.
On the demand side, both people and places are targeted. Food environments such as homes, schools, workplaces are transformed by promoting availability and consumption of safe, healthy and sustainable food through a system of certification by third-party audits. Furthermore, people are nudged to eat right through large-scale social and behaviour change campaigns that are supported by government policies and civil society at large, thus making this initiative a people’s movement.
What are the
Components of Food System?
FOOD SUPPLY CHAINS
The food supply chain describes how the food from a farm ends up on our tables. This includes the agricultural production, processing, storage, packaging, distribution, retail and marketing, consumption and eventually the disposal of the food. Each of these steps in the food supply chain are interrelated in domino-like motion which means if we implement any changes in one of the process, the others gets affected too.
Food supply chains operate at different scales and levels, depending on the food system. In rural and isolated communities, food supply chains may be short where the farmers and food producers either eat the food directly or sell it to their neighbors in the local market. In large urban settings, food supply chains are longer and more complex — food is typically produced farther away and more people are involved in its production, processing, distribution, packaging, retail and consumption. However, food supply chains are undergoing rapid transformations, especially in low and middle-income countries, often leading to more interaction between these urban and rural settings and actors.
Physical places like markets or stores where the consumers interact with the food system for purchasing and eating food is the food environment. Each food environment is dependent on a variety of social, economic and cultural factors. These characteristics of the food environment affect diets by influencing the way people access foods. It includes the affordability and availability of food; quality and appeal, safety and convenience of the product and the type of retail outlet; as well as the way the product is advertised and promoted.
The income and purchasing power, access to the information, desire, values and preferences as well as the home and work environment and overall life situation of a person constitutes the individual factors of food system. These factors have an effect on the way a person buy or consume the food. For instance, some people have a nutrition knowledge and are aware of the environment consequences that their food choices might have, which ultimately affects their buying behavior. While others might not have much time to shop and prepare food due to their busy work schedule or home environment. And in many cases, a person’s income determines the food they can afford. These individual factors influence the way people interact with their food environment and ultimately, what they choose to buy and eat.
This involves people’s decision about what type of foods they choose to prepare, store, eat and share with others in their household. All the individual factors discussed in the previous sections also affect the consumer behavior. Though there are numerous researches and studies being conducted all around the world on this subject, but the key indicators of consumer behavior, based on data sourced across countries and globally agreed upon, are lacking.
What are the
External Drivers of Food Systems?
Drivers like environment, economics, politics, health and society all are impacted and have an impact on the food system.
Activities like ongoing deforestation, unrelenting fossil fuel consumption, increased Green House Gas emissions is changing the earth’s climate. This in turn, results in extreme and harmful conditions such as droughts, heat waves, typhoons, floods, and rising sea level, thus causing a great risk to the food and nutritional security to people all around the world.
At the production level these climate change can lead to declines in crop yield and fish populations while decreasing the nutrient content of the crops due to the increased level of carbon dioxide. While more crops will be lost due to increased disease susceptibility and extreme weather events at the storage and distribution stage of the food system. Thus, increasing the food prices.
Globalization & Trade
The interdependency of people and countries due to globalization has both positive and negative effect on human health and local economies. As the trades create new avenues for employment and decrease in food prices, it also threatens the livelihoods of small businesses due to increased competition. The lowered cost of imported food and animal feed can increase access to animal source foods and lead to higher protein intake, which is important for areas with high rates of undernutrition.
However, due to lack of proper trade policies and false advertising, unhealthy foods have become increasingly accessible and inexpensive around the world. From traditional and minimally processed foods, people are more drawn towards diet with a lot of salt, unhealthy fats, and added sugars. Also, due to the changing lifestyle habits, people are also less physically active. All of these changes have contributed to the increasing burdens of overweight/obesity and non-communicable diseases.
Moreover, economic growth has altered the structure of the work force in urban areas which is characterized by increased female participation. This has serious consequences for the family diet as the traditional role of the Indian housewife to be in charge of food preparation is eroding. The consumption of readymade meals, or foods that cut the long preparation time of traditional dishes, are predominant feature of the diet for families where there is a high female participation rate. Moreover, working couples enjoy on average higher disposable incomes and are thus are likely to consume food outside the home on a regular basis. Younger generations are more influenced by new foods particularly when these are introduced through an advertising campaign that targets the group specifically. The internet has broadened the advertising possibilities thus leading to change in the consumption habits. This is evident both directly (food consumption/demand) and indirectly (health indicators, indicators of malnutrition, incidence of diet-related diseases like obesity, cancer, diabetes, etc.)
Income Growth & Distribution
As the average income grows of the nation, nutrition rich food becomes more accessible to more number of people. However, income growth can also lead to greater demand for animal source foods, which might stress the food system by putting more demands on land and water resources, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report 2019, even as the Indian economy has grown over the last two decades, the growth has been more unequal in the country than in most other parts of the world. The data shows that income inequality based on the top 10 percent’s income share has risen since 1980 in most regions but at different rates. Thus, majority of people in the country may not have equal access to healthy foods because of this increased income inequality. Also, the rising incomes of the top 1 percent of earners in the country can also lead people to buy more unhealthy foods, such as sodas and highly-processed, packaged foods.
In 2050, most of the world’s population (68%) is expected to live in urban areas. A report published by UN predicts that by 2050, the urban population in India will have increased to 87.7 million (60% of the total population) and the rural population will account for 78.3 million people.
As in most countries, India's urban areas make a major contribution to the country's economy. Indian cities contribute to about 2/3 of the economic output, host a growing share of the population and are the main recipients of FDI and the originators of food innovation and technology, mainly because of the increased need for processing, packaging, and refrigeration, and more food losses. India's towns and cities have expanded rapidly as increasing numbers migrate to towns and cities in search of economic opportunity. However, the recent reverse migrations due to COVID-19 pandemic has put forth a challenging situation for the entire world.
Urbanization provides easier access to all foods, including more processed foods through street vendors, small shops and supermarkets. However, with the growing demand for convenience foods, the urbanization can lead to food deserts and swamps. Due to increased number of fast food outlets and food swamps with plenty of high calorie and low-nutrient processed foods are outnumbering outlets that provide healthy food options.
Increased attention is being placed on the way that linkages between cities and rural areas can be leveraged to revitalize rural economies and increase access to healthy diets for both urban and rural populations.
Population growth & Migration
As per a recent UN report, by 2027, India is projected to surpass China as the world's most populous country and is expected to add nearly 273 million people between 2019 to 2050. Further, India will remain the most populated country through the end of the current century. This, increase in population will put more stress on the current food system.
Similarly, due to factors like rural-urban wage differences and an increase in the demand for labor in urban areas has pushed up the migration. This phenomenon has been projected to add 300 million new urban residents by 2050 according to a UN report. Thus generating a need to build climate-friendly cities to address the challenge of accommodating the needs of the growing population. However, the recent reverse migrations due to COVID-19 pandemic has put forth a challenging situation for the entire world.
Politics & Leadership
India accounts for 16.7 per cent of the world’s food consumers. From growing 50 million tonnes in 1950-51 to about 250 million tonnes in 2014-15, the country has moved away from dependence on food aid to become a net food exporter. The government launched a number of programmes in 2016 with an aim to remove bottlenecks and double the farmers’ incomes by 2022. Few of the policies include, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), the National Food Security Mission, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, and Integrated Schemes on Oilseeds, Pulses, Palm oil and Maize (ISOPOM), as well as a massive irrigation and soil and water harvesting programme to increase the country’s gross irrigated area. The government also launched e-marketplace (eNAM) for online trading platform for agricultural commodities in India.
However, India has spent the last 50 years combating hunger by boosting its production of staple crops like wheat, rice and maize. Now the country is struggling with chronic malnutrition and child stunting. The government has also taken significant steps to combat under- and malnutrition over the past two decades, such as through the introduction of subsidised grain for those living below the poverty line through a public distribution system, anganwadi systems to provide rations to pregnant and lactating mothers, and mid-day meals at schools. The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, aims to ensure food and nutrition security for the most vulnerable through its associated schemes and programmes, making access to food a legal right.
However, we as a nation still has a long way to go. Such as policies to make micronutrient-rich crops like legumes, leafy green vegetables, fruit and other vitamin-rich foods more accessible and affordable. A crop-neutral policy that include investments in market infrastructure, credit facilities and the availability of inputs such as fertilizers and advanced technologies for smart farming. Moreover there is a need for better market system, from more paved roads and cold-storage systems to cell phones and other telecommunications networks to more effectively communicate market signals to farmers. Subsidized distribution of more nutritious foods, such as beans, millet, and lentils to the poor can also be considered. Moreover, tax policies discouraging the consumption of eating unhealthy foods like soda and highly-processed, packaged foods is also needed.
All the regional as well as national policies on agriculture, nutrition, and trade can have a great impact on creating a sustainable food system.
Food plays multiple roles in Indian society. From the earliest Vedic period to contemporary times, food has remained at the heart of Indian ritual practice by maintaining common etiquette, social behavior and theological speculation. However, it is observed that notion towards food in India has been changing two aspects i.e. culinary changes and modes of public dining. The regional cuisine is also changing as the fast food is crystallizing out of familiar regional preparation.
With changing lifestyle and growing knowledge, people are aware of the excess of consumerism and waste. Strong cultural ties to traditional foods and meal practices could work to prevent the shift to diets high in highly-processed foods and reliance on fast food.
What are the
Outcomes of Food Systems?
All the aspects of a food system discussed above have a direct or indirect influence on diet. According to WHO, a healthy diet starts early in life and includes a diversity of foods — vegetables, fruits, legumes, starchy staples, and foods from animals, like meat and dairy. A well balanced diet limits fat, added sugar, salt, highly-processed foods, and sugar sweetened beverages as well as the diseases and health issues associated with them.
However, throughout the world, people still do not have access to nutrient-rich foods and adequate calories, resulting in hunger and micronutrient deficiencies. Moreover, rising incomes and changing lifestyles have also contributed to people eating more unhealthy foods, like highly-processed foods and sugar sweetened beverages. Researchers, policy makers, and consumers are also increasingly focused on the environmental sustainability of diets which has a major impacts on the use and degradation of land and water resources, as well as on greenhouse gas emissions.
Nutrition And Health Outcomes
Unhealthy diets are a leading risk factor for disease and undernutrition and are a main risk factors for deaths globally. Nutritionally-vulnerable populations like children and women are especially susceptible to poor health outcomes from these deficiencies like overweight, obesity, and non-communicable diseases, like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Food safety, antimicrobial resistance, and pesticide usage in food system and diets high in sodium and low in whole grains, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and omega3-fatty acids contribute to an increased risk of death.
Different types of food production have varying environmental impacts. Research have reported that global food production uses approximately 50% of habitable land and accounts for 19-29% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which exacerbates climate change.
Intensive agriculture requires more fertilizer and pesticide use. In addition, the practice of mono-cropping and cash crop production are leading to biodiversity loss, soil degradation and a food system that is less resilient to droughts or other extreme weather events. Producing ruminant meat (e.g. beef, lamb) and dairy can also be environmentally damaging in many contexts and depending on the method of production.
Agriculture is a major contributor to the economies like India contributing to majority of employment. Changes in food systems and shifts in dietary patterns can have large economic effects on farmers, retail owners, and consumers. For instance, support for export in the industries may contribute to an increased production of cash crops while allowing in imported food products leads to more competition for smallholder farmers and reduce the production of domestic staples. These trades can also lead to more investment in the food industry and technology sector creating new jobs.
A well-managed food systems can play an important role in societal well-being by ensuring that all members of society have equitable access to a healthy diet. They can also guarantee that food system workers have well-paying jobs and safe working conditions. Sustainable food systems help promote community health, labor rights, gender equality, animal rights and measures to save the planets.
How can we build a
Sustainable Food Systems in India?
Despite the big increase in world food production, there are still more than 800 million people who are chronically malnourished, 33% of the total food is lost and wasted, and there is a need of 6,900 billion m3 /year water by 2030. Added to that, this growth in production has been accompanied by growing pressure on the environment. Understanding of the fact that the present food system is unsustainable is gradually increasing among scientists, institutions, businesses, policy makers, and citizens. Therefore, developing appropriate strategies to reduce food loss and waste, need for safer and sustainable packaging, reduced water use in food processing and healthy and sustainable urban food system are some of the most important issues related to sustainable development. A judicious use of resources can help find solutions that will provide the world’s growing population with a sufficient supply of healthy food within the environmental limits.
Sustainable Food System is a food system which ensures nutritious food for all without compromising the food needs of future generations. It is comprising of three pillars which are as follow:
- Economic Sustainability: Generate jobs/incomes and profits
- Social sustainability: Nutritious and healthy food for all population
- Environmental sustainability: Reduction in carbon footprint, water footprint and food losses, improvement in soil and plant health
Rural Food System
The global rural population is now close to 3.4 billion and is expected to rise slightly and then decline to 3.1 billion by 2050. Africa and Asia are home to nearly 90% of the world’s rural population in 2018. According to UN (2018), India has the largest rural population (893 million), followed by China (578 million). Rural Food System consist of diverse local food systems that provide the foundations of rural people’s nutrition, incomes, economies and culture. In rural India local food system is predominately food production system (farming) where farmers are growing food that is locally acceptable by utilizing the local available resources. Much of grown food is consumed at the household level and small surpluses sold in the local markets. In this way each link in the food chain offers economic niches for many more people such as millers, carpenters, iron workers and mechanics, local milk processors, bakers, small shopkeepers etc. The livelihoods and incomes of a huge number of rural dwellers are thus dependent on the local manufacture of farm inputs and on the local storage, processing, distribution, sale and preparation of food (Pimbert, 2005).
Urban Food System
The world is experiencing unprecedented urban growth. Today, over half of the global population is urban and by 2050 an additional 2.5 billion people are expected to live in urban areas. According to census 2011, Level of urbanization increased from 27.81% in 2001 Census to 31.16% in 2011 Census. Indian urban population was estimated at 37.7 crores in 2011.
An urban food system can be conceptualized as “a set of activities ranging from production through to consumption. These activities include production, processing and packaging and distribution, retailing and consumption. Distribution and retailing are particularly important parts of urban food systems; they include “all activities involved in moving the food from one place to another and marketing it”. It is important to note that food in urban areas is overwhelmingly purchased rather than produced by households. The final set of activities in urban food systems relate to the consumption of food, which includes “everything from deciding what to select through to preparing, eating and digesting food”.
A well-functioning urban food system can be regarded as one that ensures a high level of food security to residents, while simultaneously contributing to sustainable social and economic development. Food security can be defined as being when “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 2009: 1). Food Safety and Standards authority of India (FSSAI) is the statutory body under Central Government which ensures food safety in India.
Poor urban dwellers face unique nutritional challenges around accessing nutritious food, adequate employment, social protection, and adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, all of which affect food security and nutrition. With rapid urbanization and globalization, people’s daily diets are changing:
- Urban populations tend to consume more calories, yet a lower proportion of these calories comes from cereals or carbohydrates and more comes from fat.
- Urban populations consume more meat and other protein, or consume different animal protein sources than rural counterparts, but less dairy.
- They also consume more fruits and vegetables overall, though consumption of these food groups differs between richer and poorer urban populations.
- Urban dwellers consume more non-basic foods, including sugary snacks among children, food away from home, and processed foods.
IFPRI report, found that 66% of households consume packaged snacks high in fat, with two-thirds consuming these daily. With more people adopting ‘urban diets’, there have been some changes in the food supply chain also. For instance, the move away from staples such as rice and wheat to vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat and fish requires more infrastructure such as cold storage, etc. There is also a growing preference for retail supermarkets over traditional markets among urban consumers.
Inadequacies of Rural and Urban Food System
Rural food system is characterized by food production system, but in today’s time farming is losing its charm and is no longer a family pursuit. It has become more and more dependent on external inputs like seeds, water, pesticides etc. Excessive use of pesticides and ground water for increasing crop yield resulted in degradation of environment and depletion of water resources. It is estimated that agriculture alone accounts for roughly 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawals and causes water pollution. Food Production system is also a major contributor of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. According to FAO report, at present food systems are responsible for a significant share (20-35 percent) of greenhouse gas emissions.
Urban food system in India is now facing with the twin-burden of under- and over nutrition. Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS), a cross-sectional, household survey covering more than 1,10,000 children and adolescents (0-19 years) in both urban and rural areas across all 30 states of India showed that 35% of children under the age of five are stunted (low height-for-age) and 17% are wasted (low weight-for-height), whereas in school going children (5-9 years) 22% are stunted and 4% were overweight or obese. In India, rapid increase in urbanization led to changes in the dietary patterns. Now people in cities are moving from plant-based diets to diets with a higher proportion of energy from animal-source foods, added sugars and fats which is a major cause of diet related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. CNNS report (2019) revealed that around 10% of children in the age group of 5 to 9 years and adolescents in the age group 10 to 19 years are pre-diabetic and 5% suffered from blood pressure.
Approaches for Making Healthy and Sustainable Urban Food System
Government has an important role to play in creating healthy public policies and supportive environments to facilitate access to safe, affordable, nutritious food. Urgent and coordinated action is required to support government to make food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient to price volatility, weather shocks and climate change in times of rapid urbanization. In order to tackle the menace like malnutrition and other nutrient related diseases Government of India has started various national schemes including rural and urban development which are listed below:
- Targeted public distribution system (TPDS) - Food distribution system providing subsidized ration to people belonging in BPL category both in rural and urban areas.
- Mid-day meal scheme (MDM) - Established to provide hot cooked meal to primary school children in schools run by various government bodies to ensure both nutrition of children and attendance in school.
- ICDS- Started in 1975 under Ministry of Women and Child Development, it provides supplementary food, vaccination, primary education, health facilities to children below 6 years and pregnant, lactating women and adolescent girls. Anganwadi centres are established to provide education, supplementary food to its beneficiaries in both rural and urban areas.
- Poshan Abhiyaan- Poshan Abhiyaan is India’s flagship programme to improve nutritional outcome for children and other beneficiaries by leveraging technology, a targeted approach and convergence.
- 'Eat Right India', started by FSSAI, built on three broad pillars of 'Eat Healthy,' 'Eat Safe' and ‘Eat Sustainable’, aims to engage, excite and enable citizens to improve their health and wellbeing. It is a collective effort to make both the demand and supply-side interventions through the engagement of key stakeholders. The movement provides citizens with information like their nutrient requirements, what to eat, when to eat, and how to lower the intake of sugar, salt and fat.
- FSSAI established a Food Fortification Resource Centre (FFRC), as a 'resource hub' to promote fortification of food as part of its mandate to assure "safe and wholesome food" to all.
Approaches for Making Healthy and Sustainable Rural Food System
In order to make Rural Food System more sustainable Government of India is taking various steps such as:
- Improving connectivity and marketing infrastructure in rural areas.
- Linking farms to markets through contract farming.
- Diversification out of staple grains towards high-value agriculture (fruits, vegetables, livestock)
- Increasing access to technology adoption for sustainable intensification
- Making agriculture production systems climate-smart
Apart from Government policies and schemes an individual can also contribute for maintaining the sustainability of food system by adopting a sustainable healthy diet.