Sustainable food systems: What it means for CIAT research

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Mark Lundy is the Leader of Sustainable Food Systems at CIAT

It is big and involves so many processes and actors. Some would even say it’s scary.

I’m talking about the food system, or the movement of food from cultivation of crops to disposal of food scraps.

“It’s everything and it’s nothing. But the important thing about the food system as a concept and as a tool is it allows us to connect things,” said Mark Lundy, leader of Sustainable Food Systems program at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), during the #CIAT50 celebrations at the center’s headquarters in Cali, Colombia.

At CIAT, Lundy is leading efforts to define a sustainable food systems approach, particularly the focus areas of research.

CIAT characterizes sustainable food systems as food systems that “aim at achieving food and nutrition security and healthy diets while limiting negative environmental impacts and improving socio-economic welfare,” and “are therefore protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as human well-being and social equity.”

For Lundy, any research around food systems needs to benefit the greater majority of producers and consumers, who are “principally the poor.” It also needs to take into account issues relating to sustainability — the environment, the climate and genetic diversity, among others.

Lundy noted four emerging topics on sustainable food systems that CIAT should consider exploring:

  • Inclusion. How can CIAT work to develop or support food systems that can bring opportunities for less well-off women and men that are part of those food systems?
  • Resilience. How can CIAT work to promote food systems that can respond well to shocks such as drastic price fluctuations or major weather events like floods and droughts, and also be resilient to changes to the climate, demographics and diets?
  • Sustainability. How can CIAT work to foster food systems that provide incentives for better land, energy and water use?
  • Healthy diets. How can CIAT work to build food systems that provide incentives so people can have access to affordable, diverse food that enables them to have better, healthier diets?

According to Lundy, the biggest challenge would be to explore these topics altogether and measure them. It requires collaboration across disciplines, say between scientists working on biodiversity and those focused on climate change.

“We can’t solve or understand the food system from only one discipline,” he said. “So the challenge is how … we build those bridges and the incentives to apply multiple lenses in a collaborative fashion to the food system.”

Blog post by Ma. Eliza Villarino

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