Introduction 

To achieve the Goals, food systems are essential to human and environmental well-being. Sadly, the food system can also pose a lot of challenges to humanity, including illness, inequality, and environmental degradation. Dealing with these challenges requires a deep understanding of the ongoing situation. The newly published report “The Food Systems Countdown” offers an of the state of the food systems globally in 2023. This summary article tries to highlight the main findings of the report and what can be done better in the future.  

What is the Food Systems Countdown?  

The Food Systems Countdown Initiative is an interdisciplinary partnership of scientists. By tracking indicators, the end purpose is to enable evidence-based policymaking and accountability for crucial food system reform.  

The Countdown framework could potentially serve for:  

  • monitoring of food systems  
  • Racking of UNFSS commitments  
  • Development of national monitoring systems 

After a systematic analysis, five categories that address the drawbacks and advantages of food systems were identified by the Countdown framework: 1) diets, nutrition, and health; (2) , natural resources, and production; and (3) livelihoods, poverty, and equity—and two cross-cutting areas focus on (4) governance and (5) resilience. (Figure 1 )

food systems
Figure 1: Countdown themes and indicator . Outer shapes refer to cross-cutting themes. Interior circles refer to long-term outcomes. Source: Food Systems Countdown Initiative, 2023 

Methodology for the selection of countdown food systems indicators  
 

The following methodology was used to identify 50 indicators, meant to describe the state of global food systems:  

  1. Stakeholders participated in selecting indicators during a multistage screening process.  
  1. Potential indicators passing the first screening were assessed for relevance, high , interpretability, and usefulness through an online survey.  
  1. Scores from the survey were used to identify the final indicators, which were assembled in a comprehensive dataset. 

Global Food Systems in 50 Indicators  

The final selected 50 indicators aim to summarize the current state of food systems across five themes. These include well-established ones like greenhouse gas emissions and hunger prevalence, as well as others. While some food system goals are context-specific, others are ubiquitous across all. Furthermore, to make informed decisions, it is important to consider the local context when using Countdown results. The sub-chapters below offer an overview of the indicators according to the theme they belong to. To check the full list of indicators read the full report “The Food Systems Countdown”.

Diets, nutrition, and health  

Global inequality in access to healthy diets is evident. Low- and middle-income countries frequently lack an adequate supply of nutritious foods. For , whereas the global median vegetable availability is 210 grams per person per day, low-income countries people can only access 128 grams on average. This issue is especially significant in many countries, where more than 95% of the people cannot afford a balanced diet. It is to address this imbalance as soon as possible so that everyone has access to nutritious foods. 

Environment, natural resources, and production  

Despite global pledges to lower them, food system emissions continue to rise. Less than two-thirds of agricultural lands in 20 countries have adequate ecosystem integrity for essential activities like crop pollination, , and soil conservation. This highlights the need for improved protection and incentives to preserve native ecosystems and biodiversity, which are crucial for future food systems. 

Livelihoods, poverty, and equity  

There are huge disparities in food system-based livelihoods. Unemployment is frequent in cities, but more prevalent in rural areas where agriculture is the primary source of income. protection provide a net for food system workers; nevertheless, coverage varies widely, with less than 10% in 24 countries and more than 90% in three. Finally, data on land access show that there is still a long way to go in terms of empowering women in and out of agriculture: only four nations have nearly equal land ownership between men and women. 

Governance  

Food system-related governance indicators show considerable variation across regions and income groups. For instance, only 29 countries formally acknowledge the right to food, and several high-income countries lack this recognition. Health-related food taxes are implemented in just 38 countries across all continents and income groups. This diversity suggests that any country, regardless of region or income group, can enhance food systems through improved food-specific governance.  

Resilience 

Countdown resilience indicators reveal significant disparities across countries in terms of the impact of shocks on food systems and their . These indicators emphasize response capacity. For instance, mobile phone infrastructure, which facilitates information sharing for shock preparedness and response, is now nearly universal. However, species diversity and genetic resource conservation are highly uneven. Most countries fall short in agricultural biodiversity, with only 14% of agricultural land globally reaching a minimum species diversity level. Similarly, most countries have a limited capacity to enhance future diversity through conserved genetic resources. 

Food systems indicators and variations across regions 

Indicators scores show substantial differences according to the regions. In general, food systems show strong regional patterns, with Northern America, Europe, and Eastern Asia having more favorable outcomes. Sub-Saharan and Southern Asia, instead, have lower status on most indices. These patterns highlight the potential benefits of regional collaboration in addressing common concerns.  Additionally, there is a need for a food systems-specific approach to monitoring, as the problems and strengths of each country's food system cannot be overlooked. Figure 2 shows regional differences, taking the theme “diets, nutrition, and health” as an example. To learn more about the state of food systems in the European Union, read the following article:

On the European Food Chain

Finally, it is important to note that data gaps exist and data availability for the chosen indicators varies across countries and over time.  Countries with fewer available indicators are typically small island nations, very small high-income countries, and countries recently affected by . Filling these critical data gaps is essential for monitoring global food systems and guiding transformative actions to support global goals. 

Figure 2: Regional patterns in selected Countdown food systems indicators for “Diets, nutrition, and health”; Bars show regional deviation from the global average in either a more desirable (rightward) or less desirable (leftward) direction. Source: Food Systems Countdown Initiative, 2023  

Conclusion  

The urgent reform of food systems is critical for long-term development and human health. Reliable, and easily accessible data and analysis may drive informed decisions and ensure accountability. The Countdown's baseline data reveals important insights:  

  • No country manages to deliver positive outcomes for all dimensions.  
  • Within income groups, some countries do better than others, which could mean potential cross-country opportunities.  
  • Performance varies deeply globally; food systems should urgently become more equitable.  
  • Data gaps should be addressed to improve the tracking of food systems.  

Source 

  • Food Systems Countdown Initiative. 2023. The food systems countdown report 2023: The state of food systems worldwide. New York: Columbia University; Ithaca: Cornell University; Rome: Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO); Geneva: Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). https://doi.org/10.36072/fsci2023.  
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