Screenshot of the panel discussion. Image: S Kumar, ICRISAT

Monitoring and evaluation key steps for food system transformations

Screenshot of the panel discussion. Image: S Kumar, ICRISAT

Screenshot of the panel discussion. Image: S Kumar, ICRISAT

Monitoring and tracking of the key drivers as well as the outcomes of food systems transformation is critical for the transformation to be sustainable and inclusive. Due to close linkages among sectors, the risk levels on both supply and consumption sides also need to be evaluated. This message was delivered during an Independent Food Systems Dialogue last week in the run up to the UN Food Systems Summit.

Dr Shalander Kumar, Principal Scientist and Agricultural Economist, ICRISAT, emphasized the importance of monitoring and evaluating a) drivers of agri-food systems transformation – e.g. carbon footprint and natural resource footprints across stages of the food value chain and b) outcomes of the transformation – e.g. improved and equitable access to nutritious and diverse foods, reduced food wastage etc.

“Although generally the focus is greater on the production stages, we, at ICRISAT, use ex-ante assessments and systems modeling tools to understand vulnerability and risk across all the different stages of the value chains,” he said. “We use foresight analysis to understand future impacts of innovations and policies.”

Explaining how ICRISAT’s longitudinal studies on farm households since 1975 has helped track some key elements of food systems in India, Dr Shalander explained that, going forward, appropriately framed and wider longitudinal studies could be an effective tool to track progress on food systems transformations.

“Through case studies using dynamic and economic modeling we try to understand the causal mechanisms, and feedback loops of various current practices and policies,” said Dr Shalander. “We map personal and external food environments to understand how various policies and interventions impact availability, accessibility, affordability, desirability and quality of the food, and also looking at a multidimensional assessment of farm sustainability.”

Mentioning the current gaps in understanding, he said, “There is a need for greater interaction among experts/academia, governments and the private sector to integrate monitoring at different stages of the food value chains in real time through digital tools. Information on benchmarking, monitoring and tracking progress would not only help governments prioritize their actions but may help build demand from consumers for the industry to follow and supply food products that align with system transformation goals. It would help inform multilateral agreements so that their actions also align with the same goals, contributing to multiple SDGs. Monitoring is also needed to promote green investments across value chains and to inform banks to integrate such criteria into their investment decisions.”

Dr Shalander also recommended incentives to promote digital technologies for greater awareness and felt that generating and sharing data transparently should become a norm for food value chain actors. He advocated more information of the tradeoffs available to evaluate the options of agro-ecological intensification approaches considering whole value chain and food systems perspective.

Other panelist at the discussion were Drs Maximo Torrero, FAO; Barend Erasmus, University of Pretoria; Nicole Blackstone, Tufts University; and Ken Strzepek, MIT. Prof Sheryl Hendriks, University of Pretoria, moderated the discussion.

The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021 is part of the ‘Decade of Action’ to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It has been accepted that harnessing innovation, science and technology is key to meeting the aspiration of sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems.

Consequently, the UN has established a Scientific Group for the UN Food Systems Summit which organized the “Science Days for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021”, facilitated and hosted by FAO on 08-09 July 2021. In the lead-up to Science Days and the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, the side-events on 5-7 July offered an opportunity for partners to present their insights on science, technologies and innovations that can drive food systems transformation.

The event mentioned in this article, the talk: Monitoring and Evaluation for Food Systems Transformation, was held on 7 July 2021 for the Independent Food Systems Dialogue and UN Food Systems Summit Science Day Side Event hosted by the Alliance for Climate and Food Systems Transformation, MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Water & Food Systems Lab, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and University of Pretoria.

Reported by:

Ms Rajani Kumar, Sr Communications Officer

With inputs from

Dr Shalander Kumar, Principal Scientist and Agricultural Economist, ICRISAT.

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