Food systems

Understanding food systems - A holistic approach

A “food systems approach” starts from the realisation that there are synergies and trade-offs between the different expectations we have of food systems – e.g. food security and nutrition; livelihoods; environmental sustainability.

Effective policy solutions consider spill overs between these domains, to avoid unwanted outcomes (in the case of trade-offs) and to maximise their positive impact (in the case of synergies). But in many policy areas related to food systems, policies have long been made without taking into account such spill over effects.

A food systems approach points to a broader set of objectives, but also a broader set of policy instruments. One example is the possibility of using a shift in consumption patterns as an instrument to improve not only nutritional outcomes but also environmental sustainability.

Ideally, policies should be coherent across the dimensions of the triple challenge: that is, aligned so that they strengthen each other, or at least do not counteract each other. This would involve taking into account all relevant synergies and trade-offs between all policy objectives and across all possible policy instruments – which might prove difficult and costly in practice. Fortunately, a number of design principles can help to simplify the task of making coherent policies for food systems.

OECD data and analysis can help inform the design of such coherent policies.