Concepts and Practices

Do not Transform Food Systems on the backs of the Rural Poor

Even prior to COVID, there was a considerable push for food system transformation to achieve better nutrition and health as well as environmental and climate change outcomes. Recent years have seen a large number of high visibility and influential publications on food system transformation. Literature is emerging questioning the utility and scope of these analyses, particularly in terms of trade-offs among multiple objectives. We build on these critiques of emerging food system transformation approaches in our review of four recent and influential publications from the EAT-Lancet Commission, the IPCC, the World Resources Institute and the Food and Land Use Coalition. We argue that a major problem is the lack of explicit inclusion of the livelihoods of poor rural people in their modeling approaches and insufficient measures to ensure that the nature and scale of the envisioned changes will improve these livelihoods. Unless livelihoods and socioeconomic inclusion more broadly are brought to the center of such approaches, we very much risk transforming food systems to reach environmental and nutritional objectives on the backs of the rural poor.