First report from IPES-Food: Who shapes food systems, and who has a say in how they are reformed?

(20.05.2015) Who holds the power to shape food systems, and who sets the terms of debate when it comes to reforming them? These were the questions asked by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, IPES-Food, as it launched its first report.

“We need to look at food systems through a new lens,” said the co-chairs of IPES-Food: Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, and ex-UNICEF nutrition expert Olivia Yambi. “This lens must be wide enough to consider questions like impacts on health and nutrition, environmental degradation and small-scale farmers’ livelihoods simultaneously, as the component parts of wider systemic problems.”

Olivier De Schutter added: “This lens must also bring to light the power imbalances running through these systems. For decades, incentives to increase production of bulk commodities for export have gone hand in hand with trade liberalization. These approaches have reinforced the economic power of dominant actors, and those actors have used this power to exercise an ever-greater influence on decision-making.”

“As a result, current pathways are locked in, and the reforms that are needed are locked out. This is the political economy of food systems, and it must be brought to light.”

The report, entitled The New Science of Sustainable Food Systems: Overcoming Barriers to Food Systems Reform, makes the case for reaching beyond the traditional bounds of the scientific community in conducting this analysis.

“Olivia Yambi said: “For too long those most affected by the problems in food systems have been overlooked in framing the questions we ask about these systems.” She added: “Farmers, fishers, food workers, consumer groups and many others hold knowledge that scientists do not. Leaving out these actors in the science-policy process leaves untapped the knowledge they possess, and the transformative potential it holds.”

IPES-Food also set out its vision to work with other initiatives to unify food governance spaces, to promote a holistic food systems analysis, and to seek leverage points for change across food systems.

Read the executive summary

Read the full report