BRIEFING | Smoke & Mirrors



There’s a battle of ideas over the future of food systems.


In the second of our briefing notes on food systems governance, IPES-Food analyzes three concepts, ‘agroecology’, ‘nature-based solutions’, and ‘regenerative agriculture’, which are competing for attention. But, while often grouped together, they can imply very different things. 

  • ‘Nature-based solutions’ are rapidly gaining traction in international summits. But the concept lacks an agreed definition and a transformative vision. And it is often bundled with risky, unproven carbon offsetting schemes. The result is dilution of food system transformation. 
  • ‘Regenerative agriculture’ is less prominent in policy spaces. Sustainable food system actors use it to emphasize regenerating natural resources. However leading agrifood businesses (including Walmart, Pepsi and Cargill) are in some cases invoking ‘regenerative agriculture’ in their corporate sustainability schemes, often in conjunction with carbon offsetting schemes, stripped of social justice dimensions.
  • ‘Agroecology’, a more comprehensive pathway towards food system sustainability, has been clearly defined through inclusive governance processes. But despite its conceptual maturity, it is sidelined in food systems, climate and biodiversity summits.

IPES-Food calls to reject solutions that lack definitions, exploit ambiguity and mask agribusiness as usual. Getting food systems on the global agenda isn’t enough: we must ensure inclusive global processes based on a shared understanding of food system transformation and a comprehensive (socially and environmentally) sustainable food system vision. 


Read the briefing note ( EN | FR | ES )


Read the IPES-Food and Institute of Development Studies background studyEN )


This is the second of a series of briefings on global governance of food systems. 

“Rapidly transitioning to more sustainable and resilient food systems is vital if we are to limit global warming and prevent mass crop failures. Yet in our study of international negotiations, undefined terms like ‘nature-based solutions’ are being deployed to keep the focus on vague aspirations – it’s really just another form of greenwashing. True food system solutions emerge through global, deliberative, democratic processes, and agroecology is the best solution that meets that criteria.”
Molly Anderson, IPES-Food expert and Chair in Food Studies at Middlebury College  


“ There’s a battle of ideas over the future of food systems. Very loose terms like ‘nature-based solutions’ are being bandied about in international summits without clear definitions, and they’re open to being mobilized in the interests of all kinds of agendas. At worst they are a cover for green grabs that undermine people's rights and threaten the land and resources they depend on. COP27 must be really careful about the use of these ambiguous terms and reject solutions that are not clearly defined.”
Melissa Leach, IPES-Food expert and Director of the Institute of Development Studies