Demystifying A Food Systems Approach: Tools to Turn Theory to Action
Poor diets contribute to malnutrition in all its forms and are the leading risk factor for death globally. A healthy diet, when complemented with good health, can help improve the nutritional status of all members of a community, including women and children.
We know that having a healthy diet is unlikely in the absence of nutritious and sustainable food systems, and there is growing interest in how food systems can be redesigned to deliver better diets. While we understand what practitioners and decision-makers should be doing to strengthen food systems programs and policies for nutrition, the guidance on how to make these changes through effective programs and policies is limited.
USAID’s Food Systems Activities and Resources
At USAID, the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security improves nutrition across the food system to ensure households can access, afford and eat safe, nutritious foods all year, especially for pregnant women, infants and young children.
USAID developed a food systems conceptual framework to articulate our approach to strengthening food systems. While the conceptual framework helps with the what, additional tools can help understand how.
To better understand entry points for nutrition in the food system, USAID measures and analyzes the food environment, drivers of consumer demand and factors impacting food safety. Evidence-based, analytic tools allow us to identify key investments to drive positive food system transformation. For example, new tools can better collect and measure diet quality — particularly in low-resource settings — to inform policies, design interventions and programs, and improve nutrition and health outcomes.
USAID Advancing Nutrition, the Agency’s flagship, multisectoral nutrition activity, supports USAID’s food system work by:
Measuring components of the food environment to improve diet quality
Engaging the private sector and policy makers to strengthen food systems for nutrition
Strengthening governments’ capacity for effective programming
Aligning stakeholders’ visions around food systems
Translating evidence into recommended actions
Food Systems Toolkit
USAID and USAID Advancing Nutrition curated a focused set of tools to support USAID Missions and partners in putting a food systems approach into action. The toolkit includes resources that provide practical guidance on how to design, implement and measure concrete activities to help improve diets and nutrition through food systems. This collection presents tools that are relevant across many countries and program contexts and could serve as a resource for a range of practitioners and decision-makers.
These tools support implementation of a food systems approach by:
Presenting evidence-based examples of policy actions that improve the availability, affordability, acceptability and safety of nutritious foods.
Helping visualize data to holistically assess components of the food system. Tools such as the Food System Dashboard enable food system stakeholders to identify and prioritize ways to sustainably improve diets and nutrition in their food systems and track progress to know if policies or other interventions are achieving desired outcomes.
Suggesting standardized indicators and tools that food systems practitioners can use to improve the affordability, access to and consumption of safe, nutritious foods.
Supporting a more holistic approach to programming and policymaking. For example, The Integral Role of Food Safety in Strengthening Food Systems brief outlines how Missions can incorporate food safety into planning and programming, and the Designing Effective Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture Activities Facilitator’s Guide supports activity teams in integrating nutrition interventions into their existing agriculture and economic growth activities.
We will assess the collection quarterly and add any new tools that are essential references for applying a food systems approach. Have a tool to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.