SE042 Road Testing Healthy Diets: Perspectives from the Global South: Examining the Global South's role in sustainable food system transformation with insights from the EAT Lancet report and WEF's Food Systems Dialogues


  • International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
  • International Potato Center (CIP)
  • HarvestPlus
  • International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
  • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH)
  • IInternational Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • Hivos

This session will examine the EAT Lancet recommendations from a low- and middle-income country perspective, where most food is still grown by small-scale producers, where hunger and undernutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, are still highly prevalent but where intensification of food production is beginning to gain ground. With the intensification of food production, and the percentage of overweight and obese people rising, the adaptation of EAT Lancet's Healthy Reference Diet for specific production environment's and the use of subsidies and disincentives to drive rapid change will be key. The session will touch upon the following aspects of food system transformation:

SUSTAINABLE SYSTEMS: Soil, water and land conservation and restoration, sustainable increase of productivity and diversification of farm production which ensure availability and accessibility of diverse nutritious foods. CROP CHOICE: The balance between grain crops and root and tuber crops as major energy sources is driven by yield potential in specific environments, especially when landholding size per capita declines.

IMPROVED FARM INPUTS: Productive, nutritious and climate-smart crops and animals, and better farming knowledge and techniques that need to be developed through participative approaches, as well as increasing access to reliable farm input and services.

RESPONSIVE MARKETS: The promotion of technologies and practices that reduce post-production losses, sustainable business development and employment opportunities and provide nutritious, safe food with traceable quality elements. The approaches also examine innovative ways of engaging cooperatives and commercial associations to support optimal responsiveness of markets.

DIET DIVERSIFICATION: Changing behaviors for the large-scale adoption of healthy foods through targeted nutrition education and availability of improved crops as low- and middle-income countries increasingly become part of the global food system. Lessons will be drawn from the experiences of high-income countries to support the development of food-based dietary guidelines in developing countries.

FOOD POLICY: The development of catalyzing policies and regulations by governments in supporting markets for more nutritious foods with adequate linkages within the food system enhancing synergies for improved nutrition and health outcomes.

Key speakers/presenters

  • DR. SARA MBAGO-BHUNU - Regional Director East and Southern Africa, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
  • DR. COVIC NAMUKOLO - Senior Research Coordinator, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • DR. IAN BARKER - Global Program Leader Potato Agri-Food Systems – International Potato Center (CIP)
  • DR. JEAN BALIE - Agri-food Policy Platform Leader, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
  • DR. IAIN WRIGHT - Deputy Director General for Research and Development, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • DR. EKIN BIROL - Director of Impact and Strategy, HarvestPlus
  • NOUT VAN DER VAART - Advocacy Officer Sustainable Food, Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (Hivos)

Main themes/issues discussed  

We sought to answer the question: What does it take to create a healthy plate—for the developing world—based on sustainable food systems? 

Discussions were informed by recommendations from the  influential EAT Lancet report on sustainable and healthy diets  as well as 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report (SOFI 2019) and the Voluntary Guidelines on Nutrition. Progress in addressing malnutrition has been too slow to achieve the 2025 Global Health Assembly and 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 2) targets. With this in mind, speakers shared a range of perspectives and evidence-based approaches that could help transform food systems to deliver better nutrition in the Global South.  


  • Nutrition-smart agricultural interventions with a focus on the low-hanging fruits (in terms of sustainable and inclusive technologies and interventions) that are ready to scale and can have significant impact, cost-effectively.
  • Animal source foods in healthy diets in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Root and tuber crops and bananas in the food system transformation are needed to improve nutrition and drive a more sustainable future.
  • Starchy staples as a mainstay of Global South diets and an entry point to diet diversification
  • Policy incentives for desired changes in order to transform food systems and place the Global South on a level-playing field.

Summary of key points 

  • In the quest for healthier diets, equal treatment is not what is always needed.  
  • Root and tuber crops are naturally nutritious and could contribute towards balanced diets.  These crops – potato and sweet potato - have a short growing cycle and can address the hunger gap for food insecure households. 
  • Animal-source foods —meat, milk, eggs and fish provide micronutrients and must be recognized as critical to healthy diets and livelihoods in Global South communities. 
  • Biofortification is one technology that is ready to scale up. It’s cost-effective and efficacious for improving diet quality.  Policy and regulatory assessments should be made based on current technologies and needs in the Global South
  • Significant opportunities exist to intensify smallholder agriculture to meet increasing demand – this is not being leveraged. 
  • Adoption of a multi stakeholder approach ensures quick gains and more success.
  • Policies should focus on better food for all. This means a shift from a focus on agricultural policy (producer-centred) to food policy (consumer-centred). Trade-offs exists to supply more food to feed a growing population, increase prosperity in rural areas, achieve food production and consumption sustainability, and deliver nutritious and safe foods. 
  • Evidence and information for governments is crucial to support informed debate and decisions.  

Key take away messages 

  • Current food production and consumption practices are not conducive to the type of sustainability that we require, or desirable nutrition and health outcomes. More drastic action is needed.
  • The relationship between environmental concerns and healthy diets cannot be neglected. We must also be conscientious of the relationship between income/revenue streams and nutritional outcomes. There will be trade-offs among the three aspects. Low-hanging fruit might be the development of dietary guidelines that reflect a Global South diet. 
  • Real costs of our current food systems must be measured, especially externalities. Without proper measurement it’s impossible to determine where the problems are or how to improve. 
  • Need to consider the implications of power and political economy on food systems and on the ground-level impact of initiatives – an agenda driven largely by the Global North risks undermining the true needs of the Global South, and not just the most vulnerable.
  • Agriculture Research for Development (AR4D) – like that conducted by CGIAR Centers – can provide knowledge, innovations and evidence-based approaches to inform food system transformation to deliver better nutrition, more sustainably. 
  • AR4D helps improve agricultural production practices and drive value chain development. Lessons learned and evidence-base could inform CFS on sustainable food systems and nutrition options.
CFS 46 Side Event: SE042 Road Testing Healthy Diets


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