SE072 Agroecology and Healthy Diets: why we need agroecology for human and planetary health:: Win-win solutions to link agroecology, food systems and nutritiously appropriate diets


  • Swiss Agency for Developpement and Cooperation (SDC)
  • Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau (FiBL)
  • Scaling Up Nutrition Movemement (SUN)

A transformation of food systems has become paramount in the face of the world's rapidly deteriorating natural resources. In parallel to that, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and other food related diseases represent growing concerns on the global political agenda. Increasing scientific evidence indicates that sustainable food systems, diets and human health are intrinsically intertwined. Each one of these global societal objectives cannot be achieved while ignoring the other. Agroecology represents an alternative to address a number of challenges in the pursuit of human and planetary health.

The goal of this side event is to explore holistically the links between food systems and nutrition. Do we only need to produce more or do we also need to produce and consume better? Adrian Müller, a senior researcher at the Department of Socio-Economic Sciences of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and expert in climate change and sustainable agriculture, will present research results of a recent study on sustainable pathways for the global food system: The strategies for feeding the world in a more sustainable way with organic agriculture. This study shows that "organic agriculture can contribute to providing sufficient food and improving environmental, impacts, only if adequately high proportions of legumes are produced and with significant reductions of food-competing feed use, livestock product quantities and food wastage".

Fabrice DeClerck, the EAT Science Director and a senior scientist at Bioversity International, is a co-author of the report "Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT -Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems". He will present the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system, and which actions can support and speed up food system transformation. The input from these two keynote speakers will be followed by an interactive panel discussion with the audience, bringing in different perspectives and opinions on the transformation of the food systems. The goal of this panel is to showcase concrete approaches adopted by different stakeholders, working towards a progressive adoption of agroecology to transform food systems in view of improving nutrition.

Key speakers/presenters

Keynote speaker

  • Adrian Müller (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture - FiBL)
  • Patrick Caron (Chairperson of the HLPE Steering Committee of the CFS)


  • Gerda Verburg (Scaling Up Nutrition)
  • Brian Baldwin (Private Sector Mechanism)
  •  Juan Pablo Pineda (farmer part of the Nutrition in Mountain Agroecosystems programme)


  • Tatjana Von Steiger (Swiss Cooperation and Development Agency)

Main themes/issues discussed 

Adrian Mueller presented his study  showing a model where agriculture production would be 100% organic. For this model to be viable food waste has to reduce by 50% and food-competing feed production by 100%. Adrian added that when trying to choose policy instruments to incentivize a decrease of impact of food production, it might be wrong to focus on the CO2 emissions from agriculture. For example, CO2 certificates could incentivize intensive poultry production (lower CO2 emissions per land unit). Rather, Adrian explained that advocating for a reduction of the use of external nitrogen sources for food production could lead to sustainable production systems. Patrick Caron presented the HLPE reports 12 (2017)  and 14 (2019)  and emphasized that if our food patterns degrade, it would be a disaster for human and planetary health. Food has a direct (all forms of malnutrition) and an indirect impact on health (air/water pollution from agriculture and land use changes…). The challenge of the 21st century, at the opposition to the dominant discourse during the 20th century, is not how to produce more food, but how to produce sustainable food.

Summary of key points

The discussion touched on different topics such as demographics, the dramatic impacts of synthetic pesticides on farmers’ health, the necessity to differentiate meat consumption trends in the Global North and the Global South and the lack of consideration of fish production and consumption for human and planetary health. Concerning demographics, Patrick Caron emphasized that Sub-Saharan regions are the only ones were population continues to increase. Gerda Verburg further emphasized the dramatic impact of pesticides to explain why it is vital that Climate, Health and Agriculture sectors collaborate right from the onset to address food systems transformation. Gerda pushed the audience to read the recommendations of the HLPE14 Report and to strive for their operationalization on national levels. Brian Baldwin found the approach linking healthy diets to agroecology interesting, even though ‘agroecology’ remains more difficult to define as ‘healty diets’ in his opinion. However, he believes that the FIBL study conclusions focus on a North context, which cannot be extrapolated as such to the South. Juan Pablo Pineda gave some insights from his experiences as a farmer in the Andes, particularly the great impact of diversifying crops in farming systems and their capacity to improve the nutrition status of the communities.

Key take away messages

  • Food has become the number one concern for public health.
  • Food systems should be at the heart of “Health Systems”, which highlights the fact that institutions have to collaborate across sectors in order to address efficiently nutrition and food security related issues.
  • To ensure healthy diets for all, we need to diversify our agro-ecosystems, which will also contribute to an increased resilience of the system.
  • Data and scientific evidence should provide information on the inherent complexity of food systems and therefore allow politicians to put in place efficient policies.
  • We need to acknowledge a diversity of pathways if we want to achieve change in the way we produce and consume food.
  • When discussing food systems, one has to acknowledge the differences between the Global North and the Global South, especially when discussing livestock systems and meat consumption. Conclusions from the Global North are often very different from those from the Global South.



CFS 46 Side Event: SE072 Agroecology and Healthy Diets: why we need agroecology for human and planetary health.


The contents of this page is provided by the Side Event organizers and does not reflect the opinion of CFS