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Policy in Focus. Leveraging food systems to reduce poverty and malnutrition

Even though substantial progress has been achieved worldwide in reducing both poverty and malnutrition, much is yet to be done. There are signs that the progress made in both dimensions has stalled in recent years.

Poor-quality diets have become a major driver for overweight and obesity and associated non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, and some types of cancers. Conflict and climate vulnerability have been identified as major obstacles to reaching Sustainable Development Goal targets related to malnutrition by 2030. In 2019, economic downturns and slowdowns hindered efforts even further. More recently, the COVID-19 crisis has imposed even harsher conditions to countries.

Poverty and malnutrition are inevitably linked, and therefore addressing one can help address the other. Given that most of the world’s extremely poor people and stunted children live primarily in rural areas and rely mostly on agriculture, the agriculture and food systems approach can offer an opportunity to reduce both poverty and malnutrition. The food systems approach places equal emphasis on both the supply and demand dimensions that are critical for ensuring healthier diets and better nutrition for poor and vulnerable groups.

This special issue of Policy in Focus is dedicated to answering a crucial question: How can a food systems approach be used to design and implement policies and investments that reach those most vulnerable to poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and suboptimal diets? We hope that the contributions contained in this volume, by leading academics and development practitioners, exploring the linkages between nutrition, food systems, and poverty, can help stakeholders and policymakers make inroads towards the promotion of food and nutrition security and the reduction of rural poverty.

FAO and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG)