New online dashboard to inform better food policy
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and The Johns Hopkins Alliance for a Healthier World launched a new easy-to-navigate online tool designed to help decision makers understand their food systems, identify their levers of change, and decide which ones to pull.
Food systems encompass an entire range of actors – including, but not limited to, farmers, traders, processors, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and consumers – and the processes that get food from the fields to markets to tables. Well-functioning food systems can ensure the availability, accessibility, and affordability of nutritious foods for healthy diets.
The Food Systems Dashboard is a unique holistic resource intended for policymakers, non-governmental organisations, businesses, civil society leaders, and other actors to enable timely visualisation of national food systems, understand the interconnections across multiple sectors, perform comparisons with other countries, identify key challenges, and prioritise actions.
“What struck us back in 2017 while working on the UN High Level Panel of Experts on Food Systems and Nutrition Report was the lack of accessible, organised, quality-checked information on food systems. Without that data, it’s difficult to identify the best evidence-based actions that could improve food systems,” said Johns Hopkins Global Food Ethics and Policy Program Director Jessica Fanzo. “It was really important to us, given the level of complexity and interconnections inherent to food systems, that the data be presented in a way that is easily usable – and that’s what the Dashboard does. Now decision makers have easy access to both data and to policy advice that is specific to their situations.”
The Dashboard houses food systems of more than 230 countries and territories by bringing together data for over 170 indicators from 35 sources. It will enable stakeholders to compare their food systems with those of other countries, and will provide guidance on potential priority actions to improve food systems’ impacts on diets and nutrition.
“The Dashboard has the potential to halve the time required to gather the relevant data, helping public agencies and private entities to grasp the three Ds more rapidly: Describe national food systems, Diagnose them to prioritise areas for action, and then Decide on the action to take based on plausible interventions that have been tried in other countries,” said GAIN’s Executive Director and World Food Prize winner, Lawrence Haddad.
For example, a policymaker in the Ministry of Health can look at country-level data about people’s intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as nutrition and health outcomes such as high blood pressure, which may indicate a correlation between lower intakes of these nutritious foods and a higher prevalence of high blood pressure. The data can be compared across countries by region, food systems type, or income classification to inform public health policies to promote increased intake of these foods.
Policymakers would also be able to look at long-term average annual precipitation in their country and how this is changing over time in the face of climate change. This, paired with data on the percent of cultivated land equipped for irrigation, can help inform decisions such as how to best utilize their agricultural water sources to increase yields of key crops.
“FAO is contributing its extensive expertise in making complex food systems information more transparent and accessible to this project and looks forward to further collaboration with our partners and beyond to secure the success of this initiative,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.
“The Dashboard is open to all and will foster much needed cooperation in transforming our food systems. With the threats and opportunities presented by COVID-19, we need more collaboration between stakeholders who care about hunger, nutrition, livelihoods, climate, biodiversity, and sustainable natural resource use. Working together and sharing information is also essential in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, which are now just 10 years away,” the Director-General added.
About the Food Systems Dashboard
The Food Systems Dashboard is a new tool for policymakers that describes global, regional, and national food systems. It combines data for more than 170 food systems indicators from over 35 sources for more than 230 countries and territories to help decision makers and other users identify and prioritize ways to sustainably improve diets and nutrition in their food systems. www.foodsystemsdashboard.org