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Library The political economy of food system transformation: Pathways to progress in a polarized world

The political economy of food system transformation: Pathways to progress in a polarized world

The political economy of food system transformation: Pathways to progress in a polarized world

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Date of publication
December 2022
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ISBN / Resource ID

The current structure of the global food system is increasingly recognized as unsustainable. In addition to the environmental impacts of agricultural production, unequal patterns of food access and availability are contributing to non-communicable diseases in middle- and high-income countries and inadequate caloric intake and dietary diversity among the world’s poorest. While the need to transform food systems is widely accepted, the policy pathways for achieving such a vision often are highly contested, and the enabling conditions for implementation are frequently absent. Moreover, transformation implicitly requires reforms that depart from the status quo, which will generate resistance from those groups that stand to lose the most.
These dynamics are examined in detail in a new book co-edited by Danielle Resnick and Johan Swinnen on The Political Economy of Food System Transformation: Pathways to Progress in a Polarized World, published jointly by IFPRI and Oxford University Press. The book emphasizes that the viability of reforms requires joint consideration of both the complexity of local, national, and global food systems and the increasingly polarized political and institutional contexts in which food policy decision-making occurs. In recent decades, food systems have encompassed a broader range of non-traditional stakeholders, including insurance companies, banks, technology firms, and transnational civil society advocates. Moreover, food systems are no longer just responsible for generating sufficient calories but also are expected to meet a whole host of other objectives, including racial and gender justice, human rights, and the preservation of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Yet, not only are food systems changing but so are politics; a wave of populism over the last decade has caused misinformation and ideological bias to compete with rigorous analysis when informing policy recommendations. Polarization at the national level is also reflected in the geopolitical sphere and exacerbated in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A perceived crisis of multilateralism makes it difficult to coordinate on cross-national issues, such as climate change and trade, while the rise of multi-stakeholderism in global convenings like the United Nations Food Systems Summit obscures who is ultimately obligated and accountable for food system actions.
Given these complexities, how do we achieve action? To address this question, this book draws on scholarship from a global set of authors whose disciplines span economics, political science, nutrition, ecology, geography, and public policy. Their contributions, which draw on diverse methodologies, analyze binding constraints to reform and showcase factors that have led to progressive change in high-, middle-, and low-income countries. The substantive areas of political economy focus include, among others, repurposing agricultural subsidies, reducing red meat and ultra-processed food consumption, increasing uptake of appropriate biotechnologies, adopting sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, implementing the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy, adapting urban food system councils to the Global South, and tracking accountability for global food system commitments. In doing so, the authors highlight the necessity of navigating incentive structures, identifying strategies and opportunities for mobilization, and finding innovative policy designs that broaden coalitions for change.
This page also includes a synopsis:
Resnick, Danielle, ed.; and Swinnen, Johan, ed. 2023. The political economy of food system transformation: Pathways to progress in a polarized world: Synopsis. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

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Resnick, Danielle , Swinnen, Johan

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