Blog Post

How to achieve food system transformation to prevent future food crises

With multiple crises plaguing food systems across the globe, Africa south of the Sahara remains particularly hard hit. As a result, policymakers and development partners in the region are faced with the need to balance sometimes conflicting priorities: ending hunger and reducing poverty, making diets healthier and more affordable, improving the productivity and livelihoods of smallholder households, and adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Sustainably transforming food systems can help in limiting the trade-offs between these important objectives and move SSA closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In a new report from Ceres30, researchers examine the potential to drive such sustainable food system transformation in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria.

The recent 2023 Global Report on Food Crises highlights the shocks faced by SSA, as well as many other regions around the globe: the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict; dramatic increases in food, fertilizer, and fuel prices; economic slowdowns; ongoing conflict and political unrest; and extreme weather events. Combined, these shocks are driving rising hunger and poverty rates in the region, including in the three study countries. Projections forecast that by 2030, 18 percent of Ethiopians, 72 percent of Malawians and 46 percent of Nigerians will live below the extreme poverty threshold. In the same timeframe, 22 percent of Ethiopians, 25 percent of Malawians, and 21 percent of Nigerians will have insufficient food to meet their basic caloric needs, while 77 percent of Ethiopians and more than 90 percent of both Malawians and Nigerians will not be able to afford nutritious diets.

Rising rates of poverty and hunger in the three countries are further exacerbated by increasingly variable climate conditions, which pose significant challenges for a region reliant on rain-fed agriculture and livestock production. While all three national governments have committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the study’s model projects that under existing efforts, GHG emissions from agriculture will rise by 5.8 percent in Ethiopia, 4.4 percent in Malawi, and 2.3 percent in Nigeria by 2030.

Reversing these trends will require significantly increased investments, according to the Ceres30 report. Between 2023 and 2030, governments and donors will need to ramp up targeted investments by an average USD 10 billion per year more than current levels (USD 4.6 billion for Ethiopia, USD 543 million for Malawi, and USD 4.9 billion for Nigeria). Of that number, USD 5.8 billion will need to come from international donors, while USD 4.2 billion will need to come from national governments.

The report also emphasizes the need to balance this investment between sort-term emergency humanitarian aid and longer-term financing of agricultural and food system development. This balance will allow stakeholders to both respond quickly to emerging food crises and enhance resilience to prevent future crises. Importantly, such development will also need to incorporate an environmental lens and prioritize sustainable agricultural and livestock production practices and growth. Such a lens should include interventions to improve soil health and protect biodiversity and natural resources in order to strengthen the linkages between food systems, healthy diets, and the environment.

Beyond investments in sustainable production practices, the report identifies several other key policy pathways to support the simultaneous achievement of multiple development goals. These include investing in nutrition education to drive increased consumer preference for healthy foods; scaling up investments in social protection programs, particularly in Nigeria; ramping up funding for storage and transportation infrastructure and household-level education to reduce food loss and waste; and improving national institutional capacity to monitor, analyze, and report on data related to development targets, as well as to disaggregate that data to take into account differences between subnational regions and genders.

If they follow these recommendations, the report concludes, the study countries could see undernourishment could fall to below 3 percent by 2030, while 60 percent of each national population could afford healthier diets. At the same time, GHG emissions could be limited, while smallholder incomes could double. These projections show that with the right investments, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Nigeria can recover from their current food crises and make significant progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.