K4D: Learning Journey on Changing Food Systems

Learning Journey on Changing Food Systems

The risks and opportunities for poor and vulnerable people

The Learning Journey (March 2018 to April 2019) brought together external experts and DFID country and headquarters staff from across cadres to explore the longer-term implications of changing food systems for DFID’s development goals. Through dynamic knowledge activities – e.g. framing sessions, thematic sessions and in-country round table discussions – it looked at both the systemic risks and transformational opportunities in food systems, and identified how the latter could mitigate the former.

Key Messages from the Learning Journey

The Learning Journey published a Policy Brief for DFID staff with insights and conclusions from activities and learning products during the learning journey. The policy brief highlights that food systems are at the centre of an integrated approach for economic development, resilience and tackling poverty.

  • Most development challenges (e.g. employment, poverty, gender, environment, nutrition) are interrelated with how food systems function at local, national, and global levels.
  • Food systems matter because the majority of people in developing countries are employed in the food and agricultural sectors, human health is profoundly influenced by what people eat, and the production and distribution of food is an important contributor of climate change.
  • Key indicators for food system outcomes – inclusive growth, human health, and environmental impact – are heading in the wrong direction (e.g. malnutrition, climate change, low-paid work), creating systemic risks that threaten development progress, peace, and security.
  • Historically, development programmes have compartmentalised interventions on nutrition, health, agriculture, environment, and climate, and not adequately considered the trade-offs and synergies across food systems.
  • Transforming food systems is key to tackling economic, social, and environmental issues, while creating economic opportunities for investment and job creation.
  • Country-level food system analysis on risks and opportunities is needed to underpin integrated and coordinated development interventions.
  • There are numerous ways in which DFID can integrate food systems thinking into its policy and programming to improve synergies and impact, as outlined in the policy brief.

K4D Learning products and reports on food systems


  • K4D (Producer). (2018). Food systems: Why they have to change – Tim Benton [Online video].
    Available from https://youtu.be/Z4PK4Vp3bfk
  • K4D (Producer). (2018). Protracted Crises: Lessons learnt from pastoral areas – Adrian Cullis [Online video].
    Available from https://youtu.be/CxH7TRYdp_Q
  • K4D (Producer). (2018). Reshaping food systems in an urbanised world – Shenggen Fan [Online video].
    Available from https://youtu.be/fEfSuIJt85Y
  • K4D (Producer). (2018). Getting food aid and humanitarian assistance to contribute to development –
    Simon Levine [Online video]. Available from https://youtu.be/M931BfKlVso
  • K4D (Producer). (2018). Strengthening resilience in food systems against conflicts and shocks – Rami
    Zurayk [Online video]. Available from https://youtu.be/oPW3GLQxQkk
  • K4D (Producer). (2018). Food systems approach in conflicts and protracted Crises – Rami Zurayk
    [Online video]. Available from https://youtu.be/XV6tb7Esz8w

Input Reports

Output Reports


Policy Briefs

Learning Journey Activities

1. Framing sessions: 

The Learning Journey kicked off with a framing session in March 2018. After the framing session it was decided that the Learning Journey would focus on five topics. Three thematic sessions would be organised around:

  1. Nutrition, urbanisation, and purchased food,
  2. Food systems in context of protracted crises,
  3. Capturing food economy opportunities for the poor,

Two cross-cutting topics were also identified:

  1. Food system shocks and reducing vulnerability
  2. Food system resilience to climate change and resource degradation

See below for an explanatory presentation on changing food systems by Tim Benton (University of Leeds and Chatham House) and click here for a presentation by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) on the necessity of transforming food systems.

2. Thematic Sessions:

Urban food systems and nutrition (July 2018):

Growing numbers of poor and vulnerable people suffering poor nutrition are living and will live in urban areas and/or in situations where their diets are based on the purchase of commercially produced food. They are vulnerable to food prices and the quality of their nutrition is directly linked to their incomes. Issues include undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, obesity and diabetes. Changes in the food system – with new urban food markets (e.g. physical and digital) and shortening food supply chains to cities – give opportunities for improvements in nutritional intake and employment.

See below for an introductory presentation by Shenggen Fan (IFPRI) on reshaping food systems in an urbanised world:

Food systems and protracted crises (October 2018): 

The latest FAO Hunger Report shows that most people suffering extreme hunger now live in areas where there are protracted crises. There is a need to understand how food systems could be more effective and resilient in such contexts. There is also a need to consider the longer-term trends in the number of people living in such contexts and what this means for food security. Countries with protracted crises also often show high vulnerability to extreme weather conditions, climate change and agricultural productivity losses. Some literature shows that climate change in specific local circumstances, and in relation with other aspects, may be linked with the rise in conflicts. The high vulnerability to climate change impacts in countries with protracted crises is for a large part due to weak governance and broken institutions that cope inadequately with natural disasters.

See below for the presentations of the speakers: Rami Zurayk on the food systems in times of conflict, and on strengthening resilience in times of crises (American University of Beirut and member of the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security), Simon Levine on food aid and humanitarian assistance (Overseas Development Institute) and Adrian Cullis on lessons from pastoral areas (independent expert on pastoralism in the Horn of Africa).

3. In-country round table discussions:

As part of the Learning Journey two work sessions were organised for DFID staff and local partners to assess on the country level risks and opportunities that come with the transformation of food systems.

On 23 November 2018, a work session was held in the DFID Ghana country office in Accra titled “Creating economic opportunities for the agri-food sector in Ghana”. On the agenda were two questions. How can the agri-food sector contribute to the economic transformation in Ghana?  How does the agri-food sector need to respond to Ghana’s rural transition?

On 5 December 2018, a work session was held in the DFID Nigeria country office in Abuja titled “Assessing the systemic risks and transformational opportunities of changing food systems in Nigeria”. On the agenda were two issues. First, the participants assessed the main issues and trends in food systems (risks and opportunities) in Nigeria. Second, they discussed the implications of these issues for the DFID Nigeria programmes.

On 12 April 2019, a work session was held in the DFID Ethiopia country office in Addis Ababa titled “Linking healthier and nutritious food with sustainable food systems in the context of Ethiopia”. On the agenda were two issues. First, the participants assessed how to implement a food systems approach on nutrition and mainstream this with health, humanitarian and economic development programming. Second, they discussed how food systems can contribute to an more comprehensive refugee framework (e.g. including job creation, stability).

4. Contributions to the 2019 Livelihoods Cadre Conference:

The 2019 Livelihoods Cadre conference focused on changing food systems and brought together over 60 livelihoods advisers and DFID staff in Myanmar. The conference explored the changing economic structure of agrifood markets and the implications for decent jobs, mobility, and nutrition. It also assessed the implications for HMG Prosperity Agenda and opportunities for linkages between DFID programmes and the Department for International Trade, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The event provided an opportunity for country offices to learn from each other’s experiences and collectively assess the implications of changing food systems for DFID priorities. Field trips in Myanmar looked at changes in a range of agricultural and fish value chains. Integrated into the week were sessions on power in the agrifood sector, nutrition, and private sector engagement “best buys” for development funding in the agriculture sector.

How to engage?

If you have any questions about the Learning Journey, please contact K4D at info@k4d.info, Twitter @K4D_info or have a look at the website www.ids.ac.uk/K4D