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Sustainable Food Systems Programme

Multi-Stakeholder Mechanisms Initiative


Today, our food systems are destabilizing our planet and failing to provide all people with healthy and nutritious diets. Urgent transformation towards sustainable food systems is critical to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to maintain the Paris Agreement temperature rise target of 1.5ºC.

Systemic transformation is not an easy endeavor. Nonetheless, there is growing recognition that creating coherent policies for complex interrelated issues requires cross-sectoral, participatory approaches that enable adopting a 'systems lens'.

Bringing hope and inspiration, a range of innovative participatory governance experiences focused on resolving our food systems' interconnected challenges have been mushrooming across the globe in recent years - so-called Food Systems Multi-Stakeholder Mechanisms (MSMs).

This initiative's first report analyzes national and sub-national MSMs to understand how they are designed, how they function, who participates, what works and what doesn't, and how they are contributing to the transition toward sustainable food systems.

The challenge of eating well, for people and for the planet

One of our leading global challenges is providing healthy diets to the world’s population while staying within planetary boundaries. The task is immense and even more daunting in the context of fast population growth, urbanization, changing consumption patterns, climate change and the depletion of natural resources.


Copyright Credit: © James Morgan / WWF-US

We need to change the way we look at food systems

In the past, interventions in our food systems led to some positive results but also resulted in negative trends, such as an increase in unhealthy diets with low nutritional value, limited access of small-scale producers to viable markets, food loss and waste, food safety hazards, health issues, an increased ecological footprint and natural resources depletion.

The case for a systems approach to food policies

A food systems approach broadens the viewpoint and includes the integrative nature of the food system rather than looking at it as separate pieces or sectors. It promotes integrated and coherent policy-making to align different policy agendas and cross-cutting issues (e.g. agriculture, environment, trade, health, food safety) to better meet the needs of food systems actors and support multiple sustainable food systems outcomes (environmental, socio-economic and health).


Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Introducing Sustainable Food Systems Multi-stakeholder Mechanisms (SFS MSM)

In recent years, there have been a range of innovative governance experiences focusing on sustainable food systems, so-called Sustainable Food Systems Multi-Stakeholder Mechanisms. They bring together diverse food systems actors with different food-related agendas, from all stages of the value chain in an inclusive way to collaborate in pursuit of sustainable food systems.

SFS MSMs vary in their:

  • forms (e.g. food policy councils, food security committees, sustainable food labs)
  • durability (permanent or ad hoc)
  • legal status (whether or not they are created by a governmental decree)
  • representativeness (level of government and stakeholder participation)
  • scales (e.g. municipality/county, department/province, multiple departments/provinces, national).

These groups usually convene stakeholders to share perspectives on food systems challenges, develop innovative solutions and influence food-related policy-making and planning. They are also increasingly involved in policy implementation.



Copyright Credit: © Meridith Kohut/WWF-US

Tracking the emergence of National and Sub-National SFS MSM

Even as there are limitations to such governance mechanisms with some authors arguing that ‘Multistakeholderism’ can pose a challenge to democracy, the legitimacy of governance, the protection of common goods, and the defence of human rights, a growing body of evidence shows that multi-stakeholder mechanisms with core democratic values and appropriate governance structures and processes can be successful in addressing complex issues in an inclusive way.

This is why understanding current MSMs experiences, their characteristics, flaws and success factors is extremely important in addressing this knowledge gap.

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About the report

The One Planet Network Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme, based on a decision of its Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee, has kicked off an initiative focused on the role participatory food systems multi-stakeholder mechanisms (MSMs) can play in promoting a food systems approach to policies and decision-making. This initiative specifically aims to:

  • Understand how different multi-stakeholder governance mechanisms are supporting governments to collaboratively develop holistic food systems-related policies.

  • Describe observed innovative dynamics, concrete achievements and key challenges in MSMs.

  • Understand their characteristics (ormats, principles, processes, which/why/how actors are engaged, how power imbalances and divergences are managed), and distill potential success or shortcoming factors.

  • Through the knowledge created, contribute to the policy debate around the urgent imperative of food systems transformation, particularly at relevant multilateral forums (CFS, UN Food Systems Summit 2021, Climate COP, Biodiversity COP, etc.), but also at the subnational, national and regional level. 

The initiative is led and supported by the SFS Programme’s Community of Practice on Food Systems Approach on the Ground

Explore the report