REPORT: Donor contributions to the food system

REPORT: Donor contributions to the food system

This stocktaking report assesses the scale and type of official development aid (ODA) investments being made by donors (public and private) in food systems, and the pathways through which that investment flows (bilateral relationships, multilaterals, NGOs, etc.).

The purpose of this stocktaking report of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (August 2021) is to broadly map out the levels of funding the donor community contributes to food systems-related programmes and the strategies that are guiding donor investments. This provides a basis for examining the degree to which the current portfolio of investments aligns with or deviates from what will be needed to respond to the outcomes of the FSS.

Donors invest in a vast array of projects and programmes related to food systems, from local to global level. A full accounting of all this work is beyond the scope of this report. Rather, the intention is to provide a broad mapping that gives an overview perspective. In this regard, the report focuses on example “flagship” programmes being funded by donors. “Food systems” is a relatively new integrative framing that has generally not been used by donors in the past. This means that tagging investments, programmes and projects as food systems related is not always straightforward nor supported by existing data-gathering strategies to account for how ODA is spent.

The report has also been developed by the GDPRD, recognizing that many stakeholders engaging in the FSS may have a limited understanding of the range of ways in which donor investments support food systems. It will be complemented by a subsequent forward-looking white paper from the GDPRD that will examine the future role donors that can play in supporting the agenda for transforming food systems that will emerge from the FSS.

Overall, the following transformations are being called for.

  1. Shift diets towards those that are better for human health and for the health of the environment, which overall means being more plant based.
  2. Ensure that food systems provide inclusive (fair) economic opportunities for as many people as possible, such as producers, workers and consumers.
  3. Dramatically reduce food loss and waste.
  4. Develop much more resource-efficient and climate-smart production systems that provide for a wider diversity of healthy diets.
  5. Enhance the resilience of food systems so that people and the system are less vulnerable to shocks and crises.

A webinar (9 September) highlighted key elements of donor perspectives on the food systems agenda in response to the UN Food Systems Summit. It discussed the key priorities for future donor focus and some of the most effective modalities for donor coordination going forward.


GDPRD (2021) Donor contributions to the food system. Stocktaking report.  Jim Woodhill, Kristal Jones and Sylvia Otieno. 86 p.


The last decade has seen expenditures on agriculture and rural development drop as a percentage of total aid, while expenditures on emergency food aid have more than doubled in absolute amounts. (…)  ODA. Most ODA ends up in country-level project interventions, with a vast number of individual projects covering a very broad range of areas. (page 6)

There is a significant data gap in being able to fully analyse development progress and funding from a food systems perspective. (…)  Despite its importance, ODA is under pressure as a consequence of COVID-19 and general development scepticism in some donor countries, which creates a need to better profile the positive contribution of ODA investments for food systems globally. reports. (page 9)

There does not appear to be critical areas where there are big funding gaps; however, these efforts currently do not add up to the scale of change needed for a food systems transformation.. Current data systems provide a limited capability to assess the balance and relative merits of different types of food systems investments. ) Careful thought and deeper analysis will be required to rebalance the ODA food systems portfolio with the outcomes of the FSS, with a particular focus on country-level assessment. (page 9)

The importance of ODA in supporting this overall global response capability is arguably not widely enough understood, recognized or valued. (page 10)

There is little doubt that climate change will bring substantially increased risks of extreme weather events with the potential to dramatically influence food supply globally and locally through impacts on production patterns, farming profitability, and risks of pest and disease outbreaks. (page 11)

Some 2-3 billion people in low- and middle-income countries earn a substantial part of their income from working in the food system, yet many of them are unable to earn a decent living. Poverty and hunger are highly connected with how food systems function. (page 17)

The European Commission report, in contrast, draws on a much wider set of DAC codes that represent priorities associated with European Union (EU) food and nutrition policy (e.g. codes for gender equity
or environmental education, which reflect investments that could affect food systems).
 (page 20)

Our estimates are higher owing to the inclusion of additional DAC codes in our definition of the food system (non-communicable disease prevention and research, food security policy and household food security programmes, school feeding and food safety/quality). The biggest difference is that we include emergency food assistance in our definition, which accounted for almost one third of ODA spending in the food system in 2019.  (page 28)
Very little investment is being made in inputs or pest management and post-harvest issues (1 per cent each). This breakdown needs to be interpreted with caution, as donors often find it hard to categorize projects that invest across multiple areas of agriculture.  (page 31)

The EU would be the third-largest donor if included with bilaterals, with food systems investments in 2019 totalling US$1.843 billion. (page 35)
The CFS has a High Level Panel of Experts and associated civil society and private-sector mechanisms. The work of the CFS has been supported by a number of donors, with significant support coming from the EU and its Member States. Concern about insufficient global attention to nutrition led to a number of global initiatives being established since 2010 including the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. These function alongside a range of other global initiatives related to food systems. (page 49)
Farmers’ organizations are important and critical to achieving the outcomes that we’ve agreed to, on healthy planet, people and economies. But what are we doing specifically to make that happen? How are we empowering farmers organizations? (page 51)

The new reform agenda for the One CGIAR has fully adopted a food systems framing, and many academic institutions and research networks have also begun articulating their research agendas in terms of a food systems approach rather than just agriculture. (page 53)
Despite the need for financing in agriculture and food systems, lending to agriculture remains a relatively small proportion of the portfolio of lending by international and regional financial institutions. (page 55)

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