UN agencies pool knowledge to launch a guide to help stakeholders rethinking food systems through collaboration

June 21, 2023


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), launched today the "Rethinking food systems: a guide for multi-stakeholder collaboration." This guide is aimed at supporting stakeholders working towards the sustainable transformation of their food systems at all levels of the value chain.  It will also help governments and policymakers working on efforts such as the National Pathways for Food Systems Transformation, developed in the context of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS)

Policies designed in isolation are unlikely to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential to transition to sustainable food systems. Food systems involve complex challenges, which call for a systemic, multi-level and multi-stakeholder participatory approach for addressing interrelated issues across economic, social, and environmental dimensions: the so-called “food systems approach.”

This guide targets public, private and civil society organizations convening Multistakeholder Collaboration (MSC) initiatives, those where government and essential non-governmental actors join forces.  The guide is organized around five building blocks: 

  • Building Block One looks at fostering broad Multistakeholder Collaboration involving different actors at multiple levels.  
  • Building Block Two underlines the importance of ensuring a good understanding of the food system so thata systemic approach can be used in addressing challenges and opportunities.
  • Building Block Three looks at nurturing inclusive and effective collaboration.
  • Building Block Four shows the importance of having a compass and a roadmap.
  • Building Block Five focuses on ensuring sustainable collaboration. 

Given their complexity, decisions related to food systems often require addressing power imbalances and making compromises. The interdependence of the Building Blocks shows that success is not merely about bringing science-based evidence and other types of knowledge to the table but requires navigating complicated social interactions between vested agendas and constituents, so that deliberations are carefully guided. 

In the run up to the UN Food Systems Summit +2 Stocktaking Moment, taking place in Rome, Italy from 24 to 26 July 2023, this guide provides insights into how to achieve a successful and collaborative transition to sustainable food systems. Through an iterative and flexible process of identifying problems and discovering how best to address them, stakeholders can improve their understanding of food systems and what is necessary to adopt a food systems approach.

“We must open our consultation processes and governance mechanisms to all relevant stakeholders if we wish to address the global food and environmental crises together. This joint Guide by UNEP, FAO, and UNDP, offers a clear methodology to make multistakeholder collaboration for sustainable food systems transformation a reality”,commented Sharon Gil, Acting Head, Cities Unit, Economy & Industry Division. 

“This important guide brings together learnings from 3 UN agencies & explores multistakeholder collaboration which is meaningful and helps release blockages to change but is also really hard. The guide makes all this work easier”, Corinna Hawkes, Director of Food Safety and Food Systems Division at FAO, noted in her keynote speech during the recent 4th Global Conference of the One Planet network's Sustainable Food Systems Programme entitled “The Transformation We Need”, which took place in Hanoi, Vietnam from 24-27 April.

“UNDP’s food systems work has focused for over a decade on supporting governments to convene stakeholders in innovative and effective manners. As such UNDP is very pleased to join forces with FAO and UNEP to bring cutting edge methodology to countries on how best to bring stakeholders into food system planning and reform. Genuine collaboration is complex to achieve as entrenched in multiple conflicts and economic and political interests.  So stronger focus on more effective collaboration is fundamental to changing business as usual towards a global food system we need”, said Andrew Bovarnick, head of Food and Agricultural Commodity Systems at UNDP.