Participatory governance mechanisms bring together different food systems actors from all the phases of the supply chain. © WWF-Thailand

Within the SCP project, a study on multi-stakeholder mechanisms is currently underway in collaboration with other organizations. The research initiative exploring food systems ‘multi-stakeholder mechanisms’, both national and sub-national, aims to shed light on how food systems can benefit from innovative governance schemes to contribute with urgency to the achievement of the SGDs.

Often, we hear that the solutions already exist to the interrelated issues of hunger and malnutrition, the climate crisis, the dramatic biodiversity decline, inequality and unfair livelihoods. And that it is just a matter of political will that is required to enable and implement them. Although policymakers have increasingly recognized the centrality of food systems to these interrelated challenges, the actions required have not been initiated with the urgency that is needed. This can be due to the fact that food system issues and solutions are very context-specific – what is required in urban Beijing is not the same as what is required in the rural areas of Mato Grosso in Brazil.


Rethinking Food Governance

The complexity of these interconnected food systems issues can deter action. After all, issues of jurisdictional boundaries across authorities as well as siloed, lineal processes have been the reality in governance arrangements in the food and agricultural sectors (i.e. nutrition is dealt by health decision-makers, trade by economic decision-makers, biodiversity by environmental decision-makers, and so on). It is challenging to identify and manage trade-offs across social, economic and environmental dimensions.  Other voices highlight that this is further compounded by power imbalances in our food systems, with long-lasting lock-ins and path dependencies, exacerbated now by an epoch defined by continuous concentration processes in the private agri-food sector.

However, an important milestone has been achieved in the last two-three years. An increasing consensus has been built around the idea that the world needs to adopt a so-called ‘food systems approach’ to food policies (e.g. the 2018 HLPF Ministerial Declaration, the 26th Session of FAO’s Committee on Agriculture or the 2019 IPCC Land Use report). The use of a more holistic lens that can help deploy more integrated food policies. The question is obvious: how does one adopt this ‘food systems approach’? The answer is also widening its consensus: you cannot deal with these now recognized interrelated issues with the same institutions and governance arrangements that reigned in the past. A re-think of food systems governance (the institutional and legal framework that oversees our food systems) is needed.

Innovative governance? Multi-stakeholder mechanisms? You may find yourself asking “Why is this important?”. How does focusing on governance innovation help with tackling the dire, existential challenges faced by humanity and achieve sustainable food systems that contribute to sustainable development?

Where to start?

Well, the good news, given the urgency and scale needed, is that there has been plentiful thinking on what new governance arrangements could and should look like. And even better, a fair number of experiences of implementation have been underway for quite some time (check RUAF’s recent magazine issue or the Johns Hopkins Food Policy Networks), and new ones are mushrooming everywhere (i.e. in 2019 Canada enacted a new federal food policy creating a multi-stakeholder council).

Perhaps you have not heard of them? How come? Because there is still a great knowledge gap. Our research initiative aims to contribute to start closing such gap. The research will look into 10 cases of ‘food systems multi-stakeholder mechanisms’, defined as formal or informal participatory governance mechanisms that bring together different food systems actors, from all the phases of the supply chain, and connecting actors from different food agendas.

Our objectives are to:

  • Understand how national and subnational MSMs are supporting governments to better work in coordination with actors, integrate sustainability policies with other relevant ones in the food systems agenda (e.g. nutrition, food security, transportation, protection for small producers, etc.) at different levels (international to local) with a more holistic approach;
  • Describe examples of concrete achievements from these mechanisms;
  • Capture the key challenges that they face;
  • Understand their formats, legal status, sustainability principles and key food systems priorities, the way they are engaging actors, and,
  • To the extent possible, analyze how these factors influence their success and achievement of results.

The initiative is a collaboration between UNEP, WWF, the Alliance of Bioversity International-CIAT, with the steering of the Community of Practice on Food Systems on the Ground of the SFS Programme, and the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports the project.

Interested? If you want to learn more, please contact

For information on WWF’s approach on SCP follow this link.