The Johns Hopkins University, The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and other partners recently launched a new easy-to-navigate online Food Systems Dashboard designed to help decision makers and other users in the US and around the world understand their food systems, identify their levers of change, and decide which ones to pull in order to sustainably improve diets and nutrition in their food systems.

Food systems encompass an entire range of actors – including, but not limited to, farmers, traders, processors, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and consumers – and the processes that get food from the fields to markets to tables. Well-functioning food systems can ensure the availability, accessibility, and affordability of nutritious foods for healthy diets.    

The Food Systems Dashboard combines data for more than 170 food systems indicators from over 35 from public and private data sources for more than 230 countries and territories that describes global, regional, and national food systems.  The data is organized using the conceptual framework developed by the High-Level Panel of the UN Committee on Food Security in 2017 to help decision makers diagnose their food systems and identify all their levers of change and the ones that need to be pulled first.

The Dashboard has the potential to halve the time required to gather the relevant data, helping public agencies and private entities to grasp the three Ds more rapidly: Describe national food systems, Diagnose them to prioritize areas for action, and then Decide on the action to take based on plausible interventions that have been tried in other countries. Thus far, the Dashboard largely describes food systems and allows for comparisons across countries’ food systems. The Diagnose function will provide stakeholders with some guideposts on how their food systems are performing. The Decide will provide some policy options to take on to improve food systems. By the beginning of 2021, the Dashboard team will be developing the Diagnose and Decide portals of the Dashboard, in time for the UN Food Summit in late 2021.

For example, a policymaker in the Ministry of Health can look at country-level data about people’s intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as nutrition and health outcomes such as high blood pressure, which may indicate a correlation between lower intakes of these nutritious foods and a higher prevalence of high blood pressure. The data can be compared across countries by region, food systems types (from industrialized to rural), or income classification (from high- to low-income) to inform public health policies to promote increased intake of these foods.

Policymakers in the Ministry of Agriculture would also be able to look at long-term average annual precipitation in their country and how this is changing over time in the face of climate change. This, paired with data on the percent of cultivated land equipped for irrigation, can help inform decisions such as how to best utilize their agricultural water sources to increase yields of key crops.

For farmers in the US, the Dashboard provides information about yields, supplies, and losses in both the US and in other countries. It also shows trade as a percentage of GDP, all of which may have implications for sales and trade. For US food security, the Dashboard shows prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity as well as potential causes such as cost of nutrient adequacy as a percent of household food expenditure, the ratio of income share held by the highest 20 percent to lowest 20 percent, and others. US policymakers can compare this data with other Industrialized and Consolidated countries using the typologies to find areas to focus interventions on.

The Dashboard is open access to all and will foster much needed cooperation in transforming our food systems. With the threats and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for more collaboration between stakeholders who are concerned with hunger, nutrition, livelihoods, climate, biodiversity, sustainable natural resource use and climate change. There is a need to share information across these critical areas in which food systems touch.

Please explore the dashboard here:

About the authors: Jess Fanzo is Associate Professor of Global Food and Agriculture Policy and Ethics at Johns Hopkins University, and Lawrence Haddad is Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.

Editor’s Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.

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