The Catalyzing Change for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems (CCHeFS) initiative aims to enhance the health of the most vulnerable populations by taking a food systems approach to improving the competitiveness of nutritious and sustainable foods in Africa, relative to unhealthy foods. We support Southern-led research and policy interventions that address the double burden of malnutrition and unsustainable foods.
Global food systems and human dietary patterns have shifted significantly in the past decades. Africa is now undergoing a nutrition transition — with the shift from traditional diets composed of minimally processed foods towards low-quality diets laden with unhealthy foods. Paradoxically, these trends are leading to increases in both undernutrition and obesity, known as the ‘double burden of malnutrition’. These nutrient-poor but cheap and increasingly accessible foods are contributing to rapidly rising rates of diet-related non-communicable diseases. By 2030, it is projected that deaths from diet-related disease will surpass those from infectious diseases in Africa.
Alongside increasing malnutrition is the degradation of natural ecosystems. The production of unhealthy and processed foods is creating significant pressure on natural ecosystems through exploitative and unsustainable land-use practices, resulting in a vicious cycle between climate change and unhealthy foods. These changes are promoting or further exacerbating social and economic inequities. Already vulnerable populations, including women and children, are disproportionately impacted by the health and environmental burdens resulting from inadequate and inequitable global food systems.
Taking a systems approach, however, allows us to see promising opportunities to leverage the power of food systems to improve population health and build more resilient environments. Such an approach must also take the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized into account. While the discourse on improving food systems has gained attention at the global scale, it has been dominated by Northern voices and Northern-prescribed solutions. Within the Global South, meaningful and locally relevant options to shape effective solutions exist, but must be supported. Southern-led research that strengthens and spurs policy and practice interventions can provide valuable opportunities to promote healthier and more sustainable food systems.
The CCHeFS initiative supports robust and innovative research on the African continent. The research aims to strengthen the understanding and implementation of policies and interventions that can enhance the market competitiveness of nutritious and sustainable foods, improving health and quality of life for low-income and vulnerable populations.
By supporting inter-disciplinary and intersectional research, while leveraging in-country expertise, CCHeFS supports selected research teams to generate evidence on what is needed for their populations to transition to healthier and more sustainable diets. This is being done through three key, inter-linked focus areas:
- transformative public policies and regulations: drawing on successful policies in other countries in the Global South, and the applied lessons from these experiences, we are supporting the design and implementation of bold new food-system public policies. Such policy combinations ideally stimulate demand for healthy foods, while increasing the affordability and accessibility of protective foods relative to non-protective foods.
- enabling business environments: given the powerful influence of market forces on people’s diets, we are supporting research that can provide the economic rationale for the private sector to invest in healthy and sustainable foods. The research also aims to make a business case for improving regulations and reducing investments in unhealthy and unsustainable foods.
- empowering communities and consumers: we are supporting research aimed at generating greater consumer demand for affordable and sustainable protective foods. Central to this is the understanding that food systems should be people-centred, and that equitable, effective and accountable public policies are needed.
CCHeFS aims to build coalitions for change across a range of actors including researchers, policymakers, practitioners, the private sector and civil society.
CCHeFS is a partnership, co-funded by IDRC and the Rockefeller Foundation, with a current value of CAD23 million. It has expanded from an initial focus on East Africa, to now being Africa-wide, allowing further research investments in promising opportunities for change. CCHeFS builds on over a decade of experience by both partners in improving food systems, bringing together current programming within IDRC’s Climate-Resilient Food Systems program and Rockefeller’s Africa Food Initiative.
Recognising that greater impact can be achieved through joint investments, the partnership is open to further expansion, with a deliberate design to allow other funders to join.