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The global agriculture and food system in its current form is unsustainable. Farming practices cause environmental damage such as water pollution, soil degradation and GHG emissions, while producing food of a controversial quality. At the same time, agriculture can be a major provider of jobs, goods and environmental services. Major shifts at all scales – international, national and sub-national – and in all sectors, from food production to consumption, are essential to improve the situation and achieve the SDGs related to poverty, food and nutrition security, health, rural development and the environment. These shifts require unprecedented efforts to implement technological as well as socio-economic strategies taking into account both consensual and non-consensual dimensions of the problem, and their realization will necessitate the establishment of rigorous frameworks for planning and performance monitoring.


IMG_2665While many niche innovations exist that try to build alternative pathways for food systems at a local scale, many drivers of change or on the contrary many lock-in factors are situated at the scale of supply chains, at a national or supra-national scale. It is therefore necessary to understand how national stakeholders can discuss possible transformation pathways and identify levers of action. Most countries, developed and developing, have to establish clear pathways for making ambitious transformative changes in their agriculture and food systems to ensure that these latest become environmentally, economically and socially more sustainable. Although a number of countries have already established quantified sustainable development objectives for their agriculture and food sectors, as of today, few have developed a clear understanding of how to make transformative changes in complex and diverse food systems and there is little research on the feasibility conditions of deep transformation pathways. In addition, there is a lack of capacity to discuss long term transformation scenarios in the agricultural sector and a lack of sharing information on other countries’ experience and roadmaps, making it difficult to capture learning and benefits of cooperation.

6809967372_613b73d95e_oThis SDSN Solution Initiative aims to provide support to countries in two important methodological areas: (i) choosing realistic targets that are congruent with the new SDGs and (ii) developing technology and socio-economic roadmaps that provide sound choices to countries for implementing a sustainable development strategy and meeting selected targets.


The initiative focuses on providing an internationally-coordinated approach and toolkit based on backcasting and other modeling techniques as well as institutional and policy analysis methods, including practical application in selected countries. The first country case studies will be conducted in China, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay, followed by other countries with contrasting types of agriculture and food systems. Tools, data and lessons learned will be shared widely so that other countries can make use of them in developing their own strategies and roadmaps. Identifying the best approach for such a policy dialogue between countries is also one of the objectives of this project and will be a useful contribution to the implementation of the SDG framework

For more information, please contact Marie-Helene Schwoob.

Other Solutions Initiatives

  • Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project

    The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) is an SDSN Solution Initiative co-founded with the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) to prepare national low-emission development pathways to 2050, consistent with limiting the rise in global temperatures to well below 2°C, as agreed in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

  • USA Sustainable Cities Initiative (USA-SCI)

    Building on ongoing municipal sustainable development planning efforts, the USA Sustainable Cities Initiative (USA-SCI) is supporting SDG achievement strategies in three pilot US cities: New York (New York), Baltimore (Maryland), and San Jose (California).

  • Reconciling Development Data

    The process of data reconciliation, which stitches together multiple related datasets, can increase the efficiency and achieve a level of specificity hitherto unavailable to most statistics offices.

  • Rio Sustainable Cities Initiative: SDG Implementation in a Metropolitan Context

    The Rio Sustainable Cities Initiative recognizes that comprehensive sustainable urban development necessitates local and national cooperation. Holistic planning cannot be confined to local boundaries. This is particularly important as cities strive to achieve the urban sustainable development goal (SDG 11), to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

  • The World in 2050

    The World in 2050 (TWI2050) is a global research initiative in support of a successful implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. The goal of TWI2050 is to provide the fact-based knowledge to support the policy process and implementation of the SDGs.

  • Virtual Open Schools

    The Virtual Open School project aims to identify and test a model for large-scale, online provision of quality secondary level education in rural areas in an economically sustainable way.