Between Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has choked global access to wheat by 30 percent, and the ravages of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, food prices are soaring and food insecurity is a greater threat than ever. Now the Rockefeller Foundation has announced a plan to increase access to healthy and sustainable foods for 40 million underserved people around the world.
The foundation’s new Good Food Strategy, launched in late March, will invest $105 million over three years to “support a shift in public and private spending toward foods that are nutritious, regenerate the environment, and create equitable economic opportunity for people at every step of the food supply chain.”
As part of the plan, the Rockefeller Foundation is working with health insurance companies to encourage doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables instead of pharmaceuticals whenever appropriate and helping schools and hospitals buy healthier foods.
The strategy builds on the foundation’s investment in powering the food system with renewable energy, part of its $1 billion commitment to an inclusive, green recovery from the pandemic and as an anchor partner of the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet.
Despite the food system’s $9 trillion global market value, two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty are agricultural workers and their families, according to the foundation. Unhealthy diets account for one in five deaths worldwide, and the food system generates more than 1/4 of all greenhouse gas emissions.
In other words, the way the world produces and consumes food is failing both people and the planet, according to the foundation.
“Because of climate change, food prices were already the highest in a decade, even before Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine further decimated global food supplies. Now, the world is on the precipice of a global humanitarian crisis,” said Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. “The world must act—and act now. With this new commitment, the largest for nutrition in our history, the Rockefeller Foundation will help increase the supply of good, nourishing food and reimagine our food systems to make them more resilient for the future.”
The foundation’s Good Food Strategy will focus on three levers to increase access to affordable, healthy food; reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the food system; and expand economic opportunity for small- and mid-size food producers:
Good Food Data and Science Innovations: Investments will support metrics and data systems that better inform decision-makers on the real costs and benefits of our food. This will include:
- Expanding existing investments in True Cost Accounting, which evaluates all the costs of the food system beyond what consumers pay in stores
- Standardizing and democratizing principles, outcomes and metrics for regenerative/agroecological agriculture, including connecting a fleet of demonstration projects that show the impact potential of regenerative agriculture
- Harmonizing definitions of dietary quality
- Launching the Periodic Table of Food Initiative, a global effort to create a public database containing the comprehensive biochemical composition and function of the most important foods from around the globe.
Good Food Policy: The foundation will advance effective, data-driven policies that improve access to good food for millions of people. A major focus will be bolstering Food is Medicine programs to combat diet-related diseases, which include produce prescription programs and the integration of food as a covered health care benefit to help patients gain access to foods that promote their health.
Good Food Purchasing: The Good Food Strategy will support large institutions, including schools and hospitals, to use their existing food procurement budgets to buy and provide foods that benefit people and the planet. This includes piloting a program in Rwanda to test the transition from processed to whole grains in school feeding programs. It also includes supporting the development of Good Food Purchasing Program Standards to guide institutions around the world to make food choices that contribute to a healthier and more sustainable food future.
From a practical standpoint, according to the Associated Press, the Rockefeller Foundation will take some innovative approaches to achieving its goals, including:
- Encouraging doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables instead of drugs when appropriate since they can be both healthier and cheaper. The foundation is working with 10 health insurance companies to test the strategy.
- Paying for healthy foods at schools, hospitals, prisons and other state-operated facilities.
- Helping farmers switch to production practices that reduce the amount of carbon released into the air after they plow the ground.
- Funding more small and medium-size food businesses to diversify the distributors and prevent supply-chain issues.
“The world is spending far too much on foods that are bad for people and bad for the planet,” said Roy Steiner, Senior Vice President, Food Initiative, for the Rockefeller Foundation. “The costs multiply in long-term damage to public health, the environment, and the livelihoods of people working in food supply chains. Our Good Food Strategy aims to reverse these trends, incentivizing progress toward a food system that respects the earth and all people.”
This article has been adapted and edited from a press release appearing on the Rockefeller Foundation website.