Hivos International

About Sustainable Food

Our planet has the potential to provide the growing world population with enough nutritious food for many years to come. It is clear that this is not happening, as one billion people are undernourished and two billion are struggling with obesity. Economies of scale, monoculture and liberalisation, market forces - none of these have been able to change that.


A growing world population, combined with the effects of advancing climate change, present enormous challenges for our global food system. The existing food system, built on large-scale mono cropping of maize, wheat and rice, is eroding ecosystems and crop diversity globally and reducing diversity on our plates. Although there is sufficient food in the world to feed all, some 900 million people still go hungry. In addition, more than one billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, and another two billion are suffering from nutrition deficiencies. Global dietary patterns have also changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Today, many people consume large amounts of meat, dairy products, oil, salt and sugar, which negatively affects both their health and that of the environment. These problems do not just affect developing countries, but consumers and agribusinesses around the globe.


After nearly three years of open global consultations, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by UN member states in September 2015. Hivos believes these goals, prerequisites and indicators will enable citizens, particularly women, and civil society to claim and shape the positive changes they aspire to. Many SDGs address the food system, including food and nutrition security, trade relations and climate change, which is why our sustainable food goals are also global goals.


In our view, we need a radical rethinking that recognises ecosystems as the basic foundation of societies and economies. But we also need to put citizens centre stage to build a new food system. Signs of the required transformation are emerging worldwide. In local communities, small enterprises are launching sustainable food products. Thanks to stronger producer–consumer linkages and progressive companies, governments are setting ambitious sustainability targets. Hivos’ first strategy is therefore to work with innovators to generate change amongst both producers and consumers. We invest in small and medium eco and people-friendly enterprises and strengthen the capacity of financial institutions to develop green financial products.


Our second strategy is to create coalitions of the willing. We engage with producers, governments, private sector and civil society organisations to create resilient and diverse regions and cities. In cooperation with IIED and the Kabarole Research Centre (KRC), we initiated a Food Innovation lab in 2015 in Fort Portal, Uganda to address the future of food and nutrition security in the city and its rural hinterland. The mayor of Fort Portal supports KRC to co-create innovations with unusual suspects, from street vendors and schoolchildren, to artists and journalists. Beyond technology, these innovations can result in new public policies, business models or consumer behaviour.  


Our third strategy is to work with civil society organisations to influence the policies and practices of governments and the private sector to diversify the food system. Sustainable diets are respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, nutritious, safe and healthy. A diverse food system builds on the productivity and nutrition potential of agricultural biodiversity in food systems rather than bringing diversity into the hands of a few corporations. It enables women and men to use and develop their knowledge to further improve the diversity in production and consumption systems. Diversity on the farm is diversity on the plate.

Sustainable diets defined

A sustainable diet has low environmental impact and contributes to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources. FAO, Rome, 2010.



Women play a key role in our food system. They produce most of the food crops in the developing world and decide about food consumption in their families. But women have much less access to information, resources, finance and markets. Hivos supports awareness raising of the gender roles of women and men in food production and consumption and empowers women to help create more demand for healthy and sustainable food and to access food markets and supply.


Climate change is affecting food security in many parts of the World. Under the name SAFE (‘Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Environment’), a new platform for Latin America and the Caribbean will enable 150,000 regional smallholder farmers to benefit more from their participation in national and global supply chains and develop their resilience to climate change and other external threats. The platform will support the development of innovative tools to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Group recently approved initial funding of US $2.6 million to create the platform. Hivos will be the implementing partner of SAFE.


In 2050, more than two-thirds of the global population will live in cities. Well-managed cities can provide access to high-quality nutritious food, social services and environmental services to their populations. In La Paz, Bolivia and Bandung, Indonesia, Hivos works in partnership with IIED to support partner organisations, local governments and relevant food actors such as street vendors, entrepreneurs and cooks to improve local food and nutrition security.


Hivos gladly cooperates with a number of organisations, such as IIED, Bioversity International, IFOAM, UNEP, FAO, the Initiative for Sustainable Trade (IDH), within Alliance2015 and with private sector partners such as Triodos Bank and Ecom Trading Ltd. In 2016, we initiated a five-year strategic partnership with the Dutch government, ‘Sustainable Diets for All’. Its aim is to strengthen organisations in their capacity to influence the policies and practices of markets and governments, and to enable citizen action that will promote and demand sustainable diets for all. Furthermore, Hivos is the co-lead of a new programme on Sustainable Food Systems, part of the ten-year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production implemented by UNEP, which started in June 2016.

Key Focal Areas