The ATNI Socials Blog is a series of personal commentaries to stimulate discussion on how to transform markets so that they provide more nutritious, affordable and sustainable foods. Our hope is to trigger understanding around the causes and the cures for access to nutrition.

Next up, the ATNI Socials are incredibly proud to present Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, CEO of Food Systems for the Future,  a partner at the Good Food Finance Network. Today Ertharin continues to champion partnership and investment to reinvigorate our food systems, and highlights the ever increasing need for private capital to stimulate and drive sustainable food market transformation. 

Worldwide, hunger, malnutrition, and diet-related diseases are getting worse, not better. In an age of abundance – when our technologies have extraordinary capabilities and business innovations abound – our food system is failing, and underserved communities are disproportionately bearing its climate, health, and economic burdens.

For the more than 828 million people around the globe who are hungry, the humanitarian crisis they are living through has been driven by climate and conflict stressing the food system’s resilience and adaptive capacity. Climate change is hampering food production and distribution, detrimentally impacting universal access to a diverse, healthy diet.

Further, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization calculates some 3.1 billion cannot afford a diverse nutritious diet. Consequently, undernutrition and diet-related diseases are on the rise.  Our health care system focuses on “sick care” embracing food as medicine after the onset of disease rather than addressing the social and nutritional determinants of poor health, lack of access to sufficient, affordable food. Too many private sector companies have saturated the food environment with calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, ultra-processed foods that often are highly available, affordable, and desirable.

The good news is we know what a major part of the solution is:  multisectoral financial investments in scalable, resilient, market-driven enterprises—from farm to fork—that support a more sustainable and equitable food system and improves the health outcomes of all people; respects the planet; delivers financial return for all stakeholders; and ensures geography and income are never barriers to nutritious, affordable food. Such investments will give real meaning to food as health for people and planet.

To deliver this just transformation of the food system, a diversity of solutions are required. From agricultural inputs through to food service and food recovery, businesses commercial activities, operations, and strategies must be aligned to make a diverse, balanced, and healthy diet the affordable, available, and attractive choice for all. For example, businesses can work to extend product shelf-life, expand distribution channels, scale last mile solutions, and increase acceptability of a greater diversity of nutritious foods as strategies for increasing physical access to nutritious foods.

There are also great innovations for increasing economic access to nutritious foods, like: incorporating nutritious foods into government-supported programs and healthcare plans, reducing price points by using cheaper ingredients, upcycling imperfect produce, and offering financial rewards to purchasing nutritious foods. Identifying and investing in businesses that leverage these kinds of strategies will ensure every consumer’s ability to make healthier food choices.

Food Systems for the Future (FSF) was founded with these investments in mind. At FSF, we partner with governments, other nonprofits, the private sector, and the academic community to create an enabling ecosystem to support market-based businesses capable of sustainably making food more affordable and available. At FSF we recognize that without increasing private sector capital flows to the people and places historically deemed too risky, the food system transformation will not reach historically underserved communities and consumers.  Through FSF’s impact investment facility, the Good Food Opportunity fund, we will provide capital as well as direct technical support to scale businesses—particularly those led by entrepreneurs of color—capable of making nutritious food more affordable and available.

We also believe that what we do not measure, we cannot change. A collective science-based methodology for impact measurement and management is required to achieve the accountability and transparency needed to drive increased capital towards nutrition and health food systems transformation. Such methodologies must be nimble to the business’s placement in the value chain, size, and scale as well as to the investor’s approach to responsible investing. FSF, alongside ATNI, is pioneering efforts in this space.

As our ATNI colleague Elena Schmeider laid out previously, investors take a range of different strategies to direct their investments and drive progress for healthy diets at the company or sector level. For example, impact investors approach funding with the explicit intention of generating measurable impacts on the environment or society. Alternatively, investors may use a range of screening techniques (exclusionary, norms-based, or positive) to narrow down a pipeline of investments, while other investors may integrate health and nutrition risks directly into financial analyses (ESG integration). Larger institutional investors can engage in stewardship activities, activating their shareholder power to influence corporate behavior and investments.

Each of these investment strategies can be aligned to increasing affordability, availability, and awareness of nutritious foods, but we must have common principles and shared definitions to enable this alignment. While ATNI is primarily engaging on trying to embed nutrition in ESG investing with large institutional investors helping them align their stewardship activities with public nutrition and health goals, FSF is building and piloting a screening tool, due diligence tool, and monitoring frameworks for nutrition-themed investing. ATNI and FSF’s efforts are highly complementary and aligning our efforts will allow all nutrition innovation investors and entrepreneurs to monitor, coordinate, quantitatively demonstrate, communicate, and ultimately enhance impact—both individually and together.

We are at a critical moment. The nascency of efforts in nutrition impact measurement and management require bold and collaborative engagements of thought leaders in this space. Aligning FSF and ATNI’s symbiotic efforts in private financing for nutrition impact will signal to industry and investors a movement towards consensus, crowd in further resources, catalyze more capital for healthy foods as an attractive asset class, and ultimately achieve greater accountability for the health and nutrition of all communities.

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