Political economy considerations for transforming food systems: A new book explores pathways to progress

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The current state of the global food system is increasingly being acknowledged as unsustainable, with far-reaching consequences for the environment and public health. The new book The Political Economy of Food System Transformation: Pathways to Progress in a Polarized World, co-edited by Danielle Resnick and Johan Swinnen and published jointly by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Oxford University Press, explores the complex dynamics around the much needed transformation.

The global food system’s current structure not only leads to significant negative environmental externalities but also contributes to widening food and dietary disparities, leading to non-communicable diseases in middle- and high-income countries and insufficient caloric intake and poor diets among the world’s most impoverished populations.

While there is widespread consensus on the need for food system transformation, the road to achieving this vision is often marked by contentious policy debates, deeply entrenched interest groups, and a lack of enabling conditions for implementation. As observed by Resnick, “Any transformation implicitly requires departing from the established status quo, which will inevitably generate resistance from those groups that stand to lose the most from reforms—or who at least perceive that they will.”

The Political Economy of Food System Transformation delves into these intricate dynamics, shedding light on the complexity of local, national, and global food systems while also emphasizing the increasingly polarized political and institutional contexts surrounding food policy decision-making. In recent years, food systems have expanded to involve a wider array of non-traditional stakeholders, such as insurance companies, banks, technology firms, and transnational civil society advocates. Moreover, food systems are no longer viewed as solely responsible for ensuring calorie sufficiency; they are now expected to address objectives including racial and gender justice, human rights, and the preservation of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.

As food systems evolve, so too does the political landscape. The rise of populism has led to misinformation and ideological biases competing with rigorous analysis in informing policy recommendations. National-level polarization is mirrored geopolitically, further exacerbated by events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A perceived crisis of multilateralism hampers coordination on cross-national issues like climate change and trade, while the rise of multi-stakeholder groups in global forums like the United Nations Food Systems Summit obscures who is ultimately accountable for food system actions.

Given these intricate challenges, the question arises: How can we drive meaningful action? To answer this question, the book draws on contributions from a diverse group of global scholars spanning disciplines such as economics, political science, nutrition, ecology, geography, and public policy. These experts employ a range of methodologies to analyze constraints hindering reform and highlight factors that have propelled progressive change in countries of varying income levels.

A political economy lens is applied to a range of contentious issues in the book, including repurposing agricultural subsidies, reducing red meat and ultra-processed food consumption, promoting the use of responsible biotechnologies, adopting sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, implementing the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy, adapting urban food system councils to different country contexts, and ensuring accountability for global food system commitments. The authors underscore the importance of tackling these important but contentious issues by navigating incentive structures, identifying mobilization strategies and opportunities, and devising innovative policy frameworks that can broaden coalitions for change.

According to Caterina Ruggeri Laderchi, Director of the Food Systems Economic Commission (FSEC), “The Political Economy of Food System Transformation is a valuable resource for policymakers, scholars, and stakeholders seeking to understand and address some of the profound challenges facing our global food system. By shedding light on the complexities and offering potential pathways to progress, this book offers hope for a more sustainable and equitable future.”


Resnick, Danielle, ed.; and Swinnen, Johan, ed. 2023. The political economy of food system transformation: Pathways to progress in a polarized world. Washington, DC; and Oxford, UK: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); and Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780198882121

About the Editors:

Danielle Resnick is a Non-Resident Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and a David Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution in the Global Economy and Development Program.

Johan Swinnen is Managing Director, Systems Transformation, CGIAR; Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).


The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) provides research-based policy solutions to sustainably reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition. IFPRI’s strategic research aims to identify and analyze alternative international and country-led strategies and policies for meeting food and nutrition needs in low- and middle-income countries, with particular emphasis on poor and vulnerable groups in those countries, gender equity, and sustainability. It is a research center of CGIAR, a worldwide partnership engaged in agricultural research for development. www.ifpri.org

For media inquiries please contact: Evgeniya Anisimova, e.anisimova@cgiar.org, +1 (202) 627 4394.

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