On World Food Day, Forum’s Global Strategic Lead, Food System Transformation, Duncan Williamson, highlights five key trends to watch as the global food transition gathers pace. Regenerative production practices are gaining momentum; calls for agrobiodiversity are growing louder; the world is clamping down on Greenwashing; and the need for social justice and biodiversity protection are coming into sharp focus. 

2023 has been an unprecedented year for our rapidly changing climate. It is on track to be the hottest on record with average temperatures being smashed and devastating floods in 10 countries within the span of 12 days. We are seeing livelihoods lost, harvests fail, empty supermarket shelves and the knock-on impact to people’s diets.  

Examples of the climate crisis being here and now are all around us. Take New York City, which felt the brunt of the sun and rain in the span of three months. India, where some rice exports have been banned. Europe, where the olive harvest is one of the worst ever. The list goes on. 

The fact that we are experiencing biodiversity, climate and water crises simultaneously should come as no surprise. The Stockholm Resilience Centre recently highlighted that six of our nine planetary boundaries — interrelated processes within the biophysical Earth system — have been crossed. This is compounded by ongoing global conflicts and the continued presence of COVID-19. 

This World Food Day, as we grapple with the reality of what our ongoing polycrisis means for our future, we need to move away from carbon tunnel vision and start looking holistically at the impact we and our food system have on the planet.  

There are signs of hope. Companies are coming to grips with Scope 3 reporting; the Biodiversity COP has finally started looking at food systems, and the upcoming COP28 will have more events and actions on food systems than ever before.  

This change has happened rapidly, compared to when I first went to COP in 2009 and food was not even mentioned. It was barely on the agenda in Paris in 2015 where I spoke about sustainable diets and was seen as a little odd. As more people and businesses understand the risks we face if we maintain our current trajectory, the speed of change will also accelerate.  

How then can we ensure we stay focused? For me there are five important trends in 2024 that will inform the transition towards a food system that replenishes our planet: 

1. Growing momentum behind regenerative production 

There is increasing momentum behind regenerative production, both on land and in water. It is recognised as delivering on the One Health agenda – bringing benefits to human, animal, and the environment’s health. Regenerative production is vital to delivering Net Zero and nature positive outcomes, and will only grow in importance. 

Scaling regenerative agriculture in the US and UK 

Forum has been working to accelerate adoption of regenerative farming in the US and UK since 2019.  

Regenerative agriculture practices could cut the UK’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 40%. In 2023, under Growing our Future UK, we published the report “Scaling regenerative agriculture in the UK: Accelerating change through collaboration”, calling for action to revolutionise the UK's food and farming system by promoting regenerative agricultural practices.  

Growing our Future US, launched in 2020, is a collaborative platform to address critical issues – from policy, financing and bringing regenerative products to market – that could accelerate the uptake of regenerative agriculture. In 2023, we published our series, "The Frontline of Indigenous Agriculture", which featured insights and perspectives from Indigenous agriculturalists. 

2. Louder calls for agrobiodiversity 

This is the idea that we need to support and enhance the variety of species in our food systems. To move away from monocultures and toward a more diverse (and therefore resilient) food system. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the growing call to eat more beans and pulses. The Beans is How campaign is calling for global bean consumption to double by 2028. At the same time, we are recognising the power of plants in delivering nutritional outcomes. We should be eating 30 different plants a week – fruit, vegetables, spices, nuts and pulses. This one change will have more benefits to people and planet than any other diet.   

3. Clamping down on Greenwashing  

We are seeing increasing instances of companies and governments making unsubstantiated claims on their climate actions, overestimating the benefits of various activities or products but not delivering on commitments and cherry-picking data. There is a growing understanding that this is unacceptable, and governments will be introducing new measures to stop Greenwashing.  

In 2026, the EU Green Claims Directive that makes companies substantiate green claims will be introduced. This is just the start, with citizens calling out vague misleading claims and boycotting products and companies.  

4. An intensifying focus on social justice 

We are seeing the rise of ideas such as a just transition and support for better livelihoods and worker rights. The idea of One Health does not focus only on nutritional health, but also air and water pollution, and the health and rights of workers across the value chain.

Social justice is a wide-ranging concept and covers areas such as racial justice, indigenous rights and gender. We are beginning to see it creep into mainstream discussion beyond the usual suspects of social and people-centric causes. Environmental and animal welfare NGOs have begun including it in their work, while organisations like the World Benchmarking Alliance have made it easier for companies to be held accountable and for others to measure what they do. 

Mobilising the private sector on climate and health

The Climate and Health Coalition is a multi-stakeholder initiative with a mission to mobilise and equip the private sector to play a key role in accelerating the transformation of our health and climate systems, towards outcomes that deliver benefits for both people and planet. The Coalition is facilitated by Forum for the Future and comprises Bristol Myers Squibb, Bupa, Haleon, Reckitt and Walgreens Boots Alliance. 

In 2022, the Coalition shared an updated guidance for businesses, policymakers and investors to design and deliver corporate strategies that deliver co-benefits for climate and human health. Find out more about the Coalition's work. 

5. Biodiversity climbing the agenda 

As a result of the Biodiversity COP15 in 2022, countries have signed up to a new set of targets around biodiversity restoration. By the end of 2024 they will need to show how they will deliver on these goals. This will include new laws and regulations that companies will need to adhere to. This is a game changer as food systems and the main actors in them are the leading cause of biodiversity loss. Companies will need to set targets for rapid change and be held accountable. 

These five trends set to continue in 2024, each pointing to promising progress in creating a food system capable of producing nutritious, affordable and accessible food that doesn’t cost the Earth. The question is whether they will add up to achieving the systemic, urgent transition we need by 2030. Ones to watch.

How we think about, produce, consume and value food 

At Forum for the Future, we’re working to enable a systemic, urgent transition in our food system to fulfil the needs of diets, livelihoods and land. Find out more and get in touch with Duncan to collaborate.

Photo from Shutterstock.