CFS, FAO approves the ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition’

approved Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

Committee on World Food Security (CFS) – the most important intergovernmental platform, established in 1974 at FAO – has finally approved the ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition’ (VGFSN), after five years of consultations and negotiations. (1)

The Guidelines on agri-food systems and nutrition aim to promote, in the 194 States that join the ‘Food and Agriculture Organization’, policies consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals #sdg2 (End Hunger), #sdg3 (Good Health and Well-being).

1) Malnutrition, global scenario

Malnutrition expresses the state of imbalance between the energy consumed and that taken in through food. (2) It manifests itself in undernutrition – i.e. lack of nutrients and micronutrients which lead to growth arrest, wasting and progressive loss of vital functions – but also in excess imbalances which induce overweight, obesity, and NCDs (Non-Communicable Diseases, i.e. cardiovascular, diabetes, tumors).

All the countries on the planet are today afflicted by malnutrition, in at least one of its forms, with growing trends that often reach epidemic levels. The population groups at greatest risk are always those who live in poor or marginalized communities, or in any case without the possibility of controlling their dietary choices. With catastrophic health, economic and social impacts. (3)

2) Growing trend

‘The double burden of malnutrition’ continues to worsen, according to the (inevitably approximate) estimates of FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP:

– phase and malnutrition affected at least 2022 million people in 783, approximately one human being in 10, with a marked increase (approximately +20%) compared to the previous year, (4)

– obesity, a pathological condition and a factor that increases the risk of various serious and chronic diseases, is in turn increasingly widespread in all regions, including rural areas.

Obesity today it affects over a billion people (650 million adults, 340 million adolescents, 39 million children), according to WHO 2022 data, an increase compared to 2021. (5)

3) Primary causes

The causes primary causes of malnutrition are poverty and inequality. To which are added and often overlap, conflicts, vulnerability to environmental disasters, climate change, pandemics and other risk factors that affect agri-food systems. Malnutrition and food insecurity can in turn trigger social unrest and migration.

Anthropogenic factors such as the (ab)use of pesticides and other agrotoxics – as well as global warming and extreme climate phenomena – degrade the land, which is increasingly less fertile and productive. States should therefore commit to the protection of natural ecosystems and biodiversity as crucial safeguards for strengthening food systems and guaranteeing ‘food security’ in the short and long term.

4) CFS ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition’ (VGFSN)

Target of the ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition’ is to encourage ‘policy-makers’ and ‘stakeholders’ to concretely commit themselves to pursuing the objectives of ‘food security’, ‘nutrition security’ and sustainability of agri-food systems. To guarantee the right to food proclaimed by the United Nations, to be understood as regular access to a healthy and balanced diet, as well as adequate for local food cultures.

The document under examination – like other valuable works conducted by CFS in recent decades (6) unfortunately does not have a binding nature. It therefore contributes to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, in line with the United Nations Decade of Action on Malnutrition (2016-2025), and will hopefully be taken into consideration by stakeholders in the development of policies, laws, programs and investment plans national.

5) VGFSN, six guiding principles

Six guiding principles, which emerged and shared during the consultation process for the guidelines, should be taken into consideration whenever a useful action is defined to achieve the objective of healthy and safe agri-food systems:

  • systemic, multi-sectoral approach, based on science and scientific evidence,
  • policies that are coherent with the objectives and specific in relation to the context, as well as coordinated
    and even,
  • responsibility, transparency and participation,
  • healthy and prosperous people, healthy planet,
  • gender equality and women’s empowerment,
  • ’empowerment’ and involvement of young people.

It is noted unfortunately the inattention – here, as in UN Agenda 2030 – towards the largest and most fragile of minorities, people with disabilities and fragility also associated with the aging now endemic everywhere except in Africa.

6) VGFSN, seven areas of interest

CFS (Committee on World Food Security) recommends pursuing the objectives of security of food supplies and sustainability of supply chains by working on seven areas of interest:

6.1) Transparent, democratic and responsible governance

It is necessary to develop coherent and responsible policies at every level, from global to local. We need to promote policy coordination, integrate food systems and nutrition into development plans, create accountability mechanisms and monitoring and evaluation tools, and strengthen the participation of indigenous peoples in food systems.

6.2) Sustainability of food supply chains

Sustainability economic and social aspects of food systems must be integrated with environmental ones, for adaptation to climate change and their mitigation, promoting the use and sustainable management of natural resources. It is also crucial to protect the health of workers, improve food preservation, processing, packaging and processing, and empower young people in these fields.

6.3) Equal access to healthy diets

Healthy foods – that is, safe and balanced from a nutritional point of view – as well as being sustainable, it must be accessible and available to everyone, in places where people shop as in collective catering. It is necessary to promote equitable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, safe and nutritious food, capable of satisfying dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

6.4) Cooperation for food safety

International cooperation in risk assessment, communication and management must be developed to prevent and control potential food safety risks. It is also important to harmonize official control systems.

6.5) Nutrition education

Food education centered on people is the best way to promote awareness, increase skills and change eating habits to improve the health and well-being of populations and mitigate the risks associated with unbalanced diets.

6.6) Gender equality and women’s emancipation

The states they must implement actions to improve women’s living conditions, guaranteeing them equal access to financial, technical and material resources. We must overcome the legal obstacles that in some countries still limit their participation in decision-making processes. Gender relations and cultural legacies still have a serious influence on hunger, malnutrition and unhealthy diets among women and girls.

6.7) Resilience in view of possible humanitarian crises

The pandemic experience showed the importance of organizing strategies capable of guaranteeing ‘food security’ in humanitarian crises. In these situations it is necessary to satisfy primary needs without creating a long-term impact on food systems. The guidelines aspire to protect the most vulnerable, build the resilience of food systems in humanitarian contexts and improve the quality of food and nutrition assistance.

Dario Dongo and Alessandra Mei

Cover image by Kathrine Torday Gulden.Climate-smart agriculture to ensure a food secure future. NIBIO. 16.5.17. Photo: Ragnar Våga Pedersen


(1) CFS. CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

(2) ‘Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The term malnutrition covers 2 broad groups of conditions:

the first is “undernutrition,” which includes stunting (low height-for-age), wasting (low weight-for-height), underweight (low weight-for-age), and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (lack of important vitamins and minerals).
The other is overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer)‘

(3) Dario Dongo. State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023. Report FAO et al. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.8.23

(4) FAO. The state of food security in the world 2030

(5) WHO. World Obesity Day 2022 – Accelerating action to stop obesity. 4.3.22

(6) Dario Dongo. FAO, China in command. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.6.19

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.


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