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Moving the Needle on Global Food Systems Financing: Translating Evidence from Health to Agriculture Development Finance

Published: May 2023
Authors: Sarah Zoubek, Minahil Shahid, Jack Daly, Gavin Yamey, Norbert Wilson, Marco Schaferhoff

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Duke University’s World Food Policy Center partnered with the Duke Center for Policy Impact in Global Health at Duke University and Open Consultants to explore how innovative approaches from the global health sector can be adapted to food systems financing to ensure we are more resilient to avoid or better address future crises. We acknowledge that there are important differences between the health sector and the agriculture and food sectors. However, the dramatic innovation in pandemic response from the health sector provides a source of new ideas for the agriculture and food security sectors. With lessons from the health sector as a lens, we conducted desk research, and key informant interviews and two focus groups (both referred to in this report as KIIs) to explore: the role of grant-based mechanisms, resource mobilization with a focus on innovative financing mechanisms, crisis coordination, and global functions (i.e. activities with transnational benefits).


We are currently experiencing the largest displacement and food crisis since the second world war and things may get worse. If we maintain on the current trajectory, we will not reach Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2): “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. Policymakers have had a strong global response to the spiking levels of food insecurity and supply disruptions in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, COVID-19, and recent economic uncertainties. However, progress towards reaching SDG2 has reversed course. The current global institutional aid financing mechanisms in place are not up to the full task. The global development community must use this moment to step back and think creatively about learning from the current food crisis response efforts. Building off what we have learned from the recent crisis response, how do we better set ourselves up for the future?


In this paper, we have assessed to what extent experiences from global health can be translated to food security and agriculture. Based on our assessment, we make the following recommendations:

  1. Increase multilateral grant-based funding to support smallholders and agriculture subject matter experts. A social, pro-poor agenda with a focus on smallholders requires more grant financing. Further, grants and blended finance are needed to create an enabling environment for private funding.
  2. Provide additional finance for medium-term agricultural development – the transition phase between humanitarian and longer-term investments. Address the “transition gap” between one agency leaving the field and one entering where there is a deleterious gap between activity and investment.
  3. The agriculture and food security sectors should build on the added value of innovative financing mechanisms as introduced by the health sector. Innovative Finance Mechanisms have substantially contributed to the mobilization of additional funding for health. Advance market commitments were noted by key informant interviews and focus group discussion input as particularly promising.
  4. For middle income or wealthier countries, additional resource mobilization is possible from multilateral development banks and repurposing government subsidies.
  5. The possibility of joint fundraising strategies in response to the global food crisis should be explored by the food and agriculture sectors. Joint fundraising was successfully applied in the global response to COVID-19.
  6. To improve coordination at a country level and to provide multi-agency support to countries and populations in greatest need, consider a CoVDP-type model, which has effectively helped to increase access to COVID-19 within a short period of time.
  7. Improve coordination between global and regional organizations, and encourage regional organizations to play a larger role, including for in-country coordination.
  8. Increase investments in global functions, such as data generation and distribution, harmonization of standards, better policies, R&D, and technology transfer – including treaties for intellectual property.
  9. Transition to an “investment approach” paradigm as opposed to viewing projects as “development”.