Getting on the same page

There are many actors and sectors involved in food systems and food system transformations at the local, regional and global levels. This glossary serves to help orient the diverse community of portal users to how we are using some key terms.

We have based many of the definitions found here off of the glossary used by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s 2020 Food Security and Nutrition report nutrition glossary (here). Other definitions we have adapted and modified with the input of a wide range of experts and key stakeholders across the fields of nutrition, agroecology, food policy and financing. Your input and suggestions are also very important to us, so please take a look and send us feedback if you have any questions or suggestions  about a particular definition or terminology. The portal content review and management committee will take these ideas into account as the portal evolves.

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Supply chain stages (5)
Agricultural inputs and primary production practices

Inputs include seeds, varieties/characteristics, natural resources (water, soil), fertilizers, agrochemicals (herbicides, fungicides and pesticides), animal nutritional supplements or medications, feed, farming and equipment, etc. Production practices and output generation (farming, fishing, wild-harvesting, novel food product manufacturing, etc.); monitoring and regulation of input application, pest management.

Handling, storage and transport/distribution

The planning, implementation, and control of the flow and storage of goods, services and related information from the point of origin to the point of consumption. Transport and logistics can occur both between the production and processing stages, as well as between the processing and retail stages.

Processing and packaging

The processes in which raw materials are combined and transformed to make a final product for sale. This can include any action that preserves, prepares, or adds to foods, such as sorting and grading; chopping, slicing, and butchering of animal and plant products; cooking, drying, canning, fermenting, and curing processes; addition of additives, including nutrients for fortification; and packaging in a ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook format. Packaging includes all the modifications food undergoes after being processed and before being transported such as labelling.

Wholesale, markets and retail

The processes in which final food products are delivered to food service operators, including retailers and caterers. This can involve storage, warehousing, and transportation through specific channels. Distribution can also include wholesalers, who purchase in bulk from the production and processing stages and sell to a retailer or direct to the consumer. In some cases, food supply chains involve non-market distribution, such as through a government food assistance programme. Markets and retail include the sale of food goods in quantities purchasable by individual consumers from a specific point, such as a store, shop, open-air market or e-commerce platforms. Retail also includes those who provide food ready-to-eat, such as restaurateurs, street food sellers, and caterers.


The actions and factors related directly to consumers’ demographics, income, purchasing power and food acquisition behaviors, consumer knowledge and awareness, food culture preferences and meal practices (including food storage and preparation), and diet and nutritional needs. This category also includes marketing, food messaging, promotion and advertising.

Cross-cutting elements (4)

The management and/or reduction of food loss and waste at each stage of the food value chain (including raising awareness, packaging, 100 percent utilization, cold chain management, and/or policies)

Regulatory aspects

The global, international, national, regional entities and institutions regulating the food system such as regulating trade restrictions, quality/safety requirements, patents rights, labelling, traceability, subsidies.

Financial aspects

This category includes banks, specialised funding agencies, insurance firms and all other forms of financial entities/tools in the supply chain.

Educational, outreach and empowerment aspects

This category targets education, outreach and empowerment for actors across the supply chain - from food producers to consumers.

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Dietary Health (5)
Food quality

Potential of solution to improve the nutritional quality of the food basket, i.e. that it provides dietary diversity and balanced diets including a range of food groups and all beneficial nutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals, proteins, essential fats, dietary fibres). Also includes the potential to minimise potentially harmful elements (e.g. anti-nutrients, high quantities of saturated fats, salt and sugars) and diet-related comorbidities.

Food safety

Potential of solution to minimize biological, chemical or physical contamination of food product(s) *both sanitation and toxicity issues

Food availability

Potential of solution to increase supply and/or access to nutritious foods. Please take into account seasonal shifts in supply, the importance of stability, changes in policy & trade, and excesses/shortages of raw materials needed for a food’s production or processing

Food affordability

Potential of the solution to increase access by reducing the consumer price or increase purchasing power for nutritious foods, either through increased income or entitlements (e.g. social protection mechanisms).

Food desirability

Potential of solution to improve the desirability of nutritious foods or healthy diets, i.e. to make foods or healthy diets more aspirational, tasty, culturally appropriate, convenient, and/or easy to prepare

Planetary Health (7)
Climate mitigation

Potential of solution to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of our food systems e.g., by reducing emissions or by capturing carbon

Climate adaptation

Potential of solution to increase the adaptation capacity to climate change of our food systems e.g., by providing options to minimize the impact of severe weather events, droughts, flooding, changing seasons, or other climate related issues

Water use

Potential of solution to decrease the water footprint of our food systems e.g., by increasing water use efficiency, recycling water, or reducing water needs

Soil health

Potential of solution to improve soil health, restore degraded land or avoid land degradation, e.g. by increasing soil organic matter, contributing to soil biodiversity and soil nutrient availability, reducing soil erosion and risk of gully formation

Reducing biodiversity loss

Potential of solution to decrease biodiversity loss related to our food systems, e.g. by reducing pressure on land, water and chemical pollution, enhancing conservation of species at risk, and/or creating habitat in agricultural lands/aquaculture waters.

Increasing agrobiodiversity

Potential of solution to increase biodiversity in our food systems e.g., by diversifying production systems and ingredient portfolios, and enhancing use of underutilized species.

Reducing pollution

Potential of solution to decrease pollution from our food systems e.g., by reducing nitrogen or phosphorus run-off and plastic pollution, or by reducing other types of pollution

Equity (1)
Reduce disparties

Potential of the solution to reduce the disparities between groups who have different levels of underlying social advantage/disadvantage at any point in the food system.

Leapfrogging (1)
Positively disrupt business-as-usual

Potential of by-passing linear or stepwise improvements and applying solutions that are several generations ahead of current approaches - e.g. mobile networks in Limited and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) by-passing the building of landline networks. Looking specifically at solutions that positively disrupt ‘business as usual’ to improve both human and environmental health.

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SDG1 No Poverty

Access to basic human needs of health, education, sanitation

SDG2 Zero Hunger

Providing food and humanitarian relief, establishing sustainable food production

SDG3 Good Health and Wellbeing

Better, more accessible health systems to increase life-expectancy

SDG4 Quality Education

Inclusive education to enable upward social mobility and end poverty

SDG5 Gender Equality

Education regardless of gender, advancement of equality laws, fairer representation of women

SDG6 Clean Water and Sanitation

Improving access for billions of people who lack these basic facilities

SDG7 Affordable and Clean Energy

Access to renewable, safe and widely available energy sources for all

SDG8 Decent Work and Economic Growth

Creating jobs for all to improve living standards, providing sustainable economic growth

SDG9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Generating employment and income through innovation

SDG10 Reduced Inequalities

Reducing income and other inequalities, within and between countries

SDG11 Sustainable Cities and Communities

Making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable

SDG12 Responsible Consumption and Production

Reversing current consumption trends and promoting a more sustainable future

SDG13 Climate Action

Regulating and reducing emissions and promoting renewable energy

SDG14 Life Below Water

Conservation, promoting marine diversity and regulating fishing practices

SDG15 Life on Land

Reversing man-made deforestation and desertification to sustain all life on earth

SDG16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Inclusive societies, strong institutions and equal access to justice

SDG17 Partnerships for the Goals

Revitalize strong global partnerships for sustainable development

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Solutions at this stage only exist as an idea at this moment, they do not yet have a plan or prototype.


Solutions at this stage are in their infancy, with prototypes having been developed or initial testing phases being undertaken. Initial testing has begun within research / pilot contexts.

Gaining traction

Solutions at this stage have been piloted with successful use in a given setting. Evidence-based analysis and assessments are available.

Moving to scale

Solutions at this stage have been successfully piloted in a given setting and are starting to be adopted elsewhere or scaled up in production quantity. Operational use by relevant users has been demonstrated across the community.


Solutions at this stage have been successfully implemented in various settings or have large production quantities. Solution is used routinely within the community of practice. Quality assurance and body of knowledge in place.

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Building trust

This element refers to the need for trust between key actors in the food system AND in the ability of innovations to deliver benefit to society; Also trust in the processes that effectively deal with intermittent problems or failure on the way to having a positive impact.

Changing policies and regulations

This element refers to fulfilling policy and regulatory support for innovations—whether for the innovator, the consumer, or other food system actors.

Designing market incentives

This element recognises the large start-up costs and/or risks associated with deploying new innovations at scale; recognizing the public policy responsibility to ensure opportunities are aligned to sustainability.

Enabling social license

This element articulates that public trust in genuinely responsible innovation must be built and maintained for innovations to be adopted and extensive public dialogue must be facilitated, particularly to include marginalized actors.

Ensuring stable finance

This element refers to the need for more steady and longer-term finance for innovations to drive transformational shifts.

Research data and evidence

This element recognizes the need for adequate data to be available to improve existing research and contribute new evidence to the ongoing public dialogue. It looks to science-based and evidence-driven models to effectively monitor all aspects of the food system.

Safeguarding against undesirable effects

This element seeks to minimize the negative tradeoffs or unintended indirect effects of innovations. Requires monitoring of innovation moving to scale and taking corrective action when necessary, taking into account all stakeholders needs.

Transforming mindsets

This element refers to the need to support actors of the food system to embrace change in the food system. It recognises the deeply ingrained cultural relationship that many people have with food and encourages transformation of the way that people think about food and the values that shape their choices.

Women and gender empowerment

This element articulates the need for an effective food system that allows and promotes gender inclusiveness and does not leave any vulnerable populations behind, but rather supports more equity in the development and adaptation of  innovative food system practices.

Youth involvement

This element recognizes the need to  more actively involve young people in all parts of food system transformations going forward. Youth are the earth’s future generation and the more they are included in designing, developing, testing and scaling innovations, the more invested they become in driving positive changes in society across the food system.