Sustainable food systems

Restore and strengthen ecological systems, empower us all to realise our right to a full and healthy diet, and enable food producers and consumers to determine what food they produce and eat, and how.


Australia’s food system is unsustainable. We are using non-renewable, polluting resources to produce food, which is degrading land and water systems.

More than 2.5 million Australians are living in poverty, with many unable to access enough healthy food. And a concentration of power in our food supply chains is undermining sustainable food systems and the ability of food producers and consumers to turn this situation around.

Our food system is also contributing significantly to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions on-farm and throughout the supply chain, and is one of the most severely affected systems, with agricultural production impacted by droughts, reduced rainfall and extreme weather.

While our food system is creating and suffering from many environmental challenges, it is an exciting arena for change. We can transform our food system, and it can underpin the critical goal of zero net emissions by 2050 — all while restoring ecological systems and biodiversity, ending hunger and empowering inclusive communities and economies for a sustainable future.

Our challenge is to ensure as many farmers as possible — as quickly as possible — adopt sustainable farming practices and regenerative systems throughout Australia. We need to build and strengthen values-based supply chains where farmers and allies collaborate to attain scale as well as a viable alternative to the current export- and profit-driven system serving and dominated by the interests of a few. We must make major changes to how we understand food security and what we eat to end hunger while transforming our food system to regenerate ecosystems. And we need to engage with and galvanise the food systems movement, which is essential for building the constituency for change.

AEGN philanthropy briefing: sustainable food systems

This briefing will help you understand the key characteristics of Australia’s food system, how it operates and the major challenges to creating a sustainable alternative. Written by Kirsten Larsen, Jennifer Sheridan and Serenity Hill, it draws on the 2016 State of the Environment report and other research to examine the food system as a whole and offer solutions for a sustainable future.

Please note the 2021 State of the Environment report has since been released providing updated data — see the report’s land and biodiversity chapters for more information. You can also watch the chapter briefings for the land and biodiversity chapters.

What philanthropy can do

Improving the sustainability of Australia’s food system is a key objective of a growing number of trusts and foundations.

The food system interacts with all aspects of the natural world and human society, meaning that a wide range of philanthropic interest areas can be addressed through funding in this area. Food systems funders have the opportunity to improve health outcomes, address poverty and disadvantage and empower indigenous Australians, while healing the environment.

There are a wide range of interventions underway which aim to create a new and better food system. There is potential to provide grants to initiatives which tackle a particular element of the system – such as production or distribution – or to fund initiatives which work across the system. With many of the organisations working in this area being new and/or small, core funding plays a crucial role in building the capacity of these organisations to work effectively.

Many of the players in the food systems movement are trying to establish new enterprises and business models which meet and build upon the growing demand for more sustainable food. Supporting capacity building initiatives is key to helping such initiatives become successful. Increasingly there are also opportunities for foundations to invest their corpus in sustainable food businesses.

Advocacy is also an important aspect of systems reform, striving for government policies which progress sustainability and also to influence the development of funding programs to inject crucial resources into this area.

With so many small organisations working within the food systems movement, support for networks which convene and resource smaller groups and share information is also important. All trusts and foundations are welcome to participate in the sustainable food systems funder group and access the skills and knowledge of other experienced philanthropists.

Our network includes foundations which are funding in different ways to improve the sustainability of our food systems. New funders are most welcome to join us on this journey.