SuPER Foods

SuPER Foods: CARE's Principles for Just and Sustainable Food Systems

Publication info


In 2016, CARE reached more than 28.6 million people with food and nutrition security programs, and we have  committed helping 50 million poor and vulnerable people improve their food and nutrition security and their resilience to climate change by 2020.  How are we going to get there?  By working toward SuPER food systems: food systems that are Sustainable, Productive (including Profitable and Nutritious), Equitable, and Resilient.  All of CARE’s work in food and nutrition security promotes the right and ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to have the same access to nutritious foods and fair markets as everyone else. Our publication Beyond Productivity highlights evidence of how we are making changes to create more SuPER food systems.


The Problem

Today’s food systems are broken. Over 795 million people are under-nourished; 160 million children are stunted; and one-third of all food produced is wasted, from post-harvest loss to other points along the value chain.  It isn’t an issue of ‘not enough food’ – there is enough for everyone, but access is unequal. However, the solution is not to just redistribute existing food. Many farmers in poor countries can significantly increase their productivity, enabling their families to have better access to food and income, while supplying consumers with locally produced, nutritious, affordable food. Further, the footprint of current food systems is environmentally unsustainable. Two-thirds of ecosystems are already used unsustainably; one-fifth of cropland is degraded and unsuitable for farming; and agriculture is both one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses, and already showing reduced yields as a result of a changing climate and unpredictable weather patterns.

In the meantime, a projected global population of 9.6 billion people by 2050 means food production must increase by as much as 60%. And for women the challenges are even greater: they are often the last to eat when food is scarce; carry a heavy labor burden that is largely natural resource dependent; and do not have equal access with men to productive inputs. Simply put, business as usual will not create sustainable and equitable food and nutrition security for the planet, much less for the poorest and most vulnerable people. Business as usual is not a just and sustainable food system.


The Solution

We know it is possible to have just and sustainable food systems that provide adequate and nutritious food for everyone in the system—especially women and girls. Getting to just and sustainable food systems will help end poverty now and for generations to come. Smallholder farmers using sustainable conservation agriculture techniques can dramatically increase productivity and overall food production without relying on unsustainable practices, and can help fix broken food systems. What are the principles in SuPER? Food systems must be:

  • Sustainable: food systems must be grounded in healthy ecosystems, stable, accountable and enduring institutions and sustainable financing
  • Productive (including profitable and nutrition-sensitive): Food systems must find ways of intensifying production that increases returns on investment, including of labor, by farmers, results in nutritionally balanced diets, and is climate ‘smart ’
  • Equitable: outcomes must enable equal rights, opportunities, resources and rewards for the poor and vulnerable, taking into account the needs and constraints of women , and supporting access to affordable nutritious food by rural and urban consumers
  • Resilient:  individuals, families, communities and systems must be able to withstand shocks and stresses, including climate impacts and other risks.


The Evidence

How do we know change is possible?  We’ve seen the results in our programs around the world.

  • Preliminary results from work in Mozambique suggest that using conservation agriculture and improved varieties developed using plant breeding – core techniques of CARE’s SuPER Agriculture approach – have increased yields of cassava by more than 400% in just 3 seasons. Smallscale farmers can increase their production to feed and nourish the planet’s population in the face of a changing climate, without destroying the ecosystems we depend on.
  • CARE’s work in Kenya through the Adaptation and Learning Project shows that investing $1 in community based adaptation generates between $1.45 and $3.03 of wealth for communities. The costs of more equitable planning to be resilient to climate change and shocks were 2.6 times lower than the cost of doing nothing.
  • CARE’s Pathways program in six countries focuses on getting women farmers access to the resources and power they need to improve their lives.  In two years, the project has mobilized enough additional land for women to cover half of Manhattan, and an extra $3.9 million in income.  Women and men are also sharing power at home to improve their lives.
  • CARE’s work in Ethiopia suggests that working with the whole food system—agriculture, water, health, women’s empowerment and nutrition together—is 6-12 times more impact on improving nutrition that working with just nutrition as a focus.


The Approach

CARE uses a number of different technical approaches to achieve these goals.  We use a push-pull model to focus on getting poor people, especially women, access to markets.  We focus on smallholder agriculture, especially the needs of women farmers. Our Farmers' Field and Business Schools and other farmer-led approaches put communities and their needs at the center of our interventions.  Our focus on gender equality makes sure that we are getting to equitable outcomes that make better results for everyone.  The Participatory Performance Tracker makes sure that information on effectiveness includes communities opinions, and that information makes its way from communities to program management, and into national and international discourse. Our research and partnerships help us gain crucial evidence about what works to meet these principles, and advocacy work brings this evidence and CARE's decades of experience into global forums for policy change.


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