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The Systems Transformation Pathway Initiative will convene key Canadian agri-food system stakeholders to characterize a shared vision of the future agri-food system and then clarify critical pathways (e.g., technology, sourcing and production paradigms, financial models) and actions that can accelerate the transformation towards this ideal future. The project has received initial funding for the RBC Foundation Tech for Nature program.

Key elements

Initial foundational research was advanced in 2023, with the development of two working papers focusing on characterising the current Canadian agri-food system and existing stakeholder perspectives on ideal system futures. Through a collaborative stakeholder engagement process conducted through 2024, the initiative aims to further advance the following elements:

  1. Ideal Agri-food System. Identify a shared vision of an ideal future for the Canadian agri-food system, incorporating core characteristics including nature-positive, net-zero, circular, diversified, and equitable.
  2. System characterization. Characterize and map the current (unsustainable) system and identify key barriers to change.
  3. Transformation Pathways. Elaborate the priority pathways (short- and long-term synergistic actions by processors, retailers, government, and investors) for transforming the agri-food system towards the ideal state and the key opportunities and enablers to scale or accelerate these pathways.

The project will utilize system transformation tools and frameworks to engage stakeholders through both direct interviews and workshops, including change-ready farmers, processors, retailers, agri-tech entrepreneurs, investors, and policymakers. The initiative will develop a fulsome understanding of the current system and the most promising pathways toward a shared vision of a circular, diversified, and inclusive future.

As a leading business school sustainability centre, we also understand that system transformation is unlikely without new business models and incentive structures, supported by large-scale deployment of capital. Through this initiative, we will focus on characterizing the barriers to private sector innovation, entrepreneurship, and finance, and how these can be unlocked to accelerate key pathways.

Existing Partnerships and Projects 

There are noteworthy existing partnerships and projects already building momentum on transforming elements of the Canadian agri-food system. This includes the Canadian Alliance for Net Zero Agriculture (CANZA) and the Transition Accelerator’s ground-breaking work on pathways to net zero and sustainable agriculture. The System Transformation Pathways Initiative is being designed to complement and connect with these existing efforts, adding unique value through:

  • Whole system perspective. The Initiative is considering the entire agri-food system rather than just agricultural production, which is a (necessary) focus of much current work. A wider view of the system and value chain unlocks a fuller picture of the transformation opportunity, including a better understanding of influence and incentives, as well as the possibilities of system approaches such as circular materials flows. We will consider both ecological and social dimensions of sustainability (including equity, food security, and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples) as these are all fundamental to shaping a desirable future for the agri-food system.
  • The enabling role of business and finance. As noted, we are aiming to elaborate on the barriers to private sector innovation, entrepreneurship, and finance and how these can be unlocked to accelerate key pathways.
  • Neutral third-party convenor. Ivey will seek to add value as a respected neutral convenor without a stake in the current system. Through this role we also can bring together both established voices and those on the edge of the system, illuminating new perspectives and challenging existing mindsets and assumptions.

This project complements our other “bottom-up” lighthouse projects, integrating key knowledge and insights to advance collective action and entrepreneurship. The initial output will be a system-level report with actionable recommendations for businesses and policymakers; this will act as a platform for further community building and mobilization of changemakers across the system.

Interested in learning more or getting involved? Contact Carly MacArthur at

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