Change in food systems is not only possible, it is necessary for the people, for the planet and for prosperity, says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Addressing the landmark UN Food Systems Summit 2021, he warned that the COVID-19 has made the challenge much greater. The virtual summit, which convened thousands of participants including UN member states, private sector representatives, farmers, producers and civil society participants, focused on concrete actions to transform food systems to accelerate progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Guterres highlighted that the pandemic has deepened inequalities, decimated economies, plunged millions into extreme poverty and raised the spectre of famine in a growing number of countries. At the same time, the UN chief said the world is waging a war against nature and reaping the bitter harvest, with ruined crops, dwindling incomes and failing food systems. “Food systems also generate one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. And they are responsible for up to 80% of biodiversity loss,” he said.
The summit emphasized the need for systems-level change. Global leaders supported promotion of holistic and inclusive food systems-based approaches to poverty alleviation, nutrition, resilient and reliable agricultural production, resource conservation, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. It focused the world’s attention on addressing these challenges and advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for the health of the planet and the wellbeing of current and future generations. The inclusive approach of this “People’s Summit” opened the door to diverse stakeholders and cooperation among key actors, including civil society, farmers, farm and food workers, entrepreneurs, the private sector and governments – all of whom must work together to achieve food systems transformation.
The complexity of the food system arises from the fact that it encompasses a wide range of actors and stakeholders and it integrates socio-cultural, economic, political, biophysical, environmental, infrastructure and technical drivers that interact at different levels along the entire food supply chain to deliver outcomes for human beings and the planet. The debate of whether the food system is broken or just uncoordinated, highlights the need to realign efforts to go beyond ending hunger towards sustainable consumption and production, providing healthy and safe nutritious food, and promoting equitable livelihoods to ensure a transition towards inclusive, healthy, sustainable and resilient systems.
To achieve food security while balancing between nutrition, health and enhanced economic, social and environmental outcomes, it is imperative to propose game changing solutions and identify actors and stakeholders that can implement them. Addressing poverty is urgently needed by supporting decent employment opportunities within the food system, enhancing the income of small-scale producers and operators, reducing risks and challenges faced by food producers, and providing social security services.