“Changing the way we look at food” – Cooks at the 2nd Global Conference of the 10 Year Programme on Sustainable Food Systems.
Photo: ©Michael Brüntrup

Achieving more sustainable food systems

At the global conference of the 10 Year Programme on Sustainable Food Systems (SFS), which is strongly related to SDG 12, participants discussed ways towards more sustainable food production and consumption.

From 5 to 7 February 2019, the 2nd Global Conference of the 10 Year Programme on Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) took place in San José, Costa Rica. After South Africa in 2017, Costa Rica was the second country to host a global conference in the SFS Programme. This led to a specific focus on efforts in South America with its special set of challenges such as deforestation, high meat consumption and obesity of middle-income urban populations and high inequality.

Participants were particularly pleased by the host country’s efforts to transform its agriculture sustainably, including striving for carbon neutrality for instance with meat or coffee, supporting the reputation of the country as a hotspot for sustainable tourism and as a role model for stability in the region. The ministries of agriculture and the environment jointly presented at the conference, showing how payments for environmental services are fully integrated into agricultural support systems.

Yet, sustainability efforts are not easy to implement in such a setting and are accompanied by many challenges such as dwindling rural income and job opportunities (e.g. in the coffee sector) and a continuing urbanisation with high-emissions and resource-consuming consumption patterns. Thus, a lot remains to be done even in this forerunner country.

Sustainable food systems and SDG 12

The SFS Programme is a multi-stakeholder partnership focused on catalysing more sustainable food consumption and production patterns. It shares the partnership approach and the One Planet platform with five other programmes (tourism, procurement, lifestyles and education, consumer information, buildings and construction) all devoted to specific aspects of the Sustainable Development Goal/SDG 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP)). This platform was established already in 2013 with the help of various sponsors, often regrouping even older initiatives.

“Implement the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production” is, in fact,  the wording of SDG target 12.1. Although it is linked to and sometimes a precondition for many other SDGs, SDG 12 is one of the least advanced.

The 2018 High Level Political Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council acknowledged that “resilient, sustainable and inclusive food systems that protect, enhance and restore natural resources, sustain rural and urban livelihoods and provide access to nutritious foods from smallholder producers must be at the heart of efforts to promote sustainable consumption and production.”  

Better linkages are needed

The food system perspective is particularly interesting because it provides a systemic link between actors and segments of policy, society and the economy which although they work closely together, are often not well linked conceptually and politically. For instance, compared to chemical intensive agro-production, agro-ecological production is often imputed with reducing food production and availability, therefore increasing food prices and hampering food security.

Modern agriculture produces more per hectare but simultaneously deteriorates bio-diverse agro-ecological systems. Nevertheless, it does reduce the pressure to crop more land. Coupling agricultural extensification with efforts to lower meat consumption, meaning that less animal fodder is needed, and at the same time intensifying efforts to reduce food losses and waste along the whole food value chain (which are two aspects outside agriculture) requires (re-)incorporating compensatory measures into the portfolio of overall simultaneous reforms.

Another important link fostered by the SFS perspective is that between nutrition and other health aspects of food consumption on the one hand and agriculture and food processing on the other. Overall, the food system is intensively intertwined with an overwhelming number of unsustainable practices and sustainability goals in the areas of poverty, hunger, energy, climate change, biodiversity, health, gender, work, land and water, and it holds feasible but highly dispersed solutions for improvements which can only be realised in multi-stakeholder approaches.

Four tasks of the SFS network

The SFS network has four specific self-selected tasks:
1. Raising awareness on the need to adopt SCP patterns in food systems.
2. Building enabling environments for sustainable food systems.
3. Increasing access to and fostering the application of actionable knowledge, information and tools to mainstream SCP in food systems.
4. Strengthening collaboration among food-system stakeholders to increase the sector’s SCP performance. This is achieved with a network of several hundreds of members and the active coordination and support of a central secretariat. Similar objectives were also given for the global meeting, where also some pledges by private and public entities for future action were made.

Michael Brüntrup, DIE, Bonn/Germany

More information:

Conference Website: www.sfsprogramme.org

One Planet platform: www.oneplanetnetwork.org

2018 High Level Political Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council: www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp