The world is off track towards reaching Sustainable Development Goal 2, “Zero Hunger”. After years of advancing, the number of hungry people in the world is rising again. According to the State of Food and Nutrition Security in the World report (SOFI 2021), up to 811 million people were hungry in 2020. More than 2.3 billion people were food insecure. Today, progress in combating hunger and malnutrition is stagnating or even reversing.
The United Nations Food Systems Summit held in September 2021 was the most significant global conference on food and nutrition this year. The world came together to bring about change towards more sustainable and equitable food systems. Representatives from 155 governments outlined their plans and priorities to transform their national food system during the event, and over 51,000 people from 193 countries attended the summit virtually.
Eighteen months of preparation, of analysing and clustering ideas, of knowledge exchange and discussions have led to the summit. The UNFSS was the first inclusive peoples’ summit, and everyone was invited to contribute with their ideas and opinions. The pre-Summit in July was a first step in bringing together the results from 145 national and around 800 independent dialogues, as well as the ideas, commitment and analysis of other constituencies engaged in the preparation process – the Action Tracks, Levers of Change, Scientific Group and Constituency Groups – and UN member states. This includes input from governments as well as members of the civil society, indigenous groups, academia and the private sector.
What are the key conclusions of the UNFSS Summit? We need to use this momentum to advance and transform our food systems locally, regionally, and globally towards achieving SDG2 by 2030. Some new global initiatives, e.g. around hunger, wasting and healthy diets, have been set up. Big issues such as the true cost/value of food, pressures on soil health and oceans, and rising inequality and hunger were given prominence.
More than 100 governments have developed national pathways outlining their intentions to transform food systems for the coming years. Burkina Faso, for example, has committed to including the right to food in its constitution. At the global level, the UN system will work with non-governmental partners to keep the topic on the global agenda and support the follow-up to the Summit. To ensure accountability, the Secretary-General is to present an annual report until 2030 and convene a stock-taking meeting on the progress to achieve sustainable and equitable food systems every two years.
I personally look back on twelve months of engagement in Action Track 1 “Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all”. The spirit of the group was exceptional, and together we developed 17 solution clusters. But if many new partnerships developed across previously “siloed” works, some partnerships remain controversial, including the role of business as the driver of food economies. Evidence and science were given prominence in the planning; but efforts to create a permanent independent scientific body to guide global policy – modelled as an “IPCC” for food – fell on stony ground. Many countries and institutions made commitments, but not against a formal, transparent accountability mechanism.
Unfortunately, not all stakeholders were convinced to take a seat at the table. Civil society organisations in particular were critical of the process. Transforming food systems will need the support of all actors, and we invite everyone to participate in the follow-up process and contribute their ideas on how to ensure sustainable and equitable food systems for all.
Let us join together in this movement to transform our food systems – in Europe and around the world. This is our opportunity to shape the future and advance towards all 17 SDGs for a sustainable future. Transforming food systems is key to achieving the 2030 Agenda.
Further reading: Rural 21, issue 3/21 on "Food systems, nutrition and the SDGs"