Beside Qu Dongyu (top, left) and Joachim von Braun (bottom, right), Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General (top) and Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy to the 2021 UNFSS, addressed the conference participants. 
Photo: ©FAO

The role of science agri-food systems transformation

Better production, better nutrition and a better environment are the guiding concepts of the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), which is to take place under the leadership of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in September 2021. It was preceded by the Food System Science Days in July, in which more than 3,000 scientists took part.

Science, technology and innovation are essential to accelerate the transformation of agri-food systems and combat hunger and malnutrition, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, said at the opening of the Science Days, which took place on 8th – 9th July, in the run-up to the UN Food Systems Summit to be held in September this year.

Stressing the need to adopt a holistic, coordinated approach to transform agri-food systems, Qu added: ‘‘Harnessing science, technology and innovation is one of the keys for this transformation. We need science to identify synergies and trade-offs, and to advance evidence-based policy-making."

He underscored how innovation encompasses technological, social, institutional, policy and financial dimensions as well as new ways of thinking and collaborating. "To reach impact at scale, we must develop new and transformative partnerships, including with the private sector and civil society," the FAO Director-General said. "We need to listen to the farmers, not just to the scientists."

Presentation of the draft Strategic Paper of the Scientific Group

Presenting the draft of the Strategic Paper of the Scientific Group of the UN Food Systems Summit the Chair Joachim von Braun highlighted seven science-driven innovations to accelerate the transformation to healthier, more sustainable, more equitable, and more resilient food systems. 

According to von Braun, the paper is based on 50 key background papers prepared for the purpose. Based on a comprehensive food systems framework, the group has identified actions for seven science-driven innovations which they consider essential for food systems transformation and the Summit.

The first set of innovations focuses on ending hunger and increasing the availability and affordability of healthy diets and nutritious foods. 

The second set centres on de-risking food systems and strengthening resilience. About 25 per cent of GHG emissions come from the food system. Science offers innovative solutions for negative emission farming and climate-resilient food systems. 

The third set revolves around overcoming inefficient and unfair land, credit and labour arrangements, and around facilitating empowerment and rights of women and youth. 

The fourth set focuses on bioscience innovations for improving peoples’ health, enhancing systems’ productivity. These include use of genomics and alternative protein sources. 

The fifth set centres on productive soils, water and landscapes, and on protecting the agricultural genetic base and biodiversity.

The sixth set concerns sustainable aquatic foods and the protection of coastal areas and oceans. Food systems are not just terrestrial systems.

And the seventh set of innovations addresses engineering and digital innovations for efficiency and inclusiveness of food systems and empowerment of rural communities. 

According to von Braun, it will be essential to make digital technologies more affordable and accessible. Digital access is emerging as a human right.

During the Science Days, around 3,000 participants from the public and private sector, research institutions and civil society examined how science, technology and innovation can better contribute to achieving healthy diets and ensuring more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The outcomes of the Science Days will inform the content, recommended outcomes and commitments that are expected to emerge from the Summit.

The Scientific Group was established by the UN as an independent body of leading researchers from around the world to ensure the robustness and independence of the science that underpins the UN Food Systems Summit and its outcomes.

The UN Food Systems Summit is being convened to raise global awareness and to spearhead action for an equitable and healthy future for all, and one that gives voice to citizens in every country of the world. The Food Systems Pre-Summit will be hosted by FAO in Rome/Italy on the 28th – 29th July.


Read the full draft of the draft strategic report “Food Systems – Definition, Concept and Application for the UN Food Systems Summit”

Website of the Science Days of the Food Systems Summit 2021

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