Food Systems Summit stresses the urgency for change

24 September 2021 | Muriel Cozier

‘Science, technology and innovation can, and must, play a pivotal role in the necessary transformation of food systems.’

The inaugural United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) took place on 23 September. The virtual event, held at the same time as the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, US, brought together 150 countries making commitments to transform their food systems.

Ahead of the meeting, Joachim von Braun Chair of the Science Group of the UNFSS said ‘The UN Food Systems Summit as a whole must become a game changer. The equivalent of the 1.5 degree global warming goal, our goal is zero hunger by 2030, including healthy diets within a sustainable food system. Science, technology and innovation can, and must, play a pivotal role in the necessary transformation of food systems.’

Speaking at the Summit Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, (UNEP) said that while the challenge of  transforming food systems was ‘daunting’ there were  ‘some levers that can help us shift gears towards a sustainable food system that works for everyone.’

One of these levers, Andersen said, was to repurpose agricultural support. ‘As new research by UNEP and partners highlights, every year governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars in supporting practices that make our food systems unsustainable…Repurposing agricultural support – including through policy reforms, investment in R&D and improved social protection – can make food systems, sustainable, efficient and equitable.

The Summit was originally called by the UN Secretary General in 2019, with the aim of delivering progress on all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals through  a ‘food systems’ approach. As part of the process, to inform the Summit, the independent Scientific Group of the UNFSS was established. It comprises leading researchers and scientists from around the world who work to ‘Ensure that the Summit brings to bear the foremost scientific evidence from around the world and helps expand the base of shared knowledge …for driving sustainable food systems that will inform the future.’

The Group has identified seven science driven innovations which it says ‘must be pursued in an integrated manner for a successful transformation of the food system.’ These include bioscience and related digital innovations for wellbeing and productivity, maintenance and regeneration of soils, land and water, and innovations for sustainable fisheries, aquatic foods and protection of coastal areas and oceans.

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