2021 Summit Aims for Solutions to Food System Problems Laid Bare by COVID-19

September 4, 2020

On a date next year that is still to be determined, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will convene a Food Systems Summit to raise awareness and secure global commitments for actions that transform food systems to resolve hunger and reduce diet-related disease. Guterres is calling for collective action to radically change the way our food is produced, processed and consumed.

UN officials underscore the role of food as a life force for families, cultures and communities. But they also say that profound changes in the way food is grown, processed, distributed, consumed and, unfortunately, wasted over the last several decades have increased the threats to a future food system that is sustainable, equitable, and secure.

Solutions from the Land (SfL)’s focus is on facing these threats, putting America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters at the forefront of resolving food system challenges while addressing energy, climate and environmental challenges. At the heart of all these initiatives is the 2030 attainment of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).

SfL is currently broadening and accelerating its planning work in support of next year’s Food Systems Summit. Scientific and advisory panels have been established and UN member nations will soon be issued guidance to develop and execute in-country “dialogues,” giving governments and communities an opportunity to discuss their food systems and identify ways they might be strengthened. Here’s what the summit planners hope to achieve:

  • Dramatically elevated public discussion about the importance of food systems leading to the achievement of the SDGs and how to get the public working for people and planet.
  • Significant action, with measurable outcomes that enable achievement of the SDGs by the 2030 deadline. The effort will include highlighting existing solutions and celebrating leaders in food systems transformation. A call will also be made for new actions worldwide by different actors, including countries, cities, companies, civil society, citizens and food producers.
  • A high-level set of principles established through the process that will guide nations and other stakeholders to leverage the capacity of their food systems to support the SDGs. Distilled through all elements of this foundational process, the principles will set an optimistic and encouraging vision in which food systems play a central role in building a fairer, more sustainable world.
  • A system of follow-up and review that will drive new actions and results; allow for the sharing of experiences, lessons, and knowledge; and incorporate new metrics to best analyze the impacts of these efforts.

It will be important for those participating in events leading up to the summit to remember that the food system is central to the entire sustainable development agenda. The urgent need to transform food systems, particularly in the wake of a global pandemic, requires the use of all tools available to improve. The challenges we face require more than a one-size-fits-all remedy.

This is a point that SfL Co-Chair AG Kawamura is expected to make on a critical summit planning call set for Sept. 15. Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, has invited Kawamura to participate in the CEO-level, private-sector consultation for the summit. The event will provide a unique opportunity for SfL to provide input and farmer leader perspectives directly to the special envoy and her team.

In a prior call with Kalibata held in early May, Kawamura warned that how the world responds to the “slowly accelerating collapse of multiple sectors of the global food chain…will dictate how many lives and livelihoods will be impacted in the months and years ahead.”

And while acknowledging many in agriculture have suffered pandemic-related setbacks and losses, he told those on the call that this is a “time for hope and innovation.” Kawamura noted that those in the ag and forestry sectors today “have access to a dynamic toolbox, centuries in the making, to address the significant threats to our food supply.”

Kawamura and SfL both stress the need to ensure the 2021 food summit does not become a highly politicized debate over competing agricultural systems. Instead, those meeting next year must work to build resilience and capacity into food systems for the most vulnerable – through the use of all tools available for improving food systems.

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