Farmers Share Important Perspectives at National Dialogue on Food Systems

January 15, 2021

In the lead up to the global Food Systems Summit to be held later this year, UN member nations have been invited to each host a series of three National Food Systems Dialogues. The national dialogues aim to enable a diverse set of invited stakeholders to work together – examining their food systems, exploring options for change, and shaping pathways for these systems to become more sustainable by 2030 and beyond to meet evolving needs and challenges.

The findings of these national dialogues, which are set to be held over the next several months, will be posted on a UN Food Systems Dialogue Gateway to inform the global summit outcomes.

The USDA is serving as the convener for the U.S. National Food System Dialogues, with the first one held this week, where participants identified food system challenges from multiple perspectives.

SfL, representing a vast array of farmers, ranchers, forestland owners and others in the agricultural supply chain, participated and shared what we perceive to be the principal challenges to shoring up our food systems, noting that climate change is causing and will cause major disruptions, forcing those who work the land to pivot and adapt.

Driving much of the disconnect within our food systems is a lack of harmonization among enabling policies at the global, national and local levels. Too often, various actors within the food, feed and fiber sectors find themselves in competition for desired outcomes. Two decades into the 21st century, we still rely on 20th-century approaches to solving problems, narrowly managing challenges to our food systems as if in silos. The constricted thinking has led to a proliferation of “silver bullet” solutions, which, while seemingly appealing, eventually prove to be ineffective and costly.

SfL offers that the 21st century approach to food and nutrition and the attainment of other global goals must enable more multi-stakeholder collaborations within the agricultural sector. These broader planning approaches can promote landscape-scale initiatives and integrated solutions that deliver multiple outcomes. Among those wide-ranging achievements is the attainment of many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (end hunger, ensure clean water, stem climate change and 14 others) set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

While there are more case studies and research needed on systems that deliver multiple outcomes, the wider multi-stakeholder approach will require fewer tradeoffs, given that integrated productions systems can produce food and other necessities, all while simultaneously improving the environment and landscape ecosystems.

During the initial U.S. Food Systems Dialogue this week, SfL noted that while our nation produces an abundant supply of foods, the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the greatest challenge to food insecurity – gaps in infrastructure logistics that result in food deserts and price inequities. The pandemic disruption forced a new look at the nation’s food system, resulting in some imaginative responses, including the USDA Farm to Family food box program – an example of the “pivot and turn” successes that have opened the door for direct delivery of fresh, locally sourced, nutrient dense foods.

SfL also cited food-as-medicine studies that show the critical importance of healthy diets, particularly in brain development among young people. The studies support the investment of resources by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, other government agencies, school systems and food stamp programs in healthy diets.

The pandemic has also underscored the opportunities for food production through urban agriculture. A new generation of urban farmers is emerging, expanding the availability of locally grown food directly to customers from producers who market through outlets like Amazon, UPS and other new delivery options.

SfL is grateful to the USDA for sponsoring these important events and by extension, giving growers an opportunity to share their perspectives on what are critical issues as the world seeks to recover from an unprecedented crisis. In the coming months SfL and the U.S. Soybean Export Council are teaming up to host a series of “independent” dialogues, the outputs of which will be fed into additional dialogues that the U.S. and the UN system are holding this winter and spring.

There is no one size fits all in agriculture. Each farm and ranch, notwithstanding its size, type or production systems, is a critical part of our food system. Given the diversity in types of food produced and the unique assets and challenges food production regions face, it is important that food systems architects hear from the people who produce the food that sustains an ever-growing world population. Please join these dialogues and share your recommendations for actions that can transform the way the world produces and consumes food, while delivering progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

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