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3rd Global Conference of One Planet network’s Sustainable Food Systems programme

  • Published on November 26, 2020

Building a common vision for food systems transformation: Wednesday 25 November - Thursday 3 December

The 3rd Global Conference of the Sustainable Food Systems Programme of the UN One Planet network, took place from November 25 to December 3, brought together thought leaders, policymakers, civil society, farmers, business, academia, media, donors and people working on different aspects of food systems from around the world to build a common vision for the profound transformation needed towards healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.

The conference, independently organised by the One Planet Sustainable Food Systems Programme, sought to serve as a major milestone on the road to the UN Secretary General’s ground-breaking Food Systems Summit taking place in New York during the UN General Assembly, with a Pre-Summit that took place in July of 2021 in Rome. Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, spoke in the opening panel of the conference. In the closing panel, the conference results were presented and discussed with the chairs of the Food Systems Summit ‘Action Tracks’.

A conference outcome document listed a set of recommendations, which were shared with the UN Food Systems Summit Special Envoy as contributions to the Summit.


Countries calling for multi-stakeholder collaboration for food systems transformation

Mr. Christian Hofer, Director-General of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, which co-leads the UN One Planet Sustainable Food Systems Programme, said the conference focused on the catalysing role that food systems play in delivering the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “We will only be able to achieve the seventeen Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by 2030, if we all come together to identify and implement bold solutions to transform our food systems,” he said.

Mr. Renato Alvarado Rivera, Minister of Livestock and Agriculture, Costa Rica, drew the linkages from the previous conference of the SFS Programme held in San José, to this one and beyond. “This Conference will further build on the ‘San José Call to Action’ and provide evidence-based recommendations on a range of actions that can advance food-systems transformation, in contribution to the Food Systems Summit 2021”, he said.

The development of sustainable food systems is central to achieving all of the SDGs. In addition to their significance for more responsible production and consumption (SDG12), sustainable food systems contribute to poverty reduction (SDG1), ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition (SDG2), improving health and wellbeing (SDG3), promoting decent work and employment (SDG8), life below water (SDG14), protecting life on land (SDG15), climate action (SDG12) amongst others.

Dr. David Nabarro curated Global Food Systems Summit Dialogue as part of the conference

The first Global Food Systems Summit Dialogue took place on December 1, hosted by the 3rd global conference of the Sustainable Food Systems Programme of the UN One Planet network. The eventwas curated by Dr. David Nabarro, WHO Special Envoy for Covid-19 and recipient of the 2018 Global Food Prize, and featured Dr. Kalibata, Costa Rica, Switzerland and WWF.

The Dialogue produced a set of recommendations on actionable measures that can address the complex, interrelated challenges in our food systems across a range of identified priority areas: collaborative action mechanisms, scientific challenges of food systems metrics, holistic policies, investing in transformative initiatives, public procurement, and consumer behaviour change. The One Planet Sustainable Food Systems conference, subsequently, shared the outcomes of this Dialogue as an early contribution into the UN Food Systems Summit and its relevant Action Tracks.

The Food Systems Summit Dialogues provided opportunities for different stakeholders to come together, share different perspectives on challenging issues and work together to articulate shared approaches – or “pathways” – towards more sustainable food systems that are based on local realities. Dialogue participants could step forward to indicate how they will contribute, with a view to foster new actions and partnerships and amplify existing initiatives.

UN Agencies highlight social, economic, cultural and environmental challenges facing food systems

Mr. Divine Njie, Deputy Director of the Food Systems and Food Safety Division at the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, said that the ​3rd Global Conference came at a critical moment and provided an important platform to discuss and identify the range of multi-stakeholder actions that can advance food systems transformation. “Food systems are a common thread that link many of the SDGs,” he said. “With just under 10 years to go before 2030, we need to increase the speed and scale of actions contributing to Agenda 2030.” ​

While agricultural yields per hectare have increased significantly in many parts of the world in the last few decades, over 680 million people go to bed hungry every day. People in many parts of the world are shifting to diets that are high in calories; in animal proteins; and in low-nutrient, highly processed foods. Unhealthy diets have become the main risk for human health, and non-communicable diseases like diabetes and obesity are on the rise.

Approximately one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted rather than consumed, with a significant environmental footprint in terms of the water and land used to produce this food that does not end up being eaten. Complex and often non-transparent supply chains hinder accountability, which can lead to exploitation and fraud.

Habitats, including soils, are increasingly degraded, causing an unprecedented decline in in the biodiversity that provides so many of the irreplaceable services on which human life is sustained, including the ability to produce food, and increasing the risk of new diseases with pandemic potential. Greenhouse gas emissions from across the food value chain (including agriculture-related deforestation, farming, processing, packaging, transportation and waste) account for up to 37% of all human GHG emissions.

Ms. Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary​ at the UN Convention on Biodiversity, and one of the conference speakers, emphasised the need to redesign agricultural systems through agroecological & other innovative approaches and we must enable sustainable & healthy diets. “As the world recovers from COVID-19, we must build back better and improve our food systems,” she said. “A greater emphasis on a diversity of foods, moderate consumption of meat and fish, waste reduction in food supply and consumption, will help make us healthier and halt nature’s accelerating decline.”

Governments, UN Agencies, Scientists, Business and Civil Society to align on collective action for sustainable food systems

The 3rd Global Conference explored how to align collective action on food systems transformation, assessing the science and evidence that underpins action, and considering how to approach trade-offs. The role of specific actors and approaches to food systems transformation was examined, including the role of government policies such as labeling, taxes and subsidies and the government purchasing of food for public services like schools and hospitals, as well opportunities for finance and investment to shift food systems, and the role of consumer awareness and behaviour change, with a particular focus on school-aged children and youth.

Hundreds of people from across the world working towards sustainable food systems attended the virtual conference, where they engaged with presentations and panel discussions from dozens of global experts on food systems transformations, including national and local government representatives from Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany, Ghana, Norway, the Philippines, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and the USA.

The conference also featured key international organisations including the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), and OECD, along with civil society organisations including WWF, the Asian Farmers Associations, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES), and the World Resources Institute.

The 3rd Global Conferences built on outcomes of the Sustainable Food System programme’s previous two global conference, which harnessed consensus on a range of priority areas for action. The 1st global conference in South Africa concluded with the Pretoria Resolution, while the 2nd global conference in Costa Rica finalised with the San José Call to Action.

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