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Main Background Agenda Speakers             


Global Food Systems Challenges

The development of sustainable food systems is central to achieving many of the SDGs. In addition to their significance for more responsible production and consumption (SDG12), they 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), and protecting life on land (SDG15), amongst others.

Current food systems are unsustainable. Although yields per hectare have gone up significantly in many parts of the world in the last few decades, over 820 million people go to bed hungry every day and soils and habitats are increasingly degraded, which has caused an unprecedented decline in the biodiversity that provides so many of the irreplaceable services on which human life is sustained, including the ability to produce food. The biodiversity decline is also pervasive in agriculture; local and native crops, many of which are climate resilient, are rapidly disappearing. Complex and often non-transparent value chains hinder accountability, which may lead to exploitation and fraud. People in many parts of the world are shifting to diets that are high in calories, animal proteins and 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. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the food value chain (including agriculture-related deforestation, farming, processing, packaging, transportation and waste) account for up to 37% of all human GHG emissions , and  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 for production.

This calls for a profound and swift transformation of how we produce, process, retail and consume food. What is more, as the above issues are all deeply interrelated, they require a systemic approach that involves all relevant actors and addresses all elements across the entire food system to develop more adaptive, fair, equitable and democratic decision-making processes to govern our food systems. Sector approaches with siloed interventions that focus only on specific food system components have not worked in the past and must be abandoned.

Objectives and expected outcomes

This conference aims to provide substantial input to the UN Food Systems Summit that is tentatively scheduled for the third quarter of 2021, building on the achievements of the SFS Programme’s membership during the first five years of implementation as well as the outcomes of the Programme’s previous two global conferences. The conference is a major milestone in the process for the preparation of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, strengthening cohesion among major initiatives and leading actors in the area of food systems and recommending widely-supported actions to promote sustainable food ystems.

Following the San José Call to Action of the SFS Programme’s 2nd global conference, the objectives of this meeting are:

  • Strengthen the common vision that inclusive multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential to achieve the set of key actions and implementation mechanisms for the profound transformation that our food systems require;
  • To provide a platform for  structured discussion around the science underlying global efforts to characterize and assess progress towards more sustainable food systems;
  • Raise the political importance of sustainable food systems among public and private sector leaders.

The expected outcomes of the conference are:

  • To provide science-based recommendations on the range of actions that can advance food systems transformation within the priority areas identified in the outcome of the 2nd global conference, in contribution to the Action Tracks of the Food Systems Summit 2021; and
  • To provide recommendations that can help define the implementation mechanisms (including accountability mechanisms) for such recommended actions.

In order to achieve these objectives and outcomes, the conference will be a forum in which to present, discuss and consolidate a common understanding of food systems across sectors, in contribution to the UN Food Systems Summit.


The UN 2021 Food Systems Summit


In order to address these challenges in a coordinated way, in October 2019, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, announced that a Food Systems Summit will be organized in 2021, gathering leaders from business, governments, international organisations and civil society in order to advance the agenda of transforming food systems.

It is expected that this Summit will provide the opportunity to affirm the centrality of food systems to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda; align stakeholders involved in food systems transformation; strengthen evidence and developing tools for decision makers to make choices on trade-offs; promote a science-policy interface on food systems; and accelerate multi-stakeholder actions at different levels.

In December 2019, the UN Secretary-General appointed Ms. Agnes Kalabata as Special Envoy for 2021 Food Systems Summit. The organizers of the 3rd global SFS Programme conference are committed to coordinating closely with the Special Envoy, to ensure the conference produces concrete outcomes that contribute towards the 2021 Food Systems Summit.


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