The world has set itself a deadline of 2030 to end hunger, poverty, and inequality while addressing the environmental crisis, all of which can only be achieved with the resetting of global food systems to be more inclusive and more sustainable.
Producing, selling, and consuming food in a way that better respects natural resources and local environments can allow more people to benefit from healthier, safer diets and improved livelihoods, which has become more pressing now in the wake of the COVID-19 recovery.
Yet while many see the countdown to 2030 as sand slipping through the hourglass, the more optimistic see 10 years as time enough for the food systems revolution, and within the next decade, the first five years will be the most critical.
Reforming Food Systems
Rather than running out of time, the world in fact has a head start when it comes to reforming food systems because everyone — from companies to retailers, institutions to individuals — has a stake in them.
And if everyone plays their part and steps up to the challenge, it is possible to reconfigure food systems in line with human needs and planetary boundaries to improve health, diets, and prospects for millions, and nurture a more resilient future beyond 2030.
The obvious place to start is with food and agri-business companies and enterprises, which have the ability to embrace and adopt the necessary impactful changes more quickly than the public sector.
During the pandemic, companies around the world demonstrated their agility in responding to new circumstances and consumer needs, from businesses rapidly scaling up e-commerce services to restaurants quickly converting to takeaways or grocery stores during lockdowns.
This responsiveness to urgency and capacity to adapt must be leveraged to align businesses more closely with global goals for climate action, zero hunger, and greater equality under the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.
By setting down a clear vision and engaging with all actors — from farmers and producers to chefs, restaurateurs, and agribusiness — governments and multilaterals can inspire greater innovation and more rapid change towards more sustainable practices.
To this end, both the public and private sector would benefit from the agenda- and policy-setting guidance of a multidisciplinary intergovernmental panel of experts on food systems, in the form of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which coordinates scientific evidence on global warming.
Convening world-class experts on food and agriculture to generate the latest science-based evidence and solutions would enable policymakers and business leaders to make informed decisions based on consistent and commonly shared guidance.
Forming such a panel was among the recommendations to come out of the recent Resetting the Food System from Farm to Fork event for the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, which will take place next year already supported by an independent scientific group. Drawing on scientific expertise and research will be vital in developing the policies and interventions needed to make food production more sustainable, healthy diets more accessible, and food systems more adaptive.
Consumers as Change Makers
Finally, citizens as consumers must also be empowered to be “change makers” and drive the transformation of food systems.
Many of us can, three times a day, make a decision that influences food systems.
Knowing how to make the best, most sustainable choice, and being able to access and act upon it, can have a ripple effect throughout the value chain, allowing an increased number of people to share the table.
Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into our diets and limiting our food waste are steps in the right direction. As the Barilla Foundation food and environmental pyramid shows, often, the most nutritious foods are also the most environmentally-friendly.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest example of the increasing pressure and expectations being put on the world’s food system.
All of us, from agri-food companies and retailers to institutions, chefs, and citizens, must have the courage to change because there is no alternative.
By making bold choices and building a truly transformative agenda for a sustainable and equitable future over the next five years, we can make the changes that will unlock progress towards our global goals.
With these learnings and recommendations on the table, the UN Food Systems Summit promises to be a powerful global platform for engagement to help make the future grow.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.