Pre-Summit Gathering Shows Food as Critical Tool for Achieving SDGs

A three-day multi-stakeholder workshop in September 2021 offered direction for a worldwide summit on food systems. Food systems have the ability to promote progress on all 17 SDGs, according to the pre-Summit discussion. In response to COVID-19 trends, it was the first major UN event to be organized in a “hybrid” format.

The UN Food Systems Summit will take place during the high-level week of the 76th UN General Assembly. Its goal is to mobilize action around five goals, or action tracks: Ensure that everyone has access to safe and nutritious food; Change consumption behaviors to be more sustainable. Increase the amount of production that is beneficial to the environment; And build resistance to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stress while promoting equitable livelihoods.

Prior to the Summit, the organizers held a series of national dialogues on the five topics, including online meetings, public forums, and surveys, in order to gather a diverse range of ideas on how to “develop food systems that cater to all” and “leverage the power of food systems” to achieve progress on all 17 SDGs. On the 10th of June, Asia and the Pacific held a consultation, and on the 15th of July, Latin America and the Caribbean held a consultation.

The pre-summit gave an opportunity to evaluate the outcomes of the consultation process.

The pre-summit, hosted by the Italian government in Rome in a hybrid style of virtual and in-person events, underlined the importance of promoting human rights and ensuring excluded groups’ participation in the Summit itself.

On July 26, 2021, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the event by video message, saying that the existing food system is part of a “war on nature,” as it creates up to one-third of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is responsible for up to 80% of biodiversity loss. Amina Mohammed, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, spoke during the pre-summit and noted that the preparatory discussions’ findings are being “consolidated into national pathways,” with UN country teams gathering behind each national pathway.

Opening statements were also given by heads of state and government. Italy’s Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, has urged other leaders to change their countries’ agricultural systems. Rwandan President Paul Kagame established a shared African position that is in line with the region’s Agenda 2063 as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has released a Business Declaration on Food Systems Transformation in support of “equitable, net-zero, and nature-positive food systems”.

Other high-ranking officials stressed the importance of women in reforming productive systems (Uruguay), as well as the fact that the knowledge and technology needed to end hunger already exist (Germany). Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of the Pan-African Farmers Organization (PAFO), was one of the speakers who said the Food Systems Summit process had been “inclusive, diverse, and open to all stakeholders”.

Children and young people must be at the center of food system change, according to the heads of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to Mohammed, leaders are anticipated to reaffirm their commitment to the SDGs in September and invest in food as one of the most powerful weapons for achieving the Goals. The Food Systems Summit, she noted, will include,  Delivery of a Statement of Action from the UN Secretary-General; countries will propose national strategies for reforming their food systems, as well as regional stances on food systems, such as the one provided for Africa during the pre-Summit; and the development of themes to aid the global community in the formation of coalitions and support structures.

The organizers also announced the 50 winners of a competition for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and released a report highlighting three critical pathways to support small businesses: creating more conducive business environments, providing more positive incentives, and empowering small business leaders to have greater influence in sector planning.

They also asked for more small businesses to sign a pledge agreeing to help create more nourishing, sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems, as well as expressing the need for specific conditions for purpose-driven food SMEs to thrive and offering to contribute to action coalitions and national pathways.

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