UN Pre-Summit on Food Systems Encourages Science to Play a Crucial Role in Reforming the Food System

According to the UN summit, science and innovation must be at the heart of global food system transformation in order to boost sustainable agricultural productivity, assure food security, and improve nutrition for all.

Speakers at this week’s UN Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome, Italy, urged more political will to implement science-based, pro-poor policies to address difficulties in the global agri-food sector and avert a worldwide food crisis.

Claudia Sadoff, managing director of research delivery and impact at the CGIAR, said on the margins of the summit on Wednesday that food systems must not only produce enough to feed a growing population, but also manage rising levels of hunger with increasingly restricted natural resources.

According to Sadoff food systems must transition from being a carbon source to being a carbon sink, while simultaneously providing good livelihoods for farmers, producers, and other players involved in the value chain. Climate change, conflict, and COVID-19 are just a few of the complex and linked concerns we face today, and science and innovation may help us realise our vision of global food futures.

She went on to say that progress is being made in this direction, noting the newly established One Health Research, Education, and Outreach Centre in Africa as an example. To address challenges such as food safety, foodborne illnesses, and sustainable livestock, OHRECA brings together knowledge and research from the human, animal, and environmental health fields.

The talks, which will take place from July 26 to 28, are a warm-up for the main UN Food Systems Summit in September, which was convened by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in 2019 with the goal of encouraging action toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and fostering collaboration to transform the way the world produces, consumes, and thinks about food.

While the UN promised to prioritise science in any summit conclusions, over 300 global civil society organisations representing small-scale food producers, researchers, and indigenous people boycotted the three-day event and hosted a parallel pre-summit. They argue that the UN event was tainted by a “top-down exclusion of numerous food system actors,” charges that the organisers strenuously refute.

The debates take place against the backdrop of the United Nations’ sobering State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, which claims that up to 811 million people worldwide are malnourished, with rising hunger levels exacerbated by COVID-19, conflicts, and climate change.

According to Loretta Hieber Girardet, chief of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s (UNDRR) risk knowledge, monitoring, and capacity development branch, there is an urgent need to adopt novel and innovative approaches to disaster risk reduction, particularly in the agri-food sector.

Hieber Girardet, speaking at a session on “climate, food security, and COVID-19, challenges and opportunities,” said the world was facing unprecedented uncertainty, complexity, and volatility, and that “food systems need to be altered to be nimble so that they can be robust.”

To that aim, she stated that greater disaster and climate risk management is critical to accomplishing food system transformation by 2030. Agriculture is disproportionately affected by disasters, with the industry accounting for 23% of all-natural disaster damages, according to UN figures cited by Girardet. In the case of climate change, this percentage jumps to 26%, and in the case of drought, it rises to 80%. In our food systems, we need to make a major transformation in how we think about, manage, and mitigate disasters and climate risk.

According to her, implementing the Sendai framework, which is the worldwide model for disaster risk management, would be a good place to start. We are not on track to meet the targets, just as we are not on schedule to implement the Paris Agreement or the Sustainable Development Goals.

Science and innovation were also cited as instruments for transforming the livestock industry, which is frequently chastised for being unsustainable and contributing to global warming.

More innovative techniques to sustainably produce livestock and livestock products are rapidly being implemented, according to Peter Vadas, national programme leader at the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

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