The UN Food Systems Summit+2 should be a moment of solidarity between nations: FAO Food Systems Director

The UN Food Systems Summit+2 should be a moment of solidarity between nations: FAO Food Systems Director

Interview with Corinna Hawkes, Director of the FAO Division of Food Systems and Food Safety


Rome- Factors such as population growth, urbanization, changing consumption patterns, and climate change are challenging our agrifood systems’ ability to provide nutritious food and sustainable livelihoods for all.

To address these challenges, the world needs a holistic and sustainable approach that considers economic, social, and environmental factors, and for people to come together, according to the Director of the FAO Division of Food Systems and Food Safety, Corinna Hawkes.

Ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit+2 Stocktaking moment, which will bring a space for countries to review commitments to action made during the first Summit in 2021, we asked the expert to take us through the basic concepts of agrifood systems and to explain what is at stake at the international event.

What exactly is an agrifood system?

Corinna Hawkes: The agrifood system is everything that is connected to food and agriculture. What we eat from our mouths all the way back to the way that food is sold, distributed and processed, and how food is grown in the fields, on the land, in the seas, and other products grown, which may not be food, but fuel, fibre. All these processes involve a whole host of activities, investments, and decisions.

An agrifood system pulls together all of this into a system. And what is really important —and why we call it a system— is that it is interconnected. So that means, for example, that if we want to grow fruits and vegetables for people to eat healthier, we have to think not just about growing the vegetables, but also about how they get to people.

Agrifood systems are also a space of solutions. In the agrifood systems you will find a solution to climate change, biodiversity loss, malnutrition, chronic diseases, unsafe food, poverty, lack of urban sustainability. Agrifood systems are the solution to the world’s most important challenges.

Why does the world need to transform agrifood systems?

We need to transform the agrifood system because now its power to provide those solutions is not there, the agrifood system is ‘sick’, it is not well. The way it is designed, the way it functions means that it is weak, it lacks resilience, it is not strong enough, and is worn out.

How can anything that is exhausted provide solutions? So, the frustration and the challenge here, is that the potential power of the agrifood system to provide these solutions is not there until we transform it to make it stronger helping it provide the solutions we know it can provide.

Some of the major challenges include the way food is grown and produced is contributing to climate change, which in turn weakens the agrifood system. But this does not need to be the case – the agrifood system is also a source of solutions to climate change.

[The agrifood system] is also producing the kind of food that makes people sick and when people are sick, they can’t function well in the agrifood system—they’re part of it. So that makes it weaker.

Can you give us an example of a major challenge right now in agrifood systems?

One thing we have done really wrong is to take diversity out of the system too much and we need to bring that diversity back in. I am referring to diversity on the plate and all the way back to the farm.

What we have done over the last decades is to specialize in producing certain key commodity crops. And it was a great idea from the perspective of productivity and efficiency—it cheapens food, it means you can trade the food, and it reduces the cost of production. It is important we produce these crops efficiently.  But what we have seen is that reducing diversity too much reduces the resilience of the system. And we have seen with recent conflicts how reliance on certain key producers reduces that resilience.

So, we need to think much more carefully about how we produce diversity, which is also good for biodiversity, it is also good for the environment, and it is also good for people because we need to have a diversity of food on our plates.

How can we overcome these challenges?

There are many ways to transform the agrifood system. The most important way is to bring all the systems together. And that means bringing all the people together.

One of the major challenges is that some people trying to fix biodiversity, and some other people trying to fix nutrition. Some people are trying to fix food safety, while others are trying to fix poverty and the livelihoods of agricultural producers. But we are all operating in our separate spaces, and that weakens [the agrifood system] too because it means we don’t leverage the fact that together we are stronger.

The thing that really needs to happen is for people to come together and say ”Let’s work together as people in the system and figure out how to provide these solutions”. This way we will begin to see that the agrifood system may appear to be a problem because it is weak, but it actually is something really powerful.

Any examples of good practices being advanced right now?

I am really excited about some of the initiatives that are taking place at the subnational level, the urban level, and the city level. There is so much energy in cities— large and small— where local authorities and multiple stakeholders are really taking action.

For example, they are saying let’s improve market infrastructure so that people are more able to access food; let’s make sure that food is safe in that market; let’s reduce the food loss and waste in that market; let’s understand the implications of that for the world producers in peri-urban and rural areas close to the city or even further away. What does it mean for them?

So, at the urban and city level, we are beginning to see these important connections that are being made, and that is the case in hundreds of cities all around the world.

What can we expect from the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit +2 Stocktaking Moment?

What I am hoping to see from the Stocktaking meeting two years after the UN Food Systems Summit is that governments and many other stakeholders come and attend and share their successes and share their challenges in making change.

What I am hoping for is an open and honest discussion about what is happening, but also that it is tough. Making these changes is not easy, and I think we need to be honest and say, “Look, we are making efforts. It’s not easy. Let’s help each other.”

What I would like to see is a sense of solidarity between governments and other stakeholders who can say: “Look, if we share experiences, if we are actually exchanging, thinking about good practices, thinking about how to overcome challenges, we will do better together.”

So, what I am really hoping is that we will see a greater sense of solidarity between nations, and indeed at the subnational level emerge from this Stocktaking Moment.

Is there an ideal outcome?

The ideal outcome is that the momentum created will continue and that the commitment to change will not just stay as a commitment but will lead to actions on the ground to really make a change.

Source — FAO

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