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Food Security and Nutrition

Q&A: UN Food Systems Summit Opportunity for the World to Unite on Healthy, Fair & Sustainable Food Systems

Food systems, from farm to fork to disposal, account for 21-37% of anthropogenic GHG emissions. Fresh produce at a supermarket. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

Food systems, from farm to fork to disposal, account for 21-37% of anthropogenic GHG emissions. Fresh produce at a supermarket. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2021 (IPS) - Before the COVID-19 pandemic upended every sphere of life, the world was lagging on a goal to end hunger by 2030. According to the United Nations, more than 820 million people had already been categorised as food insecure, meaning they lacked access to reliable and sufficient amounts of affordable, healthy food.

The impact of measures to contain the virus, land degradation, climate change and the global extreme poverty rate rising for the first time in over 20 years, make the need for a transition to sustainable food systems more important than ever.

The United Nations Food Systems Summit hopes to bring together the science, finance and political commitment to transform global food systems. The goal is to introduce systems that are productive, environmentally sustainable, include the poor and promote healthy diets.

The Barilla Centre For Food and Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation, a longstanding investor in research, education and high-level events on sustainable food systems has been actively involved in activities in the lead-up to the summit.

IPS interviewed the think tank’s Head of Research Dr Marta Antonelli and dietician Katarzyna Dembska about climate change and diets, successful food systems and the Foundation’s own initiatives to improve education, science and skills for healthy, fair and sustainable food systems.

Excerpts of the interview follow:


Inter Press Service (IPS):     The UN states that half of all agricultural land is degraded and that with climate change-fuelled desertification and drought, combined with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, 34 million people at risk of famine. How can food systems be protected within this grim context?

Katarzyna Dembska (KD): According to the IPCC, land-use change, land-use intensification and climate change have contributed to desertification and land degradation. At the same time, many land-related responses that contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation can also combat desertification and land degradation, as well as enhance food security. Examples include sustainable food production, improved and sustainable forest management, soil organic carbon management, ecosystem conservation and land restoration, reduced deforestation and degradation, and reduced food loss and waste.

Integrated crop and livestock systems are an example of sustainable food production, that increases efficiency and environmental sustainability with a truly circular approach: for example, manure increases crop production and crop residues and by-products feed animals, improving their productivity. Rice-fish integrated systems, with a long history in many Asian countries, are another example of very integrated systems that also contribute to increased food security.

In addition, sustainable land management practices, implementing a zero-expansion policy which do not require land-use change, especially of new agricultural land into natural ecosystems and species-rich forests, has been identified by the Eat-Lancet commission as a key action to achieve the so-called Great Food Transformation.

IPS:     What should the public know about the linkage between diets and climate change?

Marta Antonelli (MA): Food systems, from farm to fork to disposal, account for 21-37 percent of anthropogenic GHG emissions. The adoption of plant-based healthy and sustainable diets is powerful leverage for climate change mitigation, as well as to promote health, longevity and wellbeing. The Double Health and Climate Pyramid, developed as a tool to inform daily food choices, shows that all foods can be part of a diet that is good for us and the planet, with proper frequency of consumption and serving sizes. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains should be eaten daily; legumes and fish are the preferred sources of protein. There is a huge potential that still needs to be unleashed by establishing compulsory food education in schools; including sustainability concerns, besides health-related, in national dietary guidelines; ensuring enabling food environments that make it easy for citizens to adopt healthy and sustainable diets.

IPS: The UN Food Systems Summit in September hopes to help change the way food is grown, processed, packaged and marketed. What are your hopes for the landmark summit?

MA: The UN Food System Summit (FSS) provides an unprecedented opportunity to energise the global journey towards healthy, safe, fair and sustainable food systems, also to deliver the SDGs by raising awareness of citizens and landing concrete commitments. Agreeing upon a common purpose for global food systems is a fundamental prerequisite of any process of transformation. Nations, cities, municipalities, and communities will be enabled to build their own context and culture-specific vision, inspired by this universal purpose. Last but not least, the UN FSS is a unique opportunity to represent the voices of the millions of women who work throughout the food system from farm to fork, contributing to provide global food security, and to put agroecology and regenerative agriculture to the top of the agenda.

IPS:  The Barilla Foundation has been at the forefront of food systems research. Earlier this year, you unveiled the food systems model that incorporates nutrition and climate. Can you tell me about the Foundation’s participation in the summit?

MA: The Barilla Foundation has been actively contributing to the journey towards the UNFSS through different activities throughout the year, including the release of a report on the EU Food Systems; the launch of the educational hub Seeds; and the release of the Double Health and Climate Pyramid with seven cultural versions. In September, a high-level event on the role of food businesses in food systems transformation will be organised in the framework of the initiative Fixing the Business of Food, with the UN SDSN, the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investments and the Santa Chiara Lab of the University of Siena.

IPS: What are some of the successful systems currently being implemented?

MA: The Farm to Fork Strategy, set by the European Commission in May 2020, can be seen as an attempt to create a more integrated food strategy in the European Union (EU). It presents a comprehensive approach covering every step in the food supply chain, for the first time in Europe. It recognises the large contribution that food system transformation can give to achieve the decarbonisation target set forth by the European Green Deal, by setting concrete targets by 2030 that seek to address both environmental and public health concerns. The involvement of farmers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers will determine whether the process set forth by the Farm to Fork Strategy will act as a game-changer in the EU.


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