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OP-ED: Act together in the face of multiple challenges

  • Published at 03:18 am July 30th, 2021
FAO
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The pre-summit of the UNFSS is a call for transformative action before it is too late

A three-day global event, the Pre-Summit of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) took place from July 26 to 28 in Rome. Considering the prevailing pandemic situation, it was conducted in hybrid mode with many participants, including from Bangladesh, joining virtually. The event brought together member nations from all over the world to deliberate on the major challenges to, and impacts of the ways we produce, process, transport, and consume food, as well as the slowdown in progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Agenda 2030. 

It is clear that our food systems are failing to deliver safe, healthy, and nutritious food for all and at all times. Our food systems contribute to approximately one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions -- a significant contribution to the climate challenges we see today. The continuing Covid-19 pandemic in particular has exposed the fragility of our food systems and is threatening lives and livelihoods, especially of the poorest and most vulnerable. 

Produced by five UN agencies, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report 2021, launched earlier this month, estimates that nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020, an increase of 320 million people in just one year. The world is not on track to meet the SDG targets and the Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation.

The run-up to the UNFSS pre-summit has been preceded by a series of events in different countries. Conceived as a “people’s summit,” it calls on everyone’s involvement and engagement to transform the world’s food systems, bringing together youth, farmers, indigenous peoples, civil society, researchers, the private sector, policy leaders, and ministers of agriculture, environment, health, food, and finance, among other participants. 

Dialogues over the past several months leading to the UNFSS pre-summit were organized around five interconnected action tracks, each anchored by a UN agency providing technical assistance and support: 

1. Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all anchored by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 

2. Shift to sustainable consumption patterns (World Health Organization-WHO) 

3. Boost nature-positive production (UN Convention to Combat Desertification-UNCCD)

4. Advance equitable livelihoods (International Fund for Agricultural Development-IFAD)

5. Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress (UN World Food Program-WFP)

In Bangladesh, the Ministry of Food is coordinating UNFSS preparations, and began with a focus on the first action track. FAO and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) whose global lead chairs the AT, have been supporting the process. An inception workshop in January was followed by six sub-national dialogues that each focused on agro-ecologically fragile regions (Sathkira, Barguna, Jamalpur, Sunamganj, Bandarban, and Kurigram). 

In parallel, FAO and GAIN facilitated independent dialogues that addressed the other action tracks, in partnership with UN agencies, the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR), and non-governmental organizations. A national dialogue in early June brought to the table the outcomes of the various dialogues for further reflection and deliberation on the way forward. Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic were recognized as the biggest threats to Bangladesh’s progress. The findings and recommendations will be drawn on to develop a National Pathway Document to be presented at the main summit which will happen in September in New York.

The summit is in many ways a call for transformative action before it is too late. The facts are on the table. For instance: Cereal crop production is dominated by just three crops -- rice, wheat, and maize, highlighting the loss of biodiversity in farming; the World Bank reported in 2016 that 10 million square km of forest have been lost since the beginning of the 20th century as compared to 1.3 million square km in the past 25 years; it is estimated that globally, 70% of freshwater is used for agriculture and the prediction is that by 2025, two-third of the world population may be facing water shortage. 

Increasing production to feed the global population requires sustainable nature positive production processes and inclusive approaches along the food system chain. Food systems will also benefit from addressing issues of gender and equity in ensuring safe and nutritious food for all. Heads of UN agencies and several nations emphasized that we have to move beyond incremental change to transformational change if we are to achieve Agenda 2030. The Director General of FAO Qu Dongyu in his welcome remarks said that the “future of agro-food systems belongs to the young people of today.”

In a sign of Bangladesh’s commitment to the UNFSS, there is high level ministerial participation at the pre-summit. Within its broader goal of accelerating food systems transformation, the pre-summit will help to develop a vision of success, bringing together the best ideas, establishing priorities, and advancing game-changing solutions through multi-stakeholder collaboration and coalitions for action. Bangladesh is fully committed and has much to contribute and gain from this global effort. 

Robert Simpson is FAO Country Representative in Bangladesh. Bhavani Vaidyanathan is FAO Social Protection Expert.  

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