INTERVIEW: Food systems help address the ‘most pressing global issues’

United Nations

Corinna Hawkes, Director of the FAO Division of Food Systems and Food Safety, believes that a comprehensive and sustainable approach is needed, taking into account economic, social, and environmental factors, and bringing people together, to guarantee nutritious food and secure livelihoods for everyone.

She made these remarks prior to the UN Food Systems Summit+2 Stocktaking moment, which will address global agrifood systems.

Corinna Hawkes: The agrifood system encompasses all aspects of food and agriculture. This includes what we eat, how food is sold, distributed, and processed, as well as the way it is cultivated or harvested from land, sea, and other sources of non-food products, such as fuel and fibre. All of these activities, investments, and decisions are interconnected.

Agrifood systems unite these elements into a single unit; for example, if we want to promote healthier diets by growing more vegetables, we have to think about how to make them available to people.

Agrifood systems present a range of solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss, malnutrition, chronic diseases, unsafe food, poverty, and lack of urban sustainability. In other words, they are the answer to the world’s most pressing global issues.

Unfortunately, the power to provide these solutions does not exist yet. The agrifood system is in a state of disrepair. Its design and functioning are weak, worn out, and lacking in resilience.

The frustration and challenge is that the potential of the agrifood system to provide these solutions is lost until we transform it and make it stronger.

Some of the major challenges include the way food is produced, which is contributing to climate change and weakening the agrifood system. We have also reduced diversity in the system, from what is on our plates to the farm. We need to restore this diversity.

Over the past few decades, there has been an emphasis on producing certain key commodity crops. This was a great idea in terms of productivity and efficiency; it made food cheaper, enabled trading, and lowered production costs. It is important to produce these crops efficiently.  

However, reducing diversity too much reduces the resilience of the system. We have seen how conflicts are exacerbated by reliance on certain key producers.

Diversity is also beneficial for biodiversity and the environment, as well as for nutrition. 

There are many ways to transform agrifood systems. The most important is to bring all the systems together, which requires bringing people together.

One of the major challenges is that different people are attempting to fix biodiversity, nutrition, or food safety, while others are striving to tackle poverty and improve the livelihoods of agricultural producers. We must work together to find solutions.

I am excited about the initiatives taking place at the subnational, urban, and city levels. There is a lot of energy in large and small cities, with local authorities and multiple stakeholders taking action.

They are making improvements to market infrastructure so that people can access food more easily, making sure it is safe, and reducing food waste and loss. 

We are beginning to see these connections being established, and this is happening in hundreds of cities around the world.

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 will come together to candidly discuss the challenges and share their successes and difficulties in making changes.

I would like to see a sense of solidarity between governments and other stakeholders, who can agree to do better together by exchanging experiences and best practices to overcome issues.

The ideal outcome of the summit is that the momentum created will continue and that the commitment to change will be followed by concrete actions to bring about real change.

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