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Fresh calls for more inclusive food systems as UN summit ends

World leaders have committed to tackling global hunger, climate change and environmental degradation at the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS).

In a gathering held in New York on Thursday 23 September 2021 during the UN General Assembly, over 150 countries promised to transform food systems and push for greater inclusion and equity in order to serve the needs of marginalised communities, including small scale farmers, women, youth and indigenous people.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic physically pushed us apart, the preparations for this Summit brought us together,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said. “Through national dialogues, governments gathered together businesses, communities and civil society to chart pathways for the future of food systems across 148 countries. Over 100,000 people came together to discuss and debate solutions — many of which are now being shared at this summit.”

The summit, designed to reaffirm commitments to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, saw leaders discuss the most pressing challenges facing food systems today, and commit to new actions and amplify existing ones in order to deliver long lasting solutions.

Among the most salient issues framing the discussions included access to nutritious food, sustainable consumption, nature positive production, equitable livelihoods and resilience to shocks such as droughts and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I hope the UNFSS will go beyond confirming the need to transform food systems and that it will lead to tangible commitments from governments to create national transformation agendas with the investments to back them up,” said African Food Fellowship Director Joost Guijt.

He added that there is an urgent need for new broad-based governance that gives real voice and power to those who do not benefit from food systems, and for the private sector to be held accountable to their role in delivering on agreed agendas.

“The UNFSS must be clear on the long-term public benefits food systems must deliver, and challenge the short-term individual interests that currently distort our food systems,” he said. Agri-finance Fellow Serah Wacheke is hopeful that the commitments made at the summit will address the perennial challenges of agricultural financing which has held back food systems in developing countries.

“Inadequate Agricultural finance has been a challenge to developing Agriculture since time in memorial. My expectations from UN summit are that solutions to agricultural financing will be tabled, including the development of financial products engineered for agriculture, such as credit payment schedules synchronized with production cycles,” she said.

Serah added that financiers need specialized knowledge to handle agri-finance and that efforts need to be made to make credit facilities more inclusive for marginalized people, including women and youth.

Horticulture Fellow Kweyu Suleiman is excited about the recognition of the rights of small scale farmers who typically have been overlooked or under-served by existing food systems. He is confident that addressing the needs of indigenous farmers and food producers will be a big step in the right direction towards food security for all.

“Our world today is more food insecure than before. The world through UNFSS must demonstrate its commitments towards building more resilient and inclusive foods systems. Let’s make our farmers heroes,” he said.

Fellows and faculty at the African Food fellowship have been involved in various pre-summit dialogues leading up to the UFSS, making significant contributions to in-country agendas expected to be presented at the summit.

“The discussions and evidence leading up to the UNFSS came to an important consensus: food systems do serve many, but for billions, they do not offer healthy food, living incomes or a healthy environment. The UNFSS has been of enormous value in getting the world to see ‘food’ as a system, recognising the broader impacts it has beyond primary production, and the public values food systems can and should deliver on. It now needs to influence commitments that transform the future of food systems into structures that serve both people and planet,” said Joost.