Dr. Agnes Kalibata
UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the 2021 Food Systems Summit

21 September 2021 | New York

The Food Systems Summit is nearly here, after 18 months of gathering ideas, insights and having valuable dialogues. And while this historic Summit on September 23 will be fully virtual because of Covid-19, not even the pandemic can take the wind out of its sails.

The Summit is the first of its kind to take on the incredible complexity of food systems in their entirety, asking countries to confront the reality of balancing food production with climate action, affordable food with healthy diets, and stable food supplies with fair and open trade. And never before has a UN Summit been so open, so inclusive and so transparent with farmers, youth and Indigenous Peoples squarely placed in leadership roles who represent millions from their constituencies. From member states to individuals across more than 140 countries, they all search for a new deal for people, planet, and prosperity.

Given the correct focus on “system change”, the definition of success for the Summit is necessarily messier and less linear than other processes. As you know, there will be no equivalent of the Paris Agreement. While there will therefore be no “gavel moment”, this Summit is set to achieve the catalytic equivalent of the “Paris Effect” by accelerating a deep irreversible change in mindsets, decision-making, financing flows and innovation. Today, climate is political and is everywhere, shaping whole of society/government responses. My hope is that the UNFSS can be the Rome/New York/Rome Effect which in 3 to 5 years will create the direction and legitimacy for unstoppable transformation of our food system.

The world has set the goal of delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in nine years and if we learned anything over the past 18 months, it is that these goals are needed more than ever. Partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the prevalence of undernourishment increased to around 9.9 per cent in 2020, with estimates of hungry people reaching between 720 and 811 million globally in 2020. Transformed food systems post pandemic can contribute to the fight against poverty and hunger by creating good jobs, improving access to food, and supporting healthy communities. In creating a strong recovery, we need to double our efforts to build economies and societies that are more equitable, resilient, and greener.

Our food systems – local, regional, and global – are central to delivering this agenda. There is no net zero pathway for communities and countries without transformation of our food systems. There is no end to chronic hunger, the costs of nutritional deficits, or the challenge of unhealthy diets without bold actions to change. There is no route to better livelihoods and greater gender equality unless we start to pay farmers and farmworkers fairly. And we need to do this while respecting regional, local, and cultural drivers of our food systems. There is not one single answer which will transform our food systems, but where there is a will there is a way. I have seen in this process leading up to the Summit moment not only the will, but also the passion and the determination from people across the globe.

African leadership has taken the idea of a food system to a new level. Forty-eight out 55 countries had national Dialogues targeted at coming through on the 2030 agenda and redefining the future of how we consume, produce and distribute food. Across the region, countries are prioritizing 43 of the 52 solution clusters from Action Tracks around major priorities; ending hunger and nourishing people, addressing impact to climate, and unleashing the power of markets and trade to address the challenge of equity and equality. These 43 solutions also help courtiers to address the varied issues across food systems and to accommodate the different communities, cultures, and circumstances.

We have also seen leadership around the formation of more than 20 coalitions with multi-stakeholders who are prepared to engage to make change possible.

There has never been a UN Summit that mobilized so many people to answer the Secretary-General's call with this level of commitment, hope and anxiety. All for good reason. The recent IPCC report is clear that we are on 'code red' and that we can not achieve 1.5 degrees unless we fix our food systems. How food is consumed is a health burden to 3 billion people and nearly one billion people go to bed hungry every night. We are fast eroding the genetic base we depend on for our livelihoods, and in parts of the world there simply is no path out of poverty and hunger without fixing climate change.

But even with all of the challenges we face, I remain optimistic. And here is why. Through an ongoing program of dialogues at every level, the Summit has brought together insights from all walks of life, from farmers to academics, retailers and consumers, environmentalists, and economists.

By providing the most comprehensive picture to date of food systems in every country, each government has the information and resources needed to develop its own route towards a stronger food system that nourishes both people and planet.

Secondly, the development of national pathways for transforming food systems will create the opportunity to reflect and respond to unique climate, economic and social circumstances facing each country. Even before the Summit we now have 84 countries who have committed to their national pathway.

I am grateful to all constituencies leaders who have elevated the food systems discourse to people around the world - in that alone the Summit is already a success because of their voices and commitments. I am grateful to all the people that stopped everything they were doing to advance solutions. This work will be available in a compendium that will guide advancing food systems transformations for decades to come.

The Summit is one moment that is important irrespective of where we are in the world. It is an opportunity for world leaders to step forward. It is once in a generation opportunity to make a difference for millions of people, to define a new deal for people, planet, and prosperity - don't hold back.