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

The UN Food Systems Summit was borne out of a need to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, which include delivering fundamental human rights, and this underpins all of the Summit’s efforts. Even before the pandemic, the world was not on track to achieve all of our goals for people, planet, and prosperity. Too often food systems have been a part of the problem, when they can – and must – be a large part of the solution.

Throughout the pandemic, those with least have been hardest hit, only reinforcing the critical importance of improving food systems, while the vital yet unsung contribution of farmers, producers and grassroots groups has become clear. The Food Systems Summit, announced by the UN Secretary-General in 2019, has taken on a new significance as a moment to reset, defining 2021 as a make-or-break year to be reconciled with nature and secure the wellbeing of people and our planet.

With four months to go until the Pre-Summit in Italy, the Food Systems Summit reaffirms its commitment to ensure the most marginalised and vulnerable groups have every opportunity to participate in, contribute to and benefit from the Summit process. From the outset, the Secretary-General called for the Food Systems Summit to be a “People’s Summit” because everyone has a stake in food systems, and we all have a responsibility to act.

A diverse range of actors are involved in the Summit – countries, cities, consumers, producers, civil society, private sector, youth leaders, indigenous communities, scientists and others – and the Summit leadership has designed its structures to engage across all constituencies.

  • In the Summit’s five Action Tracks, farmers’ organizations, indigenous peoples’ groups, and civil society organisations represent more than a third of those involved, with an open invitation to the Civil Society Mechanism of the Committee for World Food Security (CFS) for additional seats. Open fora and surveys have already surfaced more than 400 solutions from these constituencies – out of more than 1,200 total ideas received from all actors – to improve food systems and deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • A programme of “Independent Dialogues” enables any group to make a contribution to the Summit’s outcomes. To date, the Summit has seen the registration of 149 independently organized events, of which 92 have already taken place. Their official feedback is channelled into the process and also made publicly available for all to see on the Summit’s Dialogue Gateway. The Summit continues to supplement this further in collaboration with constituency groups, such as the specific partnership it announced in February 2021 with IFAD to ensure millions of smallholder farmers and indigenous communities have the opportunity to voice their concerns, needs and insights.
  • Outside of the UN system, an independent civil society “Group of Friends” was established to provide ongoing advice and suggestions to the Summit, while several webinars and open fora have been held over the last eight months to encourage inclusivity and involvement by the public in the Summit. The Summit Secretariat is also working with similar self-organizing constituency groups of producer organizations, indigenous peoples, youth, private sector, and Member States, each of which recognize the opportunity the Summit presents to advance concrete actions in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and these mechanisms provide a way to maximize their leadership and contributions throughout the process.

As we prepare for the Pre-Summit, this is the crucial moment for wholesale engagement from all quarters to uncover the broadest range of solutions and have maximum impact. The shortcomings of our existing food systems have left many constituencies around the world sceptical of some food systems actors. However, improving these systems in a way that delivers the SDGs for all will require the engagement of all parties, who have critical roles to play. In short, if we are to advance together in the interests of the whole, we must be prepared to have courageous conversations about what needs to change.

We call on everyone to lean into this opportunity and continue to lend their voice. The Summit will continue to open its doors to any and all with public fora, surveys, and the online Summit Community, and invites everyone to champion improved food systems in their own communities as Food Systems Heroes. There is room for all at the table. Only together is it possible to unlock the changes we need to achieve all our shared goals for people, planet, and prosperity.

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