Under the leadership of Secretary-General António Guterres, the United Nations Food Systems Summit took place on Thursday, 23 September 2021. It was a completely virtual event during the General Assembly high‑level week.
The United Nations Food Systems Summit served as a historic opportunity to empower all people to leverage the power of food systems to drive recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic and get us back on track to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Over the past 18 months, the Summit brought together all United Nations Member States and constituencies around the world — including thousands of youth, food producers, indigenous peoples, civil society, researchers, private sector and the United Nations system — to bring about tangible, positive changes to the world’s food systems. As a people’s summit and a solutions summit, it recognized that everyone, everywhere must take action and work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food.
The following is a statement of action upon conclusion of today’s meeting:
Inclusive and Transformative Food Systems Nourish Progress to Achieve Zero Hunger
Rich or poor, young or old — every person in the world needs to eat. Safe and nutritious food provides not only life and health, but hope. Every day, billions of people harvest, process and transport food to market and to our homes. Consumers make choices of what to eat, based on what is available and accessible. This daily activity touches us all and underpins our cultures, our economies and our relationship with the natural world. Women, often the backbone of food systems, and young people provide fresh hope for transformative food systems that bring us together as families, communities and nations in harmony with nature.
As we entered the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, many of the world’s food systems were fragile and not fulfilling the right to adequate food for all. Hunger was on the rise again. Three billion people — almost half of all humanity — could not afford a healthy diet. Malnutrition in all its forms — including obesity — was deeply entrenched, leading to a broad range of negative health, education, gender and economic impacts. Drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition — including conflict, climate extremes, and economic volatility — are further exacerbated by poverty and high levels of inequality.
The COVID‑19 pandemic put these worrying trends in overdrive. Up to 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 — a 20 per cent increase in just one year. Over 41 million are on the doorstep of starvation.
The crisis brought on by the pandemic is unfolding against a planetary crisis that is threatening our climate and life as we know it. Food production and local producers are increasingly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that under all scenarios, temperatures above 1.5°C and 2°C above pre‑industrial levels will be exceeded during the twenty‑first century unless global greenhouse gas emissions are cut by half in the coming decade.
At the same time, recent reports have found that food systems are contributing up to one third of greenhouse gas emissions, up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss and use up to 70 per cent of freshwater. However, sustainable food production systems should be recognized as an essential solution to these existing challenges. It is possible to feed a growing global population while protecting our planet.
A People’s Summit Focused on Solutions for People, Planet and Prosperity
In the face of these epic challenges, the United Nations convened tens of thousands of people from the local to the global level in the Food Systems Summit journey. Through their leadership, they made it a “People’s Summit”; with their proposals for action, they have made it a “Solutions Summit” to make the transformative effects of food systems a driver for the achievement of the SDGs by 2030. Throughout this process, Governments and stakeholders found new ways to work together, breathing new momentum into the diverse and rich ecosystem within the multilateral arena.
Inspiring visions for transformative food systems were forged when Governments gathered businesses, communities and civil society to chart pathways for the future of food systems that respect the human rights of all people through national dialogues across 148 countries. These dialogues revealed key building blocks for action by Governments, together with different stakeholders, to further strengthen food systems by 2030 and support people to realize their right to food.
Member States, experts and stakeholders contributed more than 2,000 ideas for accelerated action. Action tracks clustered this rich input in a systemic way to build communities of practice and foster new partnerships. The Scientific Group consulted broadly and made a robust contribution to the evidence base informing much of the Summit’s work. Through the Champions Network, global food systems summit dialogues and over 900 independent dialogues, people around the world have offered ideas on how to transform food systems, building on national priorities and generating action. All participants were able to benefit from the engagement and products of the Committee on World Food Security that steers global policymaking.
Emerging from the pandemic and related lockdowns, more than 500 people from over 130 countries participated safely and productively at the pre‑summit (26‑28 July) in Rome, and over 22,000 people joined as virtual delegates from 183 countries. Together, they delivered a resounding message that business as usual is not good enough, and a call for scale and urgency in action. Participants urged a systems approach to food, aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, that embraces the complexity of our world to deliver the transitions we need.
As people around the world came together around food systems, they reaffirmed that people, planet and prosperity are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. In the wake of the impacts of COVID‑19, transformative action through food systems can play an essential role in driving the global recovery. Food systems are shaping progress in three fundamental areas:
- People — “Nourishing Everyone for Health and Well‑being”.
- Planet — “Producing in Harmony with Nature”.
- Prosperity — “Inclusive, transformative and equitable recovery for the 2030 Agenda”.
This triple thrust enables the world to engage to deliver on the 2030 Agenda.
Transforming Food Systems
The journey has profoundly affirmed that our food systems hold the power to realize our shared vision for a better world. Around the world, people engaged in food systems are providing nutritious food for billions of people while safeguarding biodiversity and critical ecosystems. There is a recognition that we must build on good practices — such as indigenous food systems — invest in science and innovation and engage all people — particularly women and youth, indigenous peoples, businesses and producers — in achieving the SDGs.
There was also agreement that no one size fits all. While local contexts, approaches and perspectives may differ, food systems can and must adapt in order to realize the SDGs. This, in turn, enriches engagement with the global level, including realizing the objectives of other international agreements, including the Paris Agreement on climate change and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
Many Governments are committing to accelerate and deepen the transformative power of food systems in a manner aligned with the 2030 Agenda. The focus is increasingly centred on feeding growing populations in ways that contribute to people’s nutrition, health and well‑being, restore and protect nature, are climate neutral, adapted to local circumstances and provide decent jobs and inclusive economies.
This transformation is informed and supported by the ambition of all 17 SDGs based on the understanding that we must urgently move from incremental and siloed action towards a systems approach. The food system does not thrive without all sectors working as one, towards common goals. It involves multiple sectors of Government, with the interaction of multiple scientific disciplines, as well as traditional and indigenous knowledge.
Transformative action demands the engagement and close participation of the people who drive our food systems, such as farmers, herders, food workers and fisher folk. In addition to Governments, the business community — from small and medium enterprises to multinational corporations — has an important role to play through responsible business practices and innovative solutions to make food systems more sustainable, resilient and equitable, while adapting their practices to ensure all people can access a nutritious and healthy diet.
There is also a need to shift and scale public and private financing for food, including for science and research. This innovation and change in financing approaches must avoid excessive hidden costs and support healthier, more inclusive and more sustainable outcomes.
The value of food must also be understood as far more than a mere commodity. It is a right for people that must be realized, and the economic, social and environmental impact and externalities must be better assessed and mitigated or leveraged as required.
The pandemic has reminded us of our interconnectedness and that our health, the health of animals and the planet are intrinsically linked – highlighting the urgent need to enhance cooperation at the national, regional and global levels to address antimicrobial resistance and zoonotic diseases, using an integrated and systems‑based one‑health approach. A one‑health approach is also vital for strong and resilient economies.
Open, non‑discriminatory, transparent, rules‑based trade is essential for building more inclusive and resilient food systems. Despite challenges to global supply chains, COVID‑19 has shown the resilience of local and regional food systems.
Stepping up and Going Further to Implement the Transformations Needed
in Our Food Systems to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030
The Food Systems Summit provided an essential boost of energy into the 2030 Agenda and a silver lining in the cloud of the pandemic. All stakeholders — especially Governments — must now reaffirm a commitment to act with urgency, at scale and in solidarity with one another to keep the promise of the SDGs.
Across the SDGs, the world has established clear and ambitious goals for food systems that reflect complex relationships between the environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainable development. We do not need new goals; we need to move boldly – now – to implement the transformative actions needed to achieve the goals we have. While we have a goal focused explicitly on food by seeking to end hunger, other goals relate to challenges in the food system.
For example: food systems have a key role to play in ending poverty and achieving SDG 1. Addressing the coexistence of overnutrition and malnutrition will be crucial to meeting health objectives in SDG 3. It will be impossible to sustainably manage water resources to achieve SDG 6 without agriculture playing a central role. Sustainable fisheries management is fundamental for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and the achievement of SDG 14. Food systems more broadly must also reflect our commitments on sustainable consumption and production in SDG 12, climate change adaptation and mitigation in SDG 13 and the protection, restoration and sustainable management of terrestrial ecosystems in SDG 15.
It is time to renew and accelerate our commitment to realizing these goals. To do this, there are several key actions that we need to take:
- We must support national mechanisms that develop and implement national pathways to 2030 that are inclusive and consistent with countries’ climate commitments, building upon the national food systems dialogues, with the United Nations system and all relevant stakeholders, including the international finance institutions, private sector and civil society playing a pivotal role in supporting country implementation.
- Action must be driven at country level by Governments in their local contexts. Five action areas to help inform the transitions needed to realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda have emerged from the Summit process. These include:
- Nourish All People;
- Boost Nature-based Solutions;
- Advance Equitable Livelihoods, Decent Work and Empowered Communities;
- Build Resilience to Vulnerabilities, Shocks and Stresses; and
- Accelerate the Means of Implementation.
Progress will require local and global communities of practice and stakeholders coming together with national Governments under the umbrella of these action areas. In particular, support to enhance implementation through financing, data, science and innovation, governance and trade.
Throughout, we welcome emerging multi‑stakeholder initiatives and coalitions to help accelerate progress towards SDG achievement informed by these five action areas at country level. In particular, we need actions that respond to country demands, while maintaining strong, inclusive country ownership; have strong stakeholder representation, particularly indigenous peoples, women and youth; and motivate increased and better coordinated investments by global partners to support the implementation of country objectives.
Global initiatives to reinforce the ambition of science‑based solutions will be key to deliver on the 2030 Agenda.
Going Beyond the Summit
Follow‑up to the Summit will build on existing efforts of countries and supporting organizations. Implementation of Summit outcomes to support these efforts at country level will use existing institutions, improving their responsiveness where necessary. At the national level, Governments will be supported by resident coordinators and United Nations country teams in developing and implementing national pathways, with the engagement and contributions of all stakeholders, leveraging instruments and processes.
At the global level, working across the United Nations system and with partners, the Rome‑based agencies — the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) — will jointly lead a coordination hub that collaborates with, and draws upon, wider United Nations system capacities to support follow‑up to the Food Systems Summit. These partners will include non‑governmental actors, such as civil society and business.
The coordination hub will have key functions, including:
- Strengthening synergies with key intergovernmental fora such as the High‑level Political Forum and the Financing for Development Forum processes, as well as other priority global processes, including those relating to the environment, climate, biodiversity, food security, health and nutrition, to ensure food systems are better accounted for in these spaces and other related efforts critical for the 2030 Agenda.
- Coordinating and facilitating the technical and policy support of the Rome‑based agencies, broader United Nations system and other expert institutions, to develop and implement national food systems pathways, leveraging the resident coordinator system.
- Establishing a champions advisory group to advise the hub, with dedicated representation of priority constituencies, particularly youth, indigenous peoples, producers, women and private sector, to ensure a robust follow‑up to the Summit. This should include ensuring that platforms for implementation and pathways account for the perspectives of these voices and issues.
- Collaborating with the High‑level Panel of Experts of the Committee on World Food Security at the global level, support strengthening the science‑policy capacities and interfacing at local and national levels.
The Committee on World Food Security remains an essential intergovernmental and stakeholder platform for all working together to ensure food security and nutrition for all through sustainable and transformative food systems. Engagement with the Committee to provide leadership to the follow‑up to the Food Systems Summit will be essential to deliver on its mandate.
The pandemic has demonstrated renewed impetus for strengthened accountability across all constituencies to ensure the well‑being of all people and our planet. Government ensures the enabling policy environment that holds to account all stakeholders, including business. Globally, existing institutions will need to strengthen their mechanisms to support mutual accountability among all actors. Leadership by the Committee on World Food Security and its mechanisms, including the civil society mechanism, will be key to informing accountability for all stakeholders, including the private sector.
At country level, resident coordinators and United Nations country teams will contribute to annual reporting, coordinated by the Rome‑based agencies on behalf of the Secretary‑General and regular reporting to the Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group on support to national pathways. Drawing on this work at country, regional and global levels, the Secretary‑General will submit an annual report – until 2030 – to the High‑level Political Forum on progress in following up to this Summit. Member States are invited to consider how they may wish to consider this report in the context of the Forum.
The Secretary-General will convene a global stock‑taking meeting every two years to review progress in implementing the outcomes of this process and its contributions to achievement of the 2030 Agenda. This will be supported by the Rome‑based agencies, broader United Nations system and partners.
The Secretary‑General expresses deep appreciation to all those who have shown leadership by contributing to this journey. Through your ideas, engagement and action we have hope for the future of food systems and a better world. Using the 2030 Agenda as our blueprint, let us act now – together - and realize our vision.
“Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.