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SG/SM/20928
23 September 2021

‘The War on Our Planet Must End’, Secretary-General Tells Food Summit, Calling for Systems That Drive Sustainable Development, Global Recovery

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Food Systems Summit, held today:

Food is life.  But, in countries, communities and households in every corner of the world, this essential need — this human right — is going unfulfilled.  Every day, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry.  Children are starving.  Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet.  Two billion are overweight or obese [and] 462 million are underweight.  And nearly one third of all food that is produced is lost or wasted.

We must build a world where healthy and nutritious food is available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.  Yet, we know the challenge before us. It is not new.  But, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this challenge much greater.  It has deepened inequalities; decimated economies; plunged millions into extreme poverty;  and raised the spectre of famine in a growing number of countries.

At the same time, we are waging a war against nature — and reaping the bitter harvest:  ruined crops; dwindling incomes; and failing food systems.  Food systems also generate one third of all greenhouse‑gas emissions.  And they’re responsible for up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss.

At the same time, food systems can and must play a leading role in addressing all of these challenges to realize the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  We know that well.  Over the last 18 months, you’ve been part of a remarkable global engagement.  As the pandemic physically pushed us apart, the preparations for this Summit brought us together.  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.  You injected new life into multilateralism.  And you are leading the way to food systems that can drive the global recovery in three fundamental ways:  for people; for the planet; and for prosperity.

First, we need food systems that support the health and well-being of all people.  Malnutrition, hunger and famine are not forces of nature.  They are the result of the actions — or inactions — of all of us.  As a global community, we need to ramp up emergency food and nutrition systems in areas affected by conflict or climate emergencies.  We need to invest in early warning famine‑prevention systems.  And we need to shock-proof all of the systems that contribute to nutrition — from food systems themselves, to health, water and sanitation.

Nutritious and diverse diets are often too costly or inaccessible.  This can lead to poor consumer choices — or no choice at all.  I urge Governments and businesses to work together to increase access to healthy diets, including by incentivizing new behaviours.  For instance, I’m pleased to see many Member States rallying around universal access to nutritious meals in schools.  A great example of how social protection can support resilience, food security and the rights of children and young people.

Second, we need food systems that protect our planet.  It is possible to feed a growing global population while also safeguarding our environment.  It takes sustainable consumption and production methods and nature-based solutions.  It takes the smart, sustainable management of natural resources — from farms to fisheries.

And it takes countries coming to COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Glasgow with bold, targeted plans to keep the promise of the Paris Agreement.  The war on our planet must end, and food systems can help us build that peace.  Throughout, we need to strengthen the resilience of local food systems to external shocks, like conflict, climate change and pandemics.

Third and finally, we need systems that can support prosperity.  Not just the prosperity of businesses and shareholders, but the prosperity of farmers and food workers — and indeed, the billions of people worldwide who depend on this industry for their livelihoods.  Working in the fields, transporting food to market and to our homes.  And doing so during an extraordinary period of lockdowns and transportation constraints.

These women and men have been the unsung heroes of the last 18 months.  Too often, these workers are underpaid — even exploited.  Yet, these systems and the people who keep them up-and-running represent 10 per cent of the global economy.  They can be a powerful driver for an inclusive and equitable recovery from COVID‑19.  But, only if we change how we support them.

As a global community, we need to shift our approach on agricultural subsidies and employment support for workers.  And we need to re-think how we see and value food — not simply as a commodity to be traded, but as a right that every person shares.

Above all, meeting our goals across these three principles depends on partnerships.  Only by working together can we maintain the extraordinary momentum generated from this Summit.  The United Nations family is proud to be taking this journey with you and we pledge our full support.  The entire system — led by our Rome-based agencies — will continue to champion this vital effort.

Our resident coordinators and United Nations country teams will continue to lend their leadership and support at the country level.  And we will continue this journey together, convening again in two years to take stock of our progress and preserve the energy through the Decade of Action.

We also need more businesses to join this work — from food producers, to the transportation and marketing industries.  We need the advocacy and voice of civil society to continue calling for change.  And throughout, we need the engagement of the people at the centre of our food systems: family farmers, herders, workers, indigenous peoples, women and young people.  Let’s learn from each other — and be inspired by one another — as we work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Food is life — and food is hope.  Change in food systems is not only possible, it is necessary.  For people.  For our planet.

For information media. Not an official record.