Rome, Italy

26 July 2021

Deputy Secretary-General's opening press conference at the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit

Thank you very much and welcome to all our friends in the media.

This is really an incredible day that we are witnessing, that we all come together in person, and, of course, virtually. But it is two years after a really robust process – we didn't imagine that we would have COVID-19, but when it did come it seemed to have galvanized the solidarity around a very important issue: food.

But beyond food, to acknowledge that the 2030 Agenda was off track. The goal to and that we wanted to obtain zero hunger was very far from being attained. If anything, COVID-19 has exacerbated it and more people were living in hunger, in fact, that was going up.

And so to be here today, to harvest the fruits of that two-year discussion that has happened at the country level, that has happened at the regional level, that has happened at the global level, is an opportunity to put into place a real People's Summit, a summit of solutions and a summit that should transform our food systems here on in.

On many levels, the food system is like none at all. I mean, we have had every constituency involved, but not just the rhetoric – really putting forward where they think we need the ambition. What does the ambition mean in the 2030 Agenda? And we've seen that and we will be deliberating on it as we, as I said, harvest the fruits.

The Sustainable Development Goals continue to guide that framework. They continue to provide the framework for the recovery that we need to have from COVID, so we see the food systems as a silver lining in the cloud of COVID, the crisis that we see.

Member States are already making their commitments, these are coming out of national dialogues – over 145 that have been inclusive, multi-stakeholder. And what's important here is already 8 or 9 of them have started to produce their pathways. Governments have not been standing still with national plans, but those national plans need to be fit for purpose, for the world that needs to attain the 2030 Agenda in less than 9 years. 

The opportunities of the COVID pandemic's recovery are in, what we would say, the transitions.  The blue transitions and green transitions that should include our food systems must also be aligned with the transitions for energy, the transitions for connectivity and the constituencies around those that produce food, young people included.

And I hope that what we will see in the next three days is a consolidation of the efforts of the last two years, so that we can move to New York with a re-commitment of leaders as to what really needs to happen in scale, in speed and acceleration to everyone, everywhere. It is an agenda about leaving no one behind, and, in the next three days, we will identify those gaps, take them to New York and then bring them back here so that we can have a division of labour in how we go forward.

Thank you.

Q: Deputy Secretary-General, we have a question from Agence France-Presse. […] How, in the context of transforming food systems, can we better articulate the need to produce sufficient quantities to feed the planet and requirements of sustainable development? And further, how can we address the concerns of associations and NGOs who feel that this summit is giving a large space to agribusiness and the food industry?

DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL: Thank you very much, great questions. Well, first and foremost, I think that the 2030 Agenda actually outlines many targets and indicators that help us to shape the ambition. And therefore, you see that, in forming the national dialogues, where government has taken the lead, but has a multi-stakeholder engagement, in which they try to define, through their national plans, the pathways to transforming their food systems. 

In that, there needs to be the investment outlines, there needs to be a division of labour, there needs to be an inclusion of how governments will appropriate the solutions to that. And so we really do see that what this is, is about a stakeholder engagement with government and how to do that. I think that you will see that in every country, the UN also supports the capacities that are needed for this, around science, from civil society.  You hear a lot through the indigenous communities that what they want protected are those practices which we should include if we want to get a nutritious diet, but if we also want to include those that produce food in a way that is sustainable. So, look to the pathways and interrogate the inclusiveness of them, and that we are creating an opportunity that leaves no one behind.

On the second question, the inclusion. The Secretary-General was very clear that this summit would be about including everyone. Representation is very difficult to address, and we hope that through the different fora that we have, the different platforms of the United Nations engages with, that we brought that through. But in addition to that, in addition to existing fora that we have engaged with, the advisory group that helps to shape the outcomes of this summit has been inclusive. It has, for instance, of our 29 members, a third of them are civil society and we have representation from indigenous groups, from farmers, with important voices from young people.  There is, out of the 29, one [from the] private sector.

Now I'm not saying that the private sector aren't in large numbers, that they've managed to convene, and that's a good thing. Because what I'd like to have in the room is a private sector that we would be able, with them, to determine what it is that they will not do in the future, how they will change their business models that don’t profit off the back of people, but, in fact, take, into consideration people at the center and the environment at the center. So, I think this process really has shown that it has been inclusive.  It will never be perfect, but we intend to continue to try to perfect that engagement. And it does mean that this goes on beyond Rome, beyond New York, and then the real efforts are made that the inclusion of all voices and ensuring that when the private sector participates, that we are protecting the rights of people.

Q: We have a question from the German newswire to the UN Deputy Secretary-General. From your point of view, what is the most critical point members and stakeholders don't agree on and still have to find a solution for?

DSG: First of all, we agree on more than we don't agree on.  But I think that perhaps what we still have challenges agreeing on is the inclusiveness of the process.  There is divergence with that and we believe that we have an inclusive process, but we must listen to the voices that are saying there are not in the room. And I think that this is an important part of this conversation, it must continue.

This is not the end, this is the beginning of trying to change the way that we engage in the implementation of the Agenda 2030. We need the commitments of Heads of State and governments, so we do hope that what we have harvested from the two-year process, will get that commitment in New York.  And then the really important part about it is coming out of the Summit - what we do with it. And I think that is where we will get probably far more convergence on how to do that because we are already seeing the engagement of governments and civil society, indigenous people, business at the country level. That's where it's at – implementation is going to be there.

I think we do know the 'what' – it is the 'how' and the sharing of best practices of what has happened over time that needs to be taken into the future is important. I think that's probably where we have the largest challenge, making sure we don't leave anyone behind and that's key.

Now we all have a very big issue, I think, even the UN, we champion the fact that there are not sufficient resources that are dedicated to the food system transformation. That has to be available, that's the promise of the recovery of COVID, if we are going to do that, the response has to be there. And countries have to have access to resources to enable that to happen. Many countries, especially middle-income countries that are very vulnerable, hold the largest numbers of inequality. And they need to have access to resources, which are generally today framed around GDP and we have to go beyond that, because that's what brings everyone in.

So, I hope that we can tackle that multi-issue. We have the solutions, we have the pipelines, the programmes that need to be funded, now what is missing are the resources to be able to do that, and to do it at scale, beyond the projects that we've done before.

Q:  The relationship between One Health and food systems was marginally taken into consideration – shouldn't this topic be more important, and how has it been arising in the discussions?

DSG: I think that One Health has been taken into consideration, maybe many times people don't see the language. The one thing about this Summit is that it is facilitating and enabling the world community to come together to deliver on the SDGs, so you see no negotiated text. One Health is a huge part of this and this is seen through perhaps the lens of nutrition and how we will go about that, so food is beyond just the commodity, beyond just the producer, but the whole system and we are talking about the whole system so for sure we are talking about the whole of health.

Q: One last question for the Deputy Secretary-General from EFE. […] They would like to know lessons that the region of Latin America – what we can learn from in regards to sustainable food systems and what is being done to advance the region for the 2030 Agenda?

DSG: We just missed the Vice-President of Uruguay, I think here I was hearing strong voices, first of all, how to bring the voices of knowledge, of practice and of the issues of rights and exclusion. These will be well-documented in the processes, but also reflect themselves in the statement that the SG will have as we come out of the Summit, and I think it's really important.

Some of the important issues I think that are discussed are also the interconnection between climate change, the climate action that needs happen is very much about the investments that should happen also in Latin America and the Caribbean. Really understanding vulnerability, as I said earlier, it is beyond GDP, access to the resources that are needed is very important, and that's not happening as it should do.

We welcome the voices of the multi-national development banks that have come to the process, but we also need them to look at their expenditure on adaptation, which is very much about what will happen in the food systems. We want to see more that will come to connectivity, that we saw during COVID, remarkable opportunities that were taken up by moving formal business online, that continue to allow young people, especially women, to participate.

So, for Latin America and the Caribbean, many, many lessons, I think, perhaps the inclusion message, the message of local knowledge, which doesn't make it a junior relation, or a poor relation in the family – it should be right upfront and that's what, I think, this Summit shows us.  Cherrie [Atilano, UN Nutrition Ambassador] mentioned role models – I think it's really important in the intergenerational transition that we are listening and we are hopeful now, because we have the Cherries of this world. Ten years on, I am happy to step behind and watch the energy and the aspirations that they have take root in the world that belongs to them and that there will come a time when they also have to think about bequeathing that future.

So again, it's about each region, the tailor-made solutions for it. We must not have a one-size-fits-all – that's not the way the world works, we are incredibly diverse. That should be seen as how rich we are and not how poor it is, or how it's too complicated for us. The world is complex – that's why we're here in solidarity, to have that mutual respect to allow us to go on and achieve the 2030 Agenda in time.