Building resilient food systems
The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated a number of ways in which the world, as currently functioning, is not fit for purpose and is certainly not at all as resilient as we would like it to be.
One of the vulnerabilities that have been exposed is food production, processing, trade and consumption in practically every country. In light of this vulnerability of the entire food system from local to national to global levels, the United Nations Secretary General has initiated the holding of a UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in late 2021, which is an innovative approach to holding such Summits.
The first innovation is that it will not be negotiated between governments, which is what normally happens at UN Summits, but rather the starting point is assumed to be the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which have already been agreed upon by the governments. Hence, the UNFSS will look to how things can move forward to reduce the vulnerability and enhance the resilience of food systems from local to national and global levels over the next decade.
The second institutional innovation is that the Secretary General of the UN has appointed a high level individual, Rwandan agricultural scientist and policy-maker Agnes Kalibata, to invite experts and academics to chair each of the five Action Tracks under which the UNFSS is organised.
These five Action Tracks are: ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all, shift to sustainable consumption patterns, boost nature-positive production, advance equitable livelihoods and build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress. I have been privileged to be invited to chair Action Track number five on resilience.
Each of these Action Tracks' chairs and their respective teams have already started to consult with a wide variety of stakeholders from national governments—who obviously will play a very important role—to the private sector (both large and small), farmers, fishers and herders, as well as women, Indigenous peoples and youth groups around the world.
In addition to the widespread consultations being carried out by the five Action Tracks, there is a parallel process of scientific assessments being done by a group of scientists, both on their own and attached to each Action Track. The most far reaching activity is probably the holding of national dialogues on food systems in each country, whose outputs will then feed into the five Action Tracks.
The national dialogue in Bangladesh has already been initiated under the aegis of the Ministry of Food, and they are planning two more dialogues in the coming weeks that will include different ministries as well as non-governmental stakeholders.
There is also another parallel track focusing on youth, as each Action Track has a Youth Vice Chair who is consulting widely with youth from around the world. The inputs that the Action Track chairs and teams will receive are being called "game changing solutions", which could range from new ideas and existing initiatives that can be scaled up to new technologies that can be submitted from any source.
The first round of game changing solutions reached over 500 across all five Action Tracks and these will be filtered into a smaller set over the next few weeks, while we are still open to receiving more ideas over the next months. So if anyone is still interested in engaging or giving inputs, they are most welcome to do so through the website of the UNFSS: https://www.un.org/en/food-systems-summit.
The Action Track chairs will submit the final list of proposed game changing solutions' ideas to the pre-Summit due to be held in Rome, Italy in July 2021. After that the UN Secretary General, in consultation with the member states, will make the final list for the actual Summit to be held in September 2021.
Dr Saleemul Huq is Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University Bangladesh and Chair of Action Track 5 on Resilience of the United Nations Food Systems.