International officials and heads of state called upon fellow world leaders to prioritize the creation of a more inclusive global food system during the United Nations Food Systems Summit on Thursday.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged the challenge of securing nutritious and affordable food for many people around the world was complicated even further by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It has deepened inequalities, decimated economies, plunged millions into extreme poverty and raised the specter of famine in a growing number of countries. At the same time, we are waging a war against nature and reaping the bitter harvest," he said at the event.
The summit, which took place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, was the culmination of an 18-month process in which 148 countries have pushed to develop national strategies to create more resilient, sustainable and inclusive food systems, a news release prior to the event said.
Some 80 countries had already submitted their national pathways prior to Thursday's event, with numbers expected to grow through the end of the week, the release added.
Those who spoke Thursday maintained that building a more inclusive food system requires nations to engage in cross-border collaboration on agricultural innovation, expand access to nutritious meals and create resilient supply chains that can withstand climate and security emergencies.
“Malnutrition, hunger and famine, are not forces of nature,” Guterres said. “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.”
The U.N. chief emphasized the need to invest in early-warning famine prevention systems and also to shock-proof everything that plays a role in nutrition — including health, the food, water and sanitation. Governments and businesses, he continued, must work together to improve access to healthy diets and incentivize changes in behavior.
“Universal access to nutritious meals in schools is a great example of how social protection can support resilience, food security and the rights of children and young people,” Guterres added.
During the summit, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed how her country recognizes food and adequate nutrition “as a fundamental right” and how Bangladesh “has become self-sufficient in food production.”
“However, greater frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change are affecting our momentum,” Hasina said. “As a global leader in addressing the challenges of climate change, we are also working on climate resilient agriculture and food system.”
Hasina laid out four steps toward ensuring a resilient global food system: investing in advanced technologies for agricultural development, increasing funding for developing countries to achieve sustainable agricultural sectors, promoting global partnerships and reducing food waste through cross-border initiatives.
“To achieve the sustainable development goals, including a world with zero hunger, we must ensure our global food systems are both more sustainable and more inclusive," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, while praising efforts made by New Zealand's Pacific neighbors to manage local fisheries.
She stressed the need for international collaboration and “minimizing the barriers to trade and efficient distribution” while also criticizing "government subsidies for fisheries and agriculture that lead to inefficient production, distorted trade, environmental harm and weakened food security.”
The New Zealand leader further emphasized the need to include Indigenous people in the governance of food systems to make them inclusive. For New Zealand, she explained, this means promoting the role of the Maori in the country’s food sectors, as well as encouraging Maori agribusiness and leadership.
Ardern touted her country’s successes in working with international partners through the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases to improve techniques for measuring food system emissions and to explore new ways of growing food without increasing emissions.
“As a global community, we must take rapid and far-reaching action to combat climate change, while ensuring food security for a growing global population,” she said. “If we are to address this challenge, we must work together to tackle agricultural emissions.”
She noted that New Zealand also recently joined a United States-United Arab Emirates initiative to accelerate global agricultural innovation and invited other nations to participate in this multinational effort.
“We cannot solve global food security and environmental challenges through isolationism,” Ardern said.