Towards global food system renewal

FFA2021 Annual Conference session 5 summary

Monday, May 03, 2021


The final session of the FFA2021 Annual Conference focused on the actions planned and foreseen by the US, EU, and UN in the movement towards renewal of the global food systems.

The session started with the US perspective as Tom Vilsack, United States Secretary of Agriculture, set out the Biden Administration’s stance on renewing the global food system and five “doable” domestic farming priorities in a pre-recorded video. These include producing sufficient quantities of quality, safe, and accessible food; using economically and environmentally sustainable methods; ensuring open, transparent, rules-based and competitive markets; developing more resilient and equitable food systems; and working towards the Biden Administration’s target of zero net emissions from agriculture by 2050.

Agriculture is an essential player in tackling climate change and stands to benefit from emerging opportunities such as new income streams through diversification; as well great leaps forward in improving soil and water quality on a global scale.

Secretary Vilsack identified a common vision heading into the UN Food Systems Summit. “We may have different ways to get to that goal, but I think it is a shared vision.” This must be accompanied by an open, transparent, competitive, rules and science-based market.

The final ‘Connecting EU-UN closing interview’, brought together Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, European Commission, and Agnes Kalibata, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit and President of AGRA.

Special Envoy Kalibata pointed out that “fixing the food system is part of fixing climate change”. COVID-19 has “put some wind in our sails” by highlighting many of the vulnerabilities in existing food systems and nurturing understanding of global interdependence. The UN Food Systems Summit provides an opportunity for all players to come together and recognise existing failures. She called on the EU to use its experience and policies, such as the European Green Deal, to help the rest of the world and “to step forward and step up”.

In reply, Executive Vice-President Timmermans urged the developed world to make available the climate mitigation and climate adaptation funding it has promised to developing countries, and to share with them its technological breakthroughs. This also requires a safe climate for incoming investment. He argued that any price increases from sustainable food production would be considerably lower than “the cost of non-action which is completely underestimated”. International trade and fiscal policy can help offset price rises. The biggest problem facing agriculture is not its carbon footprint, but the loss of biodiversity and the threat to one million species.

Agnes Kalibata underlined the cultural importance of food and the need to educate consumers to appreciate the cost to the environment “every time you take a meal”. The food summit is looking to reach billions of people to raise awareness as it places engagement and education at its heart.

Both participants issued a clarion call for urgent reform of current food systems. In a stark warning, Frans Timmermans said: “Let me be clear. If we don’t change, our children will be fighting wars over water and food.”

In his closing statement, Janez Potočnik, Chair FFA2021 and Chairman RISE Foundation, called for a moment of silence, before his concluding remarks, in memory of the 32 people who died and 300 injured in Brussels bombings on the day of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture 2016.

He identified some of the recurring themes from the discussions: the need for solidarity and inclusivity, recognition that it is people who change things; the young are strongly committed to more sustainable food, and a “one world perspective” is essential to ensure equity.
Four principles, he noted, apply equally to biodiversity and food system management: knowing the true impact of any decision; planning together to produce innovative policies; growing with nature; and valuing natural capital.

Looking back over the FFA2021 Month of March, which occurred in a novel and adaptive online format broadcast in 91 countries, the FFA2021 Chair said some of the novelties might be revisited in the future, and he looked forward to welcoming participants next year in person.


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