ForumforAg Food Systems Podcast Summary

Food Systems Podcast 26

In discussion with Emile Frison Podcast summary

Thursday, Jul 08, 2021

The 13 guiding principles that can speed up food systems change

In our latest podcast, Emile Frison, IPES-Food panel member and UNFSS co-lead on the solution cluster on agroecology and regenerative agriculture, discusses how the world can change food systems fast enough to cope with impending crisis, and whether the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) is capable of catalysing the pace of action needed. For a few quick highlights, read our short podcast summary below, or dive into the full 28-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

What is the goal of the Food Systems Summit, and what do you hope it will achieve?

There was a realization that our food systems are broken and that it’s urgent to address the issue. It’s still very difficult to see what will come out of the summit. I hope for a clear realization that we need to change the paradigm from a productive-based approach towards a sustainable food systems approach, and that there is a resolution to do something about it and not just have a declaration.

In 2017 you co-authored an article and a larger report that stated the world must move away from industrial farming towards a more diversified ecological set of practices. Has agriculture changed?

A lot of things have changed. There are an increasing number of applications of diversified agricultural systems in different parts of the world, several at scale. A number of major reports have recognized this need for a paradigm shift. But the change is not as much, by far, as I would like to see because there are a quite a number of obstacles.

What sort of timeline are we looking at – decades, years?

Definitely not decades … we have about 10 harvests left. If we don’t get our system fixed, we will be in deep trouble, not only because of the negative impact on the environment, etc., but just to feed the world. We are now seeing countries making major decisions. Things are moving faster than on climate, but that is by far not sufficient. There is still a lot of resistance and we must continue to convey the message that there is no time to be lost.

The UN food system is meant to catalyse a lot of developments. But looking at track three on nature positive production, it includes many areas. Is it not too broad to create real practical change?

Absolutely not. The Food Systems Summit has to take a systemic approach. One of the reasons we are in deep trouble is because things have been handled in silos. Agriculture wanted to maximize productivity. The environment sector wanted to protect the environment. Health wanted to fix health problems once they have been created. And so on. We need a systemic approach to look at all these things in an integrated way.

The problem with the Food Systems Summit so far is that they started by dividing it into five action tracks, nutrition, environment, production etc. That was already a mistake. Then track three is divided into protect, manage and restore as action areas. Within that, there are 2,200 proposed solutions. It’s too nitty gritty.

In the solution cluster on agroecology and regenerative technology we are advocating the 13 principles from the High Level Panel of Experts report of 2019 as guiding principles for food systems transformation done in a holistic way.

How would you actually define agroecology and regenerative agriculture?

In 2020, a group of organizations brought together people from different parts of the world involved in organic agriculture, agroecology and regenerative agriculture to see what we have in common. And we decided it is the 13 principles that I just referred to. Anything less than that is greenwashing.

Our call is for the 13 principles to guide food system transformation without attempts to greenwash and dilute or do cherry-picking. It has been signed by more than 160 organizations worldwide and more than 460 individuals. And it’s still running.

Where would the funding come from to pay for this transition?

A good starting point is the €720bn that goes into subsidies around the world every year. That would achieve the kind of transformation we need. There’s another €35bn of fisheries subsidies. Also just removing policies that are preventing the transformation – sometimes it doesn’t necessarily have to cost more.

If you could only choose one single concrete policy or practical idea to create a more sustainable food system, what would it be?

Replace the current sectoral policies by a food system policy. Now we have an agricultural policy that contradicts the environmental objectives and the health objectives, etc. If we have a food system policy that integrates all these dimensions, we would avoid the trade-offs and create synergies.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 28-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

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