United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres convened the first food systems summit at the UN Secretariat Building in New York for September 2021, as part of the decade of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The summit will launch new, daring actions to achieve progress in all 17 sustainable development goals which, to a certain extent, are all based on healthier, more sustainable and fair food systems.
The New York Summit, as stated in the UN communiqué, aims at shaking up the way in which the world produces, consumes, and thinks about food, starting from the commitments taken by the various governments. Conceived with the aim of finding multi-level solutions – from the single individual to corporations, up to national resolutions – the summit will start its preliminary activities during the pre-Summit, which will be held in Rome (26-28 July), hosted by the Italian government and focused on five issues. This meeting, which has already been renamed “People’s Summit”, will be joined by key players from the world of science, civil society, politics, healthcare, and academia, as well as farmers, indigenous populations, youth organisations, consumer groups, environmental activists and other key stakeholders. The event in Rome aims at providing the latest, evidence-based scientific approach to food system transformation worldwide, as well as at launching a series of new commitments through the establishment of action coalitions, mobilising new funding and partnership programmes. All this will be achieved promoting a diversified commitment from all parts, so to discover the broadest array of solutions and have, together, the most positive impact possible.
Rwandan scientist Agnes Kalibata, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, has the responsibility, guidance and strategic direction of the works leading up to the New York Summit. Kalibata is also president of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which focuses on fast and sustainable agricultural growth, improving the productivity and livelihood of millions of small farmers in the continent. Previously, she also has been Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources of Rwanda (MINAGRI) from 2008 to 2014. During her office, she put the systemic approach at the centre of her work, involving a large number of ministries to make the food system of her country resilient. She has peasant roots, lived as a refugee for 30 years, and her father was able to provide livelihood thanks to a small plot of land made available by the UNHCR. Kalibata is definitely the kind of person who loves to work and be involved in first person.
What is the Summit’s goal, Dr. Kalibata?
So, for the United Nations, the systemic approach represents the key to rethink the way we produce, consume, and work the land?
In New York, politics will be at the forefront
How would you measure the success of this Summit?
You have a long experience in food issues. In Rwanda, you have been Minister of Agriculture. How difficult is for politics to act in a systemic way?
Another major topic for the Summit will be the role of science.
Talking about food, the issue of food products cost still remains: on the one hand, it is strongly accessible in the markets of industrialised countries (a phenomenon which leads to food waste); on the other, it is extremely burdensome for the most fragile countries (a trend leading to malnutrition and hunger). How important will be this issue?
There is still so much to do in terms of food waste