2023 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) saw the global agenda punctuated by a pressing topic: sustainable food systems. As leaders from around the world converged at this pivotal forum, there was a palpable sense of urgency. With only seven years remaining to reach the milestones set for the 2030 Agenda, the focus on sustainable food systems has never been sharper. The criticality of the matter is underscored by the interconnectedness of food systems with global challenges, including poverty, nutrition, climate change, and even geopolitics.
Boaz Blackie Keizire, a significant voice in the world of policy, advocacy, and food systems, and currently the Head of Policy, Advocacy, and Food Systems at AGRA, provided an insightful perspective on the discussions at UNGA. Keizire noted the challenges that have been mounting over the years. “As the implementation of these SDGs hit the halfway mark, steps being made towards food and agriculture-related targets have stagnated or reversed,” he said. This stagnation exacerbates existing global challenges, from the urgent need to eradicate hunger and poverty to broader environmental concerns.
The statistics paint a concerning picture. Referring to the data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Keizire highlighted, “The 2023 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report showed that global hunger figures for 2022 were between 691 million and 783 million people.” This rising number is a grim reflection of the setbacks over the past few years. “Since 2015, the increase in undernourished individuals worldwide has effectively negated nearly all the progress achieved in the previous decade,” Keizire added. These figures aren’t just numbers but a testament to the millions of lives grappling with hunger and malnutrition every day.
But why is the focus on food systems transformation so pivotal? Keizire elucidated the broad-reaching implications of our current food systems. “Our global food systems account for nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The very practices that feed us are ironically depleting our planet’s natural resources.” Keizire pointed out the environmental toll of contemporary agricultural practices, “Agriculture is not just about feeding the world; it’s also the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources.”
The challenges don’t end with environmental concerns. As Keizire emphasizes, the socio-economic implications are just as profound. Current food systems, with their inequities and inefficiencies, play a role in perpetuating poverty. “By reimagining and redesigning our food systems, we can tackle these pressing challenges head-on and even unlock new avenues for progress across various sectors,” Keizire suggests.
The consensus on the importance of sustainable food systems was evident in global forums beyond just the UNGA. Keizire reflected on the unanimous agreement at the Africa Food Systems (AFS) Forum held in Tanzania. “There was a clear understanding that we must scale up sustainable agricultural practices. These aren’t just strategies for boosting food security; they’re essential for minimizing the negative environmental impacts our current systems exert,” Keizire remarked.
While the challenges seem vast, Keizire’s insights from the UNGA offer a roadmap for action. “To truly transform our future, we need to start by integrating Food Systems into the Climate Process,” he began, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the two. The interplay between sustainable food production and climate change can’t be understated. As food systems contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, they also stand vulnerable to the ramifications of a changing climate.
Keizire’s call to action went further, “Beyond integration, we need to harness the opportunities that arise from food systems transformation. There’s a ripple effect here. A sustainable food system can catalyze positive change across various SDGs.” He added that financing remains a hurdle, “Global financing architectures need a revamp to respond to the unique challenges and potentials of food systems transformation.”
He proposed concrete steps: “Mobilize and direct financing in a coordinated fashion. Introduce financial incentives that drive change. And significantly, ramp up investments in green technology and innovation. These are essential not just for environmental reasons but to bolster resilience and productivity for small and medium producers.”
The takeaways from the UNGA resonate with the broader global sentiment: the road to 2030 is paved with challenges, but it’s a journey we must undertake collectively. Keizire’s parting words serve as both a reminder and a clarion call, “Food systems transformation isn’t merely a goal; it’s the very catalyst that can propel us towards achieving our broader climate objectives and all the SDGs.”
For the global community, the message is clear. Sustainable food systems are no longer a choice but a necessity, integral to the world’s shared vision for a prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable future.