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What must be at the core of food systems transformation?

The Negotiations on the Guidelines for Food Systems and Nutrition kicking off this week will determine our ability to reverse increasing rates of hunger and malnutrition and prevent future pandemics.

As large swathes of the population in all regions of the world plunge even further into a state of food insecurity, the most marginalized and vulnerable living on the fringes of society are hit the hardest. The pandemic has exposed the results of decades of failed policies that cut people’s social and labor rights, leaving them at the mercy of food banks and other charities. But COVID-19 is also a symptom of a broader problem: the ailing industrial food system destroys the environment and creates the conditions for the propagation of zoonoses, whilst producing ultra-processed foods that put people’s health at higher risk of non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes, which in turn make them more vulnerable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

It is within this context that the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) will start negotiations on how to transform food systems towards more sustainability, equity and justice.  After two years of lively discussions, the CFS starts the negotiation on the Guidelines for Food Systems and Nutrition this week: the first intergovernmental negotiation on the parameters to achieve this transformation. The notion of food systems and of sustainable healthy diets, as well as principles for this transformation and how to re-orient key policy areas shaping food systems are at the core of the negotiation.

So what must be at the core of this transformation?

Given the increasing corporate capture of public institutions in food systems, there should be strong safeguards to prevent  conflicts of interest: food systems governance should solely serve public interest. Building on the demands of small-scale food producers, it is key that agroecology is made the cornerstone of this transformation. Agroecology will significantly benefit people’s health and the planet through producing healthy food, protecting biodiversity and the environment, while further developing traditional knowledge and transforming cultural and social relationships. 

On the whole, the right to adequate food and nutrition and others connected rights, including the rights of women, indigenous peoples, workers, peasants and other people working in rural areas must be the parameters for food system transformation. A food system that is not anchored in human rights will harm as much as the current predominant food production model has done.

There is much at stake this week and the outcomes of the negotiations will have long-lasting impacts and determine our ability to respond to external shocks, conflicts or crises - such as to COVID. Member states of the CFS must engage actively and constructively in the negotiations, despite the challenges arising from online participation. At this historical juncture, they must be bold and listen to people’s demands and undertake the urgent transformation of food systems that the people and our planet urgently needs.  

Check our video series Civil society perspectives on Food Systems and Nutrition to learn more about the proposals for the transformation of food systems:

1.   What is at stake in the transformation of Food Systems
2.   The Industry`s False solution for fixing food systems
3.   Civil Society`s vision for food systems transformation