A world food summit is taking place in New York on 23 September and this is a rare event.
Over the past 80 years, six such summits have been held – in 1943, 1963, 1974, 1996, 2002 and 2009.
The motivation for the events was mainly around concerns about current or future food shortages.
Most of these summits took decisions and established new institutions to deal with the then problems.
The international institutions currently supporting global food and nutrition security – the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the CG system dealing with international agricultural research – are the legacy of these past summit decisions.
His goal was to recognise that sustainable food systems are at the heart of delivering a bigger global agenda
When UN Secretary General (UNSG) Antonio Guterres announced in 2019 that a food systems summit would take place in September 2021, his motivations were different than for any previous summit.
His goal was to recognise that sustainable food systems are at the heart of delivering a bigger global agenda – the delivery of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by their target date of 2030.
Preparing for the summit
Preparatory work for the summit has been under way since early 2020. The UNSG’s special envoy for the summit, Agnes Kalibata, former Minister for Agriculture in Rwanda, has constantly stated that this should be a ‘People’s Summit’ and a ‘Results Summit’.
Each country was challenged to discuss what changes were needed to make its food system more sustainable
A centrepiece of the summit’s preparation involved Food Systems Dialogues, held in 145 countries, with Dr David Nabarro of the WHO providing leadership and guidance to the process. Each country was challenged to discuss what changes were needed to make its food system more sustainable, in light of its own national circumstances.
The summit leadership identified five priority themes, or action tracks – ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all, shifting to sustainable consumption patterns, boosting nature-positive production at sufficient scale, advancing equitable livelihoods and value distribution and building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses.
Ireland provided early political support and finance for the summit
Action track committees, involving representatives from governments, civil society, the private sector, youth and indigenous communities, were asked to produce practical ideas to deliver on these priorities.
Ireland provided early political support and finance for the summit. A steering group, co-chaired by the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and Foreign Affairs (DFA), developed the strategic positioning for the summit.
As part of that positioning, the Government created the position of special envoy for food systems, a position I was honoured to be appointed to last March.
Likely summit outcomes
At the summit itself, UNSG Guterres will emphasise the need for food systems to be prioritised in both national and international planning.
Over 130 countries will outline their future plans for food systems through a set of national statements, mainly delivered by heads of state and Government.
it is the set of practical priorities, based on the preparatory work, that really matter
President Michael D Higgins will deliver the statement on Ireland’s behalf.
While the statements at the summit are important in establishing political momentum, it is the set of practical priorities, based on the preparatory work, that really matter.
These are to be agreed at the summit and taken forward through a set of coalitions in the following two years, with a stocktaking summit to be held in two years to measure progress.
Opportunity for Ireland.
The summit and its follow-up should present a moment of opportunity for Ireland.
Food Vision 2030 (FV 2030) was developed using a food systems approach, acknowledging the interconnectedness of policies for food, the environment, climate change and health, specifying the role that each actor along the food chain should play in developing a sustainable food system.
Ireland is one of very few countries to have developed its future agri-food strategy using a food systems approach.
Our reputation as a producer and exporter of safe, high-quality and sustainable food should be enhanced
Many countries at the summit are interested in both the stakeholder process involved in developing the strategy and the outcome in terms of setting a target to be an international leader in sustainable food systems by 2030.
There should be significant benefits from Ireland consolidating its position as a leader in sustainable food systems. Our reputation as a producer and exporter of safe, high-quality and sustainable food should be enhanced. Expanding the export of services associated with sustainable food systems, from policy advice to the rapidly expanding opportunities in agri-tech, will be the next frontier in the transformation of Ireland’s agri-food system.
Tom Arnold is the Irish Government’s special envoy for food systems. He chaired the 2030 Agri-Food Strategy Committee.