The world is struggling to produce sufficient food for its growing population, address malnutrition and obesity, and tackle climate change.

For this reason, countries, through the United Nations (UN) General Assembly agreed the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Each of these goals relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.

What is the Food Systems Summit?

There is a reasoned view that these targets will not be met within the defined timelines. For this reason, the Assembly agreed to host a Food Systems Summit this year to “reboot” and “rejuvenate” efforts to achieve the targets.

The summit will bring together key players from science, business, policy, healthcare and academia, as well as farmers, indigenous people, youth organisations, consumer groups, environmental activists and other key stakeholders.

Although national dialogues will occur later in the year, a key element is independent stakeholder dialogues

It was recognised that keeping the discussions just to policymakers would not be sufficient to engage global society. Therefore “dialogues” which aim to engage people all along the food chain in the discussion will be held across the world prior to the summit. Although national dialogues will occur later in the year, a key element is independent stakeholder dialogues.

Ireland has an export-oriented agriculture sector, but we also import huge quantities of food from all over the globe

One such independent dialogue is being organised by consultants Stewart Gee and Michael Barry. Stewart explains the rationale for holding an independent dialogue: “Independent dialogues are just that – independent. They are not constrained by national policies or priorities. It offers an opportunity for individuals to discuss key issues around sustainable consumption and sustainable production and have that feed directly into the UN Food Systems Summit.

There is no silver bullet and there will be trade-offs in every decision

“Ireland has an export-oriented agriculture sector, but we also import huge quantities of food from all over the globe. Food systems are global, what we do in Ireland has impacts elsewhere and vice versa. There is no silver bullet and there will be trade-offs in every decision.”

Stewart believes that the Food Systems Summit will give us an opportunity to engage in a structured, meaningful discussion on what these trade-offs might be. Although anyone can get involved and host an independent dialogue, there is no cash reward for doing so.

So Irish Country Living queried the motivation.

Michael and Stewart said that they have been deeply involved in Irish and global food systems throughout their lives and so “we couldn’t pass up a chance to help move this discussion forward. Think about how the contents of your fridge have changed in the last 30 years (if you are old enough!) What will that look like in another 10 years? Wouldn’t you want to be a part of that conversation?”

Food systems heros

If interested, Michael explains that there are also other ways to get involved.

“Individuals can register with the UN to become Food Systems Heros; individuals from all over the world who commit to learn, share, gather and act for better food systems in their communities. They can also participate in any of the dialogues or can organise their own by registering with the UN, completing the relevant education courses and agreeing to adhere to the principles of the dialogues including submitting the output of their dialogues.”

Get involved

A virtual event – Dialogue on identifying the trade-offs in meeting Ireland’s climate change commitments while developing its agri-food sector – will take place on Monday 22 March 2021 from 2pm-3.30pm via Zoom. This will be followed by two separate dialogues on sustainable production and on sustainable consumption. The output from these dialogues will be submitted to the UN Food Systems Summit. Participation is free and everyone is welcome. You can register for the event with the following here.

Don't be confused by acronyms

Since COVID-19 started have you felt that you have been hit with a million different acronyms? The United Nations (UN), The World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) being some of the organisations that you hear about but you are not 100% sure what they do?

  • The big one: The UN is an international organisation committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. It was founded after World War II by a group of 51 countries. This year Ireland became one of the 15 members of the UN Security Council which has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • The WHO is the UN body that develops global policies on the role of food in maintaining health, addressing malnutrition and reducing obesity.

    Irish connection: Michael Ryan is the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, leading the team responsible for the international containment and treatment of COVID-19.

  • The WTO is the UN body that oversees global trade and, for Ireland, their policies inform the EU trade approach to certifying what we export and import. WTO rules relate to how countries apply tariffs and ensure (ideally) that trade between countries is fair.

    Irish connection: Last year Phil Hogan “explored” the option of running to become the next director-general of the WTO. He didn’t.

  • Codex Alimentarius (food codes of practice) is the UN body that oversees the development of global standards which ensure foods traded globally are produced to a minimum level of safety. It also develops standards of identity so that when we move between countries products are defined or described in the same way.