Oct 2, 2023 | News

We cannot achieve SDGs without Sustainable Food Systems – Reflections from the 2023 United Nations General Assembly in New York

By Boaz Blackie Keizire 

The General debate of the seventy-eighth session of the United Nations General Assembly UNGA closed on September 26, 2023, in New York marking a crucial milestone in the journey towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. Hopping from meeting to meeting, I carefully listened to global policy and business leaders gathering in New York where they shared experiences and progress on attaining global sustainable Development goals.  As the implementation of these SDGs hit the halfway mark, steps being made towards food and agriculture-related targets have stagnated or reversed, compounding challenges in eradicating poverty and hunger, improving health nutrition, and combating climate change.

As we enter the second half of the SDGs’ countdown to 2030, we face formidable challenges that demand a redoubling of our efforts. The most recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) underscores that many of the SDG targets related to food and agriculture remain distant goals. The enduring repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with other crises like climate change and armed conflicts, exert far-reaching influences across all facets of the 2030 Agenda, encompassing poverty, food security, nutrition, health, and the environment.

The 2023 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report by the FAO has revealed that in 2022, global hunger figures ranged between 691 million and 783 million people. These statistics illustrate a disheartening trend: since 2015, the increase in the number of undernourished individuals worldwide has effectively reversed nearly all the progress achieved over the preceding decade. Furthermore, food insecurity has witnessed a significant rise, surging from 25.3 percent of the global population in 2019 to 29.6 percent in 2022.

During the UN Food Systems Stocktaking Moment, convened by the UN Secretary-General and hosted by Italy last July in Rome, there was unanimous acknowledgement of the challenges facing our failing food systems. There was also recognition of the powerful role of sustainable, equitable, healthy, and resilient food systems in getting the world back on track to achieve the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. They committed to mobilizing all efforts towards the transformation of food systems to ensure a better future for everyone.

Sustainable food systems cut across the achievement of all the SDGs. However, current agricultural practices and systems are depleting our natural resources. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources, one of the main contributors to greenhouse gasses, and more than one-quarter of the energy used globally is consumed on food production and supply.

During the Africa Food Systems (AFS) Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in early September, there was unanimous agreement that key solutions that exist must be scaled up to accelerate food systems transformation in Africa. We need to redouble our efforts to boost agricultural yields through sustainable agricultural practices to enhance food security while minimizing negative environmental impacts.

This is because our global food systems are the source of nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, food systems are, and will be, among the hardest hit by climate change, thus, food systems transformation requires integration with our efforts to address climate change. This implies that, working towards the adaptation of food systems to climate change.

In addition, we need to increase investments in building the resilience of agricultural systems and reduce the vulnerability of food producers who depend on natural resources. Also, we need to align the implementation of national food systems transformation pathways with the continuous updates of nationally determined contributions and national adaptation plans for climate action. We also need to develop and implement food systems strategies, plans and business cases as well as enforce coordination amongst multiple institutions that govern food systems. This will ensure the coherence and collaboration needed and reduce duplication and burdens on countries and communities.

To advance food systems towards SDG compliance, effective policies are required that coordinate actions by different public and private stakeholders, to navigate the interactions between material, behavioral, and other drivers of change such as urbanization, economic growth, climate change, information, and connectivity.

It’s important to note that, the transformation of food systems entails deep shifts across production, storage, consumption, and disposal of food. These have the potential to generate multiplier effects, acting as catalysts for broader transformation across multiple systems and SDGs. By reimagining and redesigning our food systems, we can address pressing challenges and unlock opportunities for progress in other areas.

Equally, by building sustainable food systems, we can be able to eradicate poverty through the increase of nutritious food, enhance agricultural productivity, and create income-generating activities for our smallholder farmers, including women and youth.

In conclusion, as we approach 2030, there is urgency to build momentum, as well as embrace solidarity and speed up progress on the SDGs, Paris Agreement, and Africa Union Malabo Declaration on Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program. I wish to offer a few solutions, First, we need to bring Food Systems into the Climate Process. The government of United Arab Emirates UAE is leading efforts for COP28 and we congratulate them for picking up from the work started in Glasgow at COP26, continued in Sharm-el-Sheikh last year, to bring food systems transformation into the climate process. Second, we need to press ahead on the opportunities created by food systems transformation. Third, we need to solve the finance problem and change the global financing architecture to respond to the unique food systems transformation. We need to mobilize and direct financing in a coordinated manner.  Deploy financial incentives to induce change and increase investments in innovation and green technology to enhance resilience and productivity for small and medium producers. We can seize this moment to unite efforts to eliminate poverty and hunger, as we advance towards an inclusive and sustainable future. We need to keep in mind that food systems transformation is not just a goal, but a catalyst for achieving our climate goals and all the SDGs.

Boaz Blackie Keizire is the Head of Policy,Advocacy and Food Systems at AGRA and also a 2017 Fellow for the Aspen New Voices Fellowship. Boaz also Heads the Africa Food Prize Secretariat