Sep 9, 2021 | Blog

Scientists: Africa’s diets must change for better health and stable environment

Recent research has linked the world’s changing diets to global warming and other adverse effects on the environment. Indeed, a special report commissioned by the United Nations includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption, while presenting plant-based diets as an important for mitigating climate change.

To address the importance of sustainable diets in improving human health and reducing negative environmental impacts, a plenary session at the AGRF 2021 Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together influential leaders from the world of science in discussions. The panel featured individuals specializing in food security, nutrition, climate change, agroforestry and rural development, with the conversation addressing the opportunities in prioritizing nutritious food production and consumption.

Giving a keynote address, Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, the Founder and Executive Chair of the EAT Forum, appealed for countries to review their food systems, noting that without immediate action the world is bound to suffer pandemics of an even greater scale than COVID-19.

Dr. Stordalen further used the opportunity to invite participants to the UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) in New York from September 23, 2021. The UN FSS will bring together world leaders to review the progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Thanks to the UN Food Systems process, it is now more viably understood that our food systems must be transformed for the sake of our people and that of our planet,” she said.

Fellow panelist Dr. Tony Simons, the Director General of CIFOR-ICRAF, expressed optimism that with the right guidance on production and consumption, people in Africa could adapt their food systems to leave little damage on the world.

Meanwhile, Prof. Sheryl Hendriks, the director of the Institute for Food Nutrition and Wellbeing at the University of Pretoria, reiterated the need for urgency in transforming Africa’s food systems for both health and environmental benefits.

“It is up to us in Africa and our African governments to decide and act on the kind of transition we want for our food systems,” she said.

Gerda Verburg, the UN Assistant Secretary-General and SUN Movement Coordinator, summed up the session with her excitement at the shift from just focusing on an increase in agricultural production to taking into account nutritional concerns.

“I am extremely happy that AGRA is putting nutrition front and center; it’s no longer about just increasing yield or productivity, it is about smart investment in agriculture and food production that is preventing malnutrition,” she said.

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