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Rethinking Global Food Systems

Photo of Stefan Schmitz

5 June 2020

At the GLF Bonn 2020 digital conference on food in the time of crises, Crop Trust Executive Director Stefan Schmitz gave an inspirational talk about the importance of crop diversity and the need for us to rethink our food systems. Read his speech or watch the video below.



I am Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. It is a pleasure to be with you today, and I would like to thank the Global Landscapes Forum for allowing me the opportunity to address this distinguished group of leaders, thinkers and activists attending the first fully digital GLF.

Colleagues -- we have a crisis on our hands.

Covid-19 has revealed in very stark terms the vulnerability of humanity. This pandemic is an acute, exceptional event that has required a rapid, globally coordinated response rarely seen in living memory. Humankind will survive this crisis, but, in recovery, must learn the all too painful lessons of this very particular moment in time. And it is this learning we must apply to address other pressing global challenges of the 21st century.

The list is long. Perhaps the challenges that are most pertinent to us here, today, at GLF, are the climate crisis; the alarming loss of biodiversity; and the path to securing sufficient, nutritious food for a growing world population. These challenges are closely linked in many ways and have something in common with the coronavirus pandemic - solving them requires strong national and international institutions, committed political leaders and policies informed by science and research.

Food and nutrition security are at the heart of food systems, and sufficient and healthy food for everybody is linked to productive and diversified agriculture. We face several great challenges with our current food systems, which threaten our food and nutrition security:

  • Our food systems are unable to feed us sufficiently. More than 800 million people go to bed hungry or suffer from acute undernourishment.
  • More than two billion people suffer from malnutrition because they are not obtaining sufficient micronutrients.
  • And at the other end of the spectrum, obesity is now a worldwide concern.
  • The majority of the half-billion smallholder farmers worldwide live in poverty.
  • Many current methods of agricultural production threaten the global environment.
  • Food loss and waste impact the sustainability of food systems.
  • The alarming loss of agricultural biodiversity, including crop diversity dramatically reduces the range of options for future agriculture and food.
  • Our food systems are unstable and vulnerable to disruption, both economically and ecologically.

The last two issues are of particular concern to us at the Crop Trust.

We are losing our agricultural biodiversity faster than ever before. Crop diversity and unstable food systems are intrinsically linked. As our climate changes and as we lose crop diversity, our food systems become less resilient to environmental and other shocks.

Strengthening our food systems won’t be simple. There are many answers and no silver bullets. No solution on its own will be sufficient. But one thing is for certain, nothing will succeed if there is no crop diversity to work from.

Our generations will experience future crises, that is a given. And the more resilient our food systems are, the more equipped we will be to cope. Whatever other things need to be done, let’s be very clear, crop diversity is the foundation to this resilience.

As long as this diversity survives in genebanks and farmers’ fields it will be found on market stalls and supermarket shelves. If it isn’t conserved, the situation will be irreversible, and we will have gambled away our options for developing sustainable agricultural systems. And we will have gambled away a food and nutrition secure future for our children and grandchildren.

And that is a loss we can’t afford.

This decade is pivotal in determining the future we want - and need. We have run out of time. There are no more second chances. Millions of lives are literally on the line. As this recent pandemic has brutally illustrated, it is all interconnected - we face these linked challenges together. And we must find solutions together.

This is why I am delighted to announce today that the Global Crop Diversity Trust will join 28 like-minded organizations in signing the Global Landscapes Forum Charter and becoming a member of this progressive global community working towards a productive, prosperous, equitable, and healthy global environment.

These issues deserve far greater attention -- and they need it now.

So let us raise our collective voice to the roofbeams in support of finding sustainable nature-based solutions to these daunting and urgent global challenges.

There is great strength and potential in collaborative effort.

Thank you GLF. We are with you.

Category: Climate Change

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