Science Blog

One Thing Underpins the Food System We Need

Luigi Guarino | Director of Science

Another day, another report telling us that the food system must change. The latest is from the U.N. Committee on World Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) and, although it has been two years in the making, it includes a Special Issues Paper prepared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report makes a series of concrete suggestions to policy-makers for meeting the SDGs by 2030.

It makes for sobering reading. Tinkering will not do anymore. Doing the same things better will not do. What’s needed is a radical re-think of the policy underpinning the food system, top to bottom, the HLPE says. The report identifies four changes in particular, which can be summarized as relinquishing the food system’s predilection for production, silos, calories and silver bullets. 

Let me unpack that.

First, the focus of food system policy must shift from production to consumption: what and how well people are eating, particularly marginalized people, should be more important than global production statistics.

Second, the food system can no longer be seen in isolation from other sectors, be they health, the environment, or the economy at large. That’s become quite clear during the pandemic, if it wasn’t before.

Third, it shouldn’t be just about hunger, but all forms of malnutrition, from obesity to micronutrient deficiencies.

And fourth, solutions must be tailored to the context. What works for rural populations won’t work in cities. And what works in Nairobi won’t necessarily work in Mexico City.

That’s a lot to take in. And a lot to do. So I’d like to propose to the policymakers to whom the report is directed a little short-cut. There is one thing you can do that would tick all of these boxes at once.

That one thing is supporting efforts to conserve and use agricultural biodiversity. 

Just think about it.

A food system that is supportive of agrobiodiversity is one that prioritizes people having access to diverse diets, that recognizes the interconnectedness of agriculture, that delivers nutrition rather than just calories, and that is infinitely adaptable. 

It is a system that empowers the marginalized, that is better for the environment and for people’s health, that is more resilient, that can weather diverse shocks and address changing needs. 

A food system that recognizes, values and uses agricultural biodiversity is what the HLPE calls for in their report. 

It is the food system we need.

***
This blog was first published on GLF Landscape News. Photo: Bioversity International

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