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Need to Strengthen Consensus on Food Systems Highlighted During UN Food Systems Summit Pre-summit

August 3, 2021
By Judith Rowland and Andrew Woodcock

After almost two years of preparations, the United Nations Food Systems Summit is finally on the horizon. A reincarnation of the FAO’s World Food Summit, the UN Food Systems Summit is set to kick off in September with discussions about how to transform global agriculture and food systems to be more sustainable, productive and restorative to the planet. The Pre-summit wrapped last week, giving us a taste of what’s to come.

After three days of negotiations, it couldn’t be more clear: to make a real impact on global food systems, we’ll need an inclusive approach that fosters cooperation and action from all stakeholders — from the biggest multinational companies to young indigenous farmers in all parts of the world.

Key highlights included:

Youth Engagement Reached an All-Time High, Though Moving Beyond Tokenism is Vital

The old saying goes, “youth are the hope of our future.” This sentiment could not have been more evident at the Pre-summit. Next generation voices were prominently featured at Pre-summit sessions. Plainly and simply, these young advocates laid out their ideas and priorities for how we can build better, more sustainable global food systems.

One point they made clear is that youth engagement needs to go beyond simply elevating youth voices. Genuine youth involvement in decision making is a must, and organizations seeking to influence policy shouldn’t engage youth organizations merely to pay lip service and score points with younger demographics. Transformative food policies affect youth the most; after all, they are the ones who will experience the consequences of the policies we implement today.

Almost half of South Asia’s population is below the age of 24, and close to 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. Excluding youth from policy making is not only a disservice to young people, but it’s detrimental to regional and global economies. Huge opportunities exist to connect the many youth-led grassroots organizations throughout the world to the decision-making table. While youth may not always say what we want to hear, it’s clear that it’s past time to give them a seat at the table. Anything less could lead to long-term communications challenges for your brand.

Inclusion is a Top Priority

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres declared the Pre-summit a “People’s Summit,” convening farmers, climate activists, researchers, nutritionists, leaders from indigenous groups, ministers and other stakeholders from around the world.

However, despite the inclusion efforts, the event was not without controversy. A movement to protest the Food Systems Summit gained traction in the lead up to the Pre-summit, as groups expressed opposition to allowing private sector voices to play a role in Summit negotiations. Activists streamed a counter-summit in parallel, with hundreds of groups and individuals in attendance and thousands of protest tweets attempting to hijack the online discourse or detract from the official negotiations.

The resources and innovations of corporations attending the Food Systems Summit can play a massive role in addressing urgent issues including climate change, sustainable production, biodiversity and environmental restoration. Excluding the private sector from key global forums would mean excluding potential solutions to problems that affect hundreds of millions of people today, and billions tomorrow. The perineal communications challenge facing the private sector around events like the Food Systems Summit is to demonstrate that their objectives can be synergetic with the goals of other stakeholder groups. Highlighting areas of commonality should be a priority for corporations seeking to engage around moments like the Food Systems Summit.

There Are No Easy Solutions to the Crises Facing Food Systems

There’s a lot on the Food Systems Summit agenda: food security, malnutrition, biodiversity loss, sustainable development, restorative agriculture and more.

These issues must be met with a timely, coordinated response from the coalitions of food systems stakeholders formed at the Pre-summit. Each day of inaction is a day that someone goes hungry, a day someone loses their harvest to floods or drought, a day our soils erode or deplete, or a day a species risks becoming endangered. There is no time for inaction. Brokering collaboration between different stakeholder groups must remain a priority as we look ahead to the Food Systems Summit in September and beyond. To generate meaningful impact at the summit, private sector groups should focus the next two months on growing the coalitions formed at the Pre-summit and working across industries with an eye toward inclusion.