Four ways to make 2023 count in the pursuit of resilient and sustainable food systems

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Berry Marttin, Member of the Executive Board, Rabobank, Agnes Kalibata, President, AGRA


  • The inter-related crises of conflict, climate change inflation and more are threatening our food systems at an inflection point for humanity.
  • To make sure we hit the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we must evaluate and improve our global food systems.
  • In 2023, we’ll have a few stocktake moments that we must take advantage of to set us up for success moving forward.

Food security and our food systems are under threat. COVID-19, conflict, disruptions to global trade, climate change and the energy and inflation crises are threatening the supply of food for people all over the world.

These inter-related and inter-dependent challenges are a reminder of the urgent need to transition to inclusive, sustainable, nutritious and resilient food systems. Doing so would deliver for people, prosperity and the planet.

Sustainable food systems are essential for building resilience against future shocks, improving global health and nutrition, achieving net-zero carbon emissions, protecting nature and biodiversity, empowering communities and building inclusive and resilient economies.

Food systems under threat

The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit convened 163 countries and thousands of other actors around the world — including policymakers, private sector, civil society, food producers, indigenous communities, youth and scientists — to accelerate action for food systems transformation.

The UN Secretary-General’s summary and statement of action from the Summit recognised current food systems’ major impediments to climate, environment and health, even as they have immense potential to “feed the growing global population while protecting our planet.”

There is growing consensus and recognition of the central importance of food systems in delivering the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), for tackling climate change, improving livelihoods and overcoming the silent pandemic of global malnutrition.

From (IPCC) reports to COP27, 2022 has been a year of progress in recognising the importance of food systems — both in terms of their potential to be global-scale forces for positive change, but also the danger mismanagement of them poses to communities everywhere, particularly the vulnerable.

2023 presents several stocktake moments that we must seize to accelerate food systems transformation: the 1st Food Systems Stocktake, the 1st Paris Agreement Global Stocktake on climate action during COP28 and the 2nd Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit, to take stock of progress across the 17 SDGs.

We already know we are not progressing fast enough. However, we are resolved for the transformation, and can use our collective experience, knowledge and convening powers to accelerate action, implementation and support for the 2030 Agenda and deliver on the Paris climate agenda.

Four priorities for 2023’s stocktaking moments

Here are four priorities for these stocktaking exercises, which are just as important for the Climate, SDGs and Food Systems communities.

1. Understand the best practices, innovations and ideas.

During the UN Food Systems Summit process, more than 2,200 ideas were surfaced by constituencies all around the world, broadly consolidated into five action areas and 59 solution clusters. This knowledge was captured in a Summit compendium.

Many of the innovations and solutions are already being implemented and a body of knowledge is being built from regenerative agriculture to sustainable proteins, from advancing Indigenous food systems to city-based solutions and from producing food at the lowest cost to the true value of food. Irrespective of the idea, we must strive for and give priority to solutions that have proven potential for positive change at scale, delivering benefits across communities and landscapes and anchored in local context.

2. Recognise and support courageous systems leadership.

Change is hard and often takes a long time. For meaningful change, we need courageous systems leadership from individuals and communities, which must be recognised, supported and leveraged for wider momentum. This includes the need for trust between all stakeholders, both public and private, corporate and civil society.

3. Rally behind national pathways for food systems transformation.

163 countries stepped forward during the UN Food Systems Summit with the intention of improving their national systems. Of these, 117 put forward unique national pathways for food systems transformation. Along with the African Union/NEPAD, AGRA is working with countries and partners to transform national pathways into detailed food systems strategies, investment plans and priority programmes for African countries.

Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda have finished designing elaborate food system transformation strategies that will guide their transformation agenda and direct investments to their priority areas. Through a combined effort from all players, more than 25 countries globally should have clear transformation roadmaps by July 2023. But even then, this will not deliver change until the global financing architecture moves from funding agriculture to funding food systems, from delivering calories to nutrition and from working towards poverty lines to inclusion and more resilience in communities.

This can be delivered by working closely with these countries to mobilise supportive partnerships, investments and other capabilities through deliberate public-private-philanthropic-civil society collaboration.

4. Improve collaboration and coordination to deliver on bold visions.

Too many of our communities and institutions work in siloes and focus on individual interests. Within countries, cross-ministry collaboration and coordination remains a major challenge, and greater clarity is needed on the stewardship of government approaches in food systems action. Good coordination can maximise value from current resources, while working out how to bring in important new resources.

In this context, we must strengthen national, regional and global coordination mechanisms and multi-stakeholder platforms that can deliver better food systems outcomes across the SDGs.

Cooperating to build resilient food systems

The Food Action Alliance, founded in 2019 by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Rabobank and the World Economic Forum, stands out as a premier platform for coordinating such multistakeholder action. It mobilises country-led food systems transformation and flagship initiatives with the best of public-private producer collaboration. We need to build on existing efforts and refrain from further fragmentation by turning every idea into a new initiative.

The myriads of initiatives that have emerged out of the UN Food Systems Summit, while a great recognition of the urgency of the situation, have left countries and partners wondering how best to move forward. Part of these stocktakes should be to continue to enhance coordination and alignment to country efforts.

As we work together, guided by these important stocktakes, 2023 can be a pivotal point in our collective effort to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and all our goals for people, planet and prosperity. But we must do it together.

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