What you need to know:
- Food systems — the activities involved in producing, processing, transporting and consuming food — touch every aspect of our lives.
- In Africa, the number of hungry people has increased by 50 million since 2014 to 250 million, or nearly one-fifth of the population.
The 2021 Food Systems Summit, convened by the United Nations in New York tomorrow and Friday, is a unique opportunity in the quest to transform our food systems for the better.
Part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, it leverages the interconnectedness of food systems to global challenges such as hunger, climate change, poverty and inequality. Major policy recommendations on food security will be advanced with a view to reaching global and regional commitments, including the African Union’s aspiration to end hunger on the continent by 2025.
However, bold actions are necessary to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each one of which relies, to some degree, on and contributes to healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems. Hence, Africa’s voice in this summit is crucial in carving the path to a continent where adequate, nutritious and affordable food is accessible to all.
Food systems — the activities involved in producing, processing, transporting and consuming food — touch every aspect of our lives. The health of our food systems profoundly affects that of our bodies, environment, economies and cultures.
A recent publication by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) says our food systems are failing to guarantee food security, where all have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active, healthy life.
In Africa, the number of hungry people has increased by 50 million since 2014 to 250 million, or nearly one-fifth of the population, and millions of people suffer from widespread micronutrient deficiencies. Overweight and obesity are also emerging as significant health concerns in many countries.
Eastern Africa, despite having less than 25 per cent of Africa’s population, accounts for more than half of the food-insecure and undernourished.
Our food systems need a revamp, spanning many disciplines, such as agriculture, health, climate science, digital science, political science and economics. We all must work together to transform the way we produce, process, distribute, consume and dispose of food. We need to transform our agri-food system to a more sustainable, resilient and effective one to nourish the growing population.
For instance, FAO’s new Strategic Framework, anchored on the principle that food and agriculture, people’s livelihoods, and preservation of natural resources cannot be addressed in isolation, is to optimise four betters: Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life.
A systems-based approach would help to reduce hunger, putting it back on a downward slope; transform agri-food systems to nourish people, nurture the planet, and build resilient livelihoods and ecosystems and increase investment in rural transformation and vulnerable populations to reduce inequality, leaving no country and no person behind.
Dr Phiri is the FAO sub-regional coordinator for Eastern Africa and FAO Representative to the AU and to Uneca.