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UN chief urges lifesaving transformation of food systems

A mother helps her three-year-old girl eat porridge at home in Kyrgyzstan.
© UNICEF/Bektur Zhanibekov
A mother helps her three-year-old girl eat porridge at home in Kyrgyzstan.

UN chief urges lifesaving transformation of food systems

Climate and Environment

World Food Day is not only a reminder of the importance of what we eat to everyone on the planet, but also “a call to action to achieve food security around the world”, the UN chief said in his message marking the day on Friday.

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Commemorated annually on 16 October, Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that currently, almost 40 per cent of humanity, some three billion people, can’t afford to eat healthily.

And as hunger, undernourishment, and obesity are on the rise, the economic impacts of COVID-19 “have made a bad situation even worse”, he said, noting that the pandemic has left an additional 140 million people “unable to access the food they need”.

For people and planet

At the same time, the way we produce, consume and waste food is taking a heavy toll on our planet.

“It is putting historic pressure on our natural resources, climate and natural environment - and costing us trillions of dollars a year”, warned the UN chief.

Reference this year’s theme that the power to change is in our hands, he spelled out that “our actions are our future”.

Turn commitments into actions

Last month, the world took part in the landmark UN Food Systems Summit, which set the stage to transform food systems everywhere to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs ) by 2030.

The UN chief recalled that during the summit, “countries made bold commitments” to make healthy diets more affordable and accessible and to make food systems “more efficient, resilient and sustainable at every step”.

“We can all change how we consume food, and make healthier choices – for ourselves, and our planet”, said the Secretary-General. “In our food systems, there is hope”.

‘Agri-food system’

An agri-food system comprises all the activities related to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that’s something we play a part in, every time we eat: “The food we choose and the way we produce, prepare, cook and store it make us an integral and active part of the way in which an agri-food system works”.

In a healthy and sustainable agri-food system, local market shelves are stocked with nutritious food, but less is wasted and the supply chain is more resilient to shocks, such as extreme weather, price spikes or pandemics – all without worsening environmental degradation or climate change.  

“In fact, sustainable agri-food systems deliver food security and nutrition for all, without compromising the economic, social and environmental bases, for generations to come” said the UN agriculture agency. “They lead to better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all.  

Makin hunger ‘hardship of the past’

The President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Collen V. Kelapile, noted that the day highlights how a change in mindsets – through the power of science, technology and innovation, smart investments and cooperation – can make “hunger a hardship of the past”.
“Let us not overlook the potential behind each individual action in leading us to a future where no one goes without a meal and where our food systems work together with, not against, our planet’s ecosystems”, he said.

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