Decisions impact food systems, says UN envoy

Agnes Kalibata, the former Rwandan minister of agriculture, says the global community needs to pull together

As the United Nations Food System’s Summit, planned for next October, approaches warnings are going out that the world is not on track to meet its 2015 sustainable development goals, including the one to end world hunger.

Agnes Kalibata. photo: Supplied

“We are off track,” said UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Food System’s Summit Agnes Kalibata during her appearance at the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Summit on Nov. 18.

The Food System’s Summit, according to its website, will “launch bold new actions to transform the way the world produces and consumes food, delivering progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”

But Kalibata says there first needs to be more consensus on how to reach those goals.

“We need to come up with tangible solutions,” she said, noting food systems are very local and mean different things to different communities, creating a challenge when trying to build consensus at a country-to-country level.

“The idea is to make sure each country can look at its challenges, but also the opportunities,” she said.

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Challenges to overcome at the meeting, and those leading up to it, will continue to focus on the enormity of the problems – world hunger, climate change and more – as well as the role different parties, including corporations, will play in finding solutions.

Kalibata noted that “the way we produce food is contributing to climate change” and those who are doing so are making money, creating a roadblock for change. Beyond that, she said, “the way we process food is impacting our health.”

Despite the enormity of these challenges, she says change is still needed.

“We need it for survival of mankind, we’re losing so many people because of how we eat food,” she said. “Those are some of the triggers we need to think about.”

Asked the million-dollar question of how the cost of the environmental impact of food can be paid for without the cost being passed on to farmers or consumers, Kalibata said it really depends on which part of the world you’re talking from.

“From my part of the world, climate change is costing us everything. Our systems are not resilient enough, so it is costing us everything,” said the former Rwandan minister of agriculture and animal resources and current president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

She said in Africa, farmers can’t cope with the cost of climate change and the global community needs to better work as a collective to help mitigate this and other issues.

“What you do in Canada will impact us here in Kenya, and vice versa. Our world has become that small, so we need to appreciate that and start working together,” she said.

Kalibata said the pandemic demonstrated how “shaky the food system is” worldwide, showing how easily millions of people can struggle to access the proper quality or quantity of food.

“We need to do better at building resilience into our system,” she said, saying that looks like many different things but much of it relies on the continuance of free and open trade.

In the lead-up to the UN’s Food Summit, she hopes people continue to educate themselves about food systems around the world.

“Wake up every day knowing every decision we make impacts our food system,” she said.

About the author

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D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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