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Angebot auf einem Markt in Äthiopien, 2016.

Food systems: Hungry for change

Our food system must be rebuilt from the ground up

Lisa Maria Klaus Policy and External Relations

Our global food system is neither fair, sustainable nor crisis-proof. This is illustrated, among other things, by the number of people going hungry because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. The paradox is that there is actually enough food produced worldwide for the world's entire population. But only those who have money or produce enough food themselves can afford to eat healthily. The rest starve or eat poor quality food. Up to 811 million men, women and children go hungry in a world of abundance. Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. A quarter of the world's population is overweight – and this problem is growing, with severe consequences for health systems.

The path food takes from the field to the plate is massively damaging to the environment. It causes a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, accelerates the loss of biodiversity and thus drives the climate crisis. To address fundamental flaws in the system, the global community will meet in New York in September 2021 for the first UN Summit on Food Systems. The aim is to find lasting solutions to achieve a world without hunger. Welthungerhilfe, with its many years of expertise, is involved in discussions leading up to the summit and will take part in the pre-summit from July 26-28, 2021, in Rome. The organization has long campaigned for the human right to food in its projects.

Zentralafrikanische Republik Central African Republic, Ngoulekpa und Boussamoa: Marktplatze, market
A scene from a market in the Central African Republic. There is enough food produced worldwide for the world's entire population. Nevertheless, up to 811 million men, women and children go hungry. © Kai Loeffelbein

What is a food system?

Food systems are complex: they encompass the journey of food production from the field to the meals we eat every day. This covers four areas:

How these different areas function in practice depends in each case on political, economic, social, cultural and environmental conditions. They also determine whether risks are fairly distributed throughout the supply chain. A fair, sustainable and crisis-resistant food system takes the entire process into account and ensures that the human right to food is realized for all people worldwide.

Frau bei der Ernte Healthy food is a human right

Global agriculture produces enough food for everyone, but it is extremely unequally distributed.

Food is a human right

Everyone has the right to adequate, sufficient and healthy food – as stated in Article 11 of the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 162 countries have committed under international law to respect, protect and guarantee the human right to food; this includes countries in the Global South as well as industrialized countries. Implementing the United Nations' Zero Hunger by 2030 sustainability goal is therefore primarily a question of political will.

Welthungerhilfe projects

How is Welthungerhilfe involved in promoting a just food system?

Teaserbild Policy Brief Hungrig nach Wandel Hungry for change

Welthungerhilfe's demands to the German government ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit.

Welthungerhilfe is calling for fundamental systemic change at all levels of the global food system. This is the only way to overcome unjust and unsustainable structures and thus achieve the goal of Zero Hunger by 2030. In its own programs and projects, it strengthens smallholder, site-specific agriculture. The organization believes that regional administrations and governments should be held accountable for implementing the right to food. Therefore, together with its partners, Welthungerhilfe supports civil society organizations so that they can demand the human right to food in their countries. And there have been initial successes: In Peru and Bolivia, legal frameworks are now in place to promote the sustainable production of healthy food. These include, for example, certification procedures for official organic labels.

In Germany and Europe, Welthungerhilfe is committed to sustainable food systems and sustainable consumption, including in discussions concerning the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021.

What are the goals of the UN Food Summit?

With the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is making the flawed world food system a top priority. The aim of the summit is to put food systems worldwide to the test in the context of the 2030 Agenda. It is already clear that things cannot continue as they are. Only with fundamental changes can the global community overcome hunger and poverty by 2030 and avert the climate catastrophe. The summit must therefore achieve concrete results.

What Welthungerhilfe expects from the German government

The UN Food Systems Summit in September must urgently set the course for a transformation of our global food system:

1. Governments should lead the way to fundamentally change our food systems.

Governments must not hide behind the multi-actor format of the summit but commit to concrete actions. These actions must build on and not fall behind existing commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Agreement, Human rights treaties, and ILO Conventions. They must not be limited to technical solutions that make processes more efficient but must address structural challenges to bring about systemic change. The private sector must also be held accountable to actively contribute to fighting poverty and malnutrition, and protecting the environment.

2. Governments must enforce human rights and environmental due diligence in agricultural production and supply chains.

The social and environmental costs of our consumption patterns, such as land degradation, water waste, or human rights violations, must be reflected in food prices. The UN Food System Summit must address the actions needed to achieve this. Governments in the Global North and South should redirect tax incentives, such as agricultural subsidies, to contribute to environmental and climate goals and to provide affordable, healthy food. The reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy is a crucial lever to change the course in this direction, and the German government should push it decisively. In addition, Germany should commit to and advocate for an ambitious European Supply Chain act that addresses the right to adequate food. It should use the UN Food Systems Summit to send a strong signal to other UN member states on the need for a legal framework on corporate due diligence on human rights and environmental standards in supply chains. To establish this framework at the international level, the German government should actively engage in the development of a binding UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights and encourage other UN member states to join.

3. Governments, private sector, and civil society must promote and establish locally and regionally anchored food systems.

The UN Food Systems Summit should clearly acknowledge the importance of locally and regionally anchored food systems for strengthening resilience and achieving the Zero Hunger goal. The German government must ensure that policies and public investments to strengthen rural economies and create conditions for smallholder farmers to become sustainable and diversified producers are prioritized at the summit. Technological, social, and policy innovations must be developed with the local communities respecting their traditional knowledge systems. The German government as well as governments in the Global South need to align food policies across sectors and make sure that policy decisions in areas such as trade, agriculture or energy do not have a negative impact on the food security of vulnerable people, e.g. by driving them off their land for agricultural export production or by making healthy food choices less accessible.

4. Governments must put vulnerable people at the center of food policies.

Food and nutrition insecure people, and the young generation who will bear the effects of today’s food policies must participate in the development and monitoring of them. This requires creating enabling policy spaces to address their concerns and ensuring their voice and inclusion at the local, national, and international levels. The German government must address the need for transparency, accountability, and inclusive participation of the most vulnerable in the UN Food System Summit process as well as in its policy dialogues with partner governments and significantly increase development aid for the empowerment of marginalized groups and civil society actors. The German government must promote the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) as a multilateral food governance system that is anchored on human rights with established mechanisms for meaningful participation and ensure that it is given a significant role in future food policy decision-making and the monitoring of the UN Food Systems Summit outcomes.

5. Gender equality must be at the core of the transformation.

Policies and action advancing equitable livelihoods in food systems need to explicitly recognize and respond to the specific constraints faced by women and girls and their roles in food systems particularly in rural settings. Governments must ensure their participation in policy decision-making processes and that their rights are secured and protected in terms of land tenure and access to knowledge, inputs, financing, dignified work, natural resources, and markets. Specifically, national governments, donors and private sector actors need to consult and involve local CSOs working on women’s and girls’ rights, within the planning and implementation of programs. Donor countries need to systematically include gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights in political dialogues with partner countries.

6. The outcomes of the summit must be monitored regularly and with inclusive participation.

The results of the UN Food Systems Summit must be measured by whether they deliver tangible change for the groups affected by malnutrition and those suffering from the environmental and social costs of the global food system. These groups must be actively involved through legitimate representatives in monitoring the implementation of the summit outcomes at the national and international levels.

Sources and further information (in German)

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