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UN pushes for transformation of global food systems

A three-day meeting of agriculture ministers, policy makers, and others began Monday in Rome, ahead of a September UN summit intended to improve the world's food systems amid rising hunger.

Even before the emergence of the coronavirus, the United Nations acknowledged the world would not meet a goal of eliminating global hunger and malnutrition by the end of 2030.

That has made the transformation of the world's food systems even more crucial, says the UN, which has a summit dedicated to the topic in New York set for September.

This preparatory meeting in Rome includes policymakers, members of civil society, farmers, and researchers. 

Already, however, campaign groups have expressed fears that UN will give prioritise "agribusiness" to the detriment of sustainable agriculture and small, independent farmers.

Pope Francis, in a letter to summit attendees, called for "radical change" to confront hunger. 

"We need a new mindset and a new holistic approach and to design food systems that protect the Earth and keep the dignity of the human person at the center; that ensure sufficient food globally and promote decent work locally; and that feed the world today, without compromising the future," he wrote.

Counter-mobilisation

A statement from Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for the summit, said the goal was a "systemic transformation" of the world's food systems.

"It is an indictment of our entire food systems (...) that in 2020, no less than 811 million men, women and children will not have enough to eat," said Kalibata, Rwanda's former agriculture minister.

The pre-summit gives countries the opportunity to state what they plan to do at the national level to improve food systems, and to encourage "coalitions" of countries committed to advancing different solutions. 

"We have a unique opportunity today to change the way we produce, process, sell and consume our food so that every person can afford a healthy diet and that the billions of workers in the food chain make a decent living from their work, while preserving the environment," Gilbert Houngbo, president of IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), told AFP. 

But some groups are concerned the UN's plans will prioritise industrial agriculture to the exclusion of small farmers. They have published a "People's Autonomous Response" to the summits online, on foodsystems4people.org.

Some 300 international or regional organisations supported the initiative, including Action Against Hunger, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, La Via Campesina, Oxfam, and several indigenous peoples' associations.

The UN Summit "focuses almost exclusively on a set of technological solutions benefiting a few multinationals and against the interests of small producers", said Valentin Brochard, CCFD Terre Solidaire, in a statement to AFP.

Topics: UN summit , food systems , hunger , Pope Francis , Agnes Kalibata
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