By Linda Bordoni
Setting the stage for a culminating event in September in New York, a three-day Food Systems Pre-Summit kicked off in Rome on Monday highlighting the need to act together to find sustainable, affordable and inclusive models for a world in which no one is left behind.
The United Nations event (featuring three Rome-based UN agencies dedicated to food security – FAO, WFP and IFAD) involves experts from around across the globe working to harness the power of food systems and the involvement of people from all walks of life and expertise.
To find out more about what a Food System is, why we need a Summit, and what are the expectations for its outcome, Linda Bordoni spoke to Martin Penner, Deputy Head of the Global Media Team at the World Food Programme.
“A food system is everything that happens between food getting grown on a farm, and that food landing on your dinner plate,” Penner explained: It involves “agriculture, transport of food, storage of food, markets, shops supermarket… even your fridge! In short, it’s everything that happens between farm and fork.”
Penner went on to say that the Summit has been convened to assess the problems of the food systems, find solutions and address the main reasons that drive food insecurity and malnutrition because it is clear there is something very broken.
“There are 811 million people who go to bed hungry every night; at the same time there are 2 billion people who are overweight: these two things by themselves indicate that something is broken,” he said.
Food systems, he added, “account for a third of the greenhouse gases that get produced every year, while at the same time, a third of the food that we produce in the world (worth 1 trillion dollars) is wasted.”
All this, he continued, points to serious faults in the systems that have been compounded and exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
“What happened recently with Covid and the resilience of our food systems was severely tested, and in in some cases it didn't pass the test: supply chains broke down, many countries became hungrier. In fact, according to our figures, during the Covid pandemic 149 million more people have become acutely food insecure,” he said.
Underscoring the need for global action, Penner said the Summit is an opportunity to look for ways to “fix what is a very complex global food system, and we need everyone involved.”
Reshaping the world’s food systems
Although, he said it is often referred to as a UN Summit, he said participants really do represent every echelon of the system: the government, the private sector, individuals, organizations, civil society, and of course, farmers.
“Anybody who knows anything about food systems is invited and they will be taking part in these three days and what we really want to happen is that we develop some immediately actionable approaches, some tools that can start reshaping the world's food systems,” he said.
Penner pointed out that the World Food Program (WFP) has much to offer because its mandate is to feed those in need and it works with broken food system the whole time.
“We feed at over 100 million people in 80 countries around the world every year and most of these people are in places where food systems are breaking or broken.” Thus, he noted, WFP has much expertise to provide and is very keen to do so.
He agreed the Church also has much to offer in the conversation. That’s why the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development is present at the Pre-Summit keeping the focus on justice and peace issues and human dignity. Penner also said Pope Francis’s reiterated appeals and his teaching contribute to and affect the work of the UN agencies.
Everyone knows of the Pope’s strong support for efforts to eradicate hunger around the world. “I remember seeing him go on Twitter a few years ago and tweet the #ZeroHunger,” Penner recalled, “and even last month, at a conference in Rome he was talking about the very subject of food systems where he said ‘we must above all ensure that food systems are resilient, inclusive, sustainable and able to provide healthy and affordable diets for all. ‘You really can't say it any better than that!”
An economy rooted in the common good
Penner also highlighted another theme that is close to the WFP’s mission quoting Pope Francis who has repeatedly called for the development of an economy that is tailored for human beings and not motivated mainly by profit, but anchored in the common good.
“That is one of the points that we want to get across during this Pre-Summit: that food should be seen as a basic human requirement. It's not a commodity or not only a commodity.”
No one is saved alone
The Pope, Penner also noted, has also been very vocal in pointing out that no one is saved alone, and he stressed that in order to save the current situation we all need to work together: “we are all on the same planet and we all rely on the same food systems and unless we work together on the food systems to fix them, they're going to continue to be broken.
Everyone is invited to take part in the Pre-Summit. For info to log in and follow events click here.