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312. Lessons for Building a Sustainable Food System

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In May 2021, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, wrote an article in Nature Food on the importance of maximizing the use of science, technology and knowledge to build a sustainable food system. The following are excerpts from the article.

When Dr. Kalibata, a native of Rwanda, became Minister for Agriculture in 2008 when the country was facing the challenges of hunger and rural poverty. For Dr. Kalibata, a lesson learned then, and still relevant today, was the effectiveness of an approach that maximizes the use of technical expertise for the implementation of agricultural programs, which she drew from the science and scientific networks she had developed in her career at CGIAR.

The UN Special Envoy emphasized two perspectives as keys to the success of the Rwandan government. The first is to look for solutions based on the local context. Secondly, all relevant ministries and agencies must work together in a concerted effort. At the time, Rwanda was facing the complex food and nutrition security challenge of increasing agricultural productivity in a fragile environment, more than a decade after the 1994 genocide. In this case, science-based decision making enabled a rapid consensus to formulate policy. As a result, two million Rwandans, or one-fifth of the population, were able to lift themselves out of poverty within five years, allowing the country to improve its food security and recover from its tragic past.

Dr. Kalibata also reiterated that today, the food system must provide enough food for the world's growing population, while at the same time reducing its environmental impact and achieving the SDG agenda by 2030. Even if the world were to abandon all fossil fuel use now, it is highly likely that greenhouse gas emissions from the food system alone would raise global temperatures by 1.5 °C above Industrial Revolution levels by 2051-2063.

Moreover, she also mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has also shown the effectiveness of an approach that emphasizes science. Science-based policies aimed at encouraging a transition to a sustainable food system are about more than inventing new products and technologies, they are about giving policy makers innovative ways to think.

This year's United Nations Food System Summit will provide a comprehensive perspective on the needs of humanity and the planet, leading to discussions on solutions to increase food and nutrition security, improve sustainability, reduce poverty, solve climate change, and build resilience.

Kalibata, A. Transforming food systems is within reach. Nat Food 2, 313–314 (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-021-00291-z

Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Director, Information Program)