We cannot achieve the SDGs without sustainable food systems – reflections from UNGA 2023

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As the SDG implementation timeline reaches the halfway mark, progress towards food and agriculture-related goals has stagnated or reversed. Boaz Blackie Keizire offers some solutions.

The general debate of 78th The session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) closed on September 26, 2023 in New York, marking a crucial step in the journey towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. Moving from meeting to meeting, I listened attentively to world political and economic leaders gathered in New York where they shared their experiences and progress in achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals.

I have observed that while the implementation of these SDGs is halfway there, the measures taken to achieve the goals related to food and agriculture are stagnating or reversing, thus worsening the challenges related to eradicating poverty and hunger, improving nutrition and combating climate change.

We must redouble our efforts

In this second half of the SDG countdown to 2030, the headwinds are strong and we must redouble our efforts. Latest data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicates that most SDG targets related to food and agriculture are still far from being achieved. The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other crises such as climate change and armed conflict, have far-reaching implications for all dimensions of the 2030 Agenda, including poverty, food security and nutrition, health and the environment.

The 2023 State of food security and nutrition in the world (SOFI) of the FAO estimates the world hunger figures for 2022 at between 691 and 783 million people. These figures show that, since 2015, the increase in the number of undernourished people worldwide has eroded virtually all the progress made over the previous decade. Additionally, food insecurity has increased significantly, from 25.3% of the global population in 2019 to 29.6% in 2022.

At the UN Food Systems Stocktaking Moment, organized by the UN Secretary-General and hosted by Italy last July in Rome, the challenges facing our failing food systems were unanimously recognized. The powerful role of sustainable, equitable, healthy and resilient food systems has also been recognized in putting the world back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. They committed to mobilizing all efforts towards the transformation of food systems to ensure a better future for all.

Sustainable food systems are essential to achieving all the SDGs. However, current agricultural practices and systems are depleting our natural resources. Agriculture is the largest consumer of fresh water resources on the planet, a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and more than a quarter of the energy used worldwide is consumed for production and food supply.

At the African Food Systems Forum (AFS) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in early September, there was unanimous agreement that existing key solutions must be scaled up to accelerate the transformation of food systems in Africa. We must redouble our efforts to increase agricultural yields through sustainable agricultural practices to improve food security while minimizing negative environmental impacts.

Indeed, our global food systems are responsible for almost a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, food systems are and will be among the hardest hit by climate change. Their transformation must therefore be integrated into our efforts to combat climate change. This involves working to adapt food systems to climate change.

In addition, we need to increase investments in building the resilience of agricultural systems and reduce the vulnerability of food producers who depend on natural resources. We must also align the implementation of national food systems transformation pathways with the continued updating of Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans for climate action.

We also need to develop and implement food systems strategies, plans and business cases, as well as strengthen coordination among the multiple institutions that govern food systems. This will ensure the necessary coherence and collaboration and reduce duplication and burdens on countries and communities.

To move food systems towards compliance with the SDGs, effective policies are needed to coordinate the actions of different public and private stakeholders, to manage the interactions between material, behavioral and other drivers of change such as urbanization, economic growth, climate change, information and connectivity. .

Importantly, transforming food systems is leading to profound changes in food production, storage, consumption and disposal. These have the potential to generate multiplier effects, acting as catalysts for broader transformation across multiple systems and SDGs. By reimagining and rethinking our food systems, we can address pressing challenges and unlock opportunities for progress in other areas.

Likewise, by building sustainable food systems, we may be able to eradicate poverty through increased production of nutritious food, improve agricultural productivity, and create income-generating activities for our little ones. farmers, including women and youth.

We must create momentum

In conclusion, as we approach 2030, there is an urgent need to build momentum, demonstrate solidarity and accelerate progress towards the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and the African Union Malabo Declaration on Global program for the development of African agriculture.

I would like to suggest some solutions.

First, we need to integrate food systems into the climate process. The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is leading efforts towards COP28 and we congratulate them for resuming the work started in Glasgow at COP26, continued in Sharm el-Sheikh last year, to integrate the transformation of food systems in the climate process.

Second, we must exploit the opportunities created by transforming food systems.

Third, we must solve the financial problem and change the global financial architecture to respond to the unique transformation of food systems. We need to mobilize and direct funding in a coordinated way. We need to deploy financial incentives to drive change and increase investments in innovation and green technologies to improve the resilience and productivity of small and medium-sized producers.

We can seize this opportunity to unite our efforts to end poverty and hunger, as we move towards an inclusive and sustainable future. We must remember that transforming food systems is not only a goal, but also a catalyst for achieving our climate goals and all SDGs.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a comprehensive set of global goals aimed at ending poverty, protecting our planet and improving living conditions for the world’s people. To assess where Africa stands in achieving these crucial goals, we invited Antonio Pedro, Acting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, to guest edit a special issue of the magazine New African timed to coincide with the 2023 United Nations General Assembly. To access more articles Click here.

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