Reflections on food systems transformation: an African perspective

Author: Agnes Kalibata1
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  • 1 President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), , Kenya and former Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit
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The United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has thrust food systems transformation onto the main stage of international discourse in 2021. As recognised by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, food systems are at the heart of delivering on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals for people, planet and prosperity. There has been a growing recognition that the global food systems, as currently constructed, are flawed due to the high levels of food and nutrition insecurity, food losses and waste, rising levels of inequalities, health-related challenges, and high levels of environmental degradation arising from unsustainable production systems. This article provides reflections from my own experience as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit. It articulates the key drivers behind the conceptual shift towards systems thinking to addressing the world’s food challenges. The article discusses some of the challenges faced by the global food systems and highlights why a paradigm shift from the traditional narrow focus on production and self-sufficiency to a more holistic and integrated approach is urgently required. The article provides an African perspective to the food systems discourse, highlighting some of the priority actions identified by African stakeholders and articulated in the Africa Common Position to the UNFSS, which sets out Africa’s opportunity to turn adversity into opportunity through food systems transformation. The paper outlines some highlights of the Summit, with a view to emphasising the key transformative pathways and crucial next steps that are required at country and regional levels.

Abstract

The United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has thrust food systems transformation onto the main stage of international discourse in 2021. As recognised by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, food systems are at the heart of delivering on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals for people, planet and prosperity. There has been a growing recognition that the global food systems, as currently constructed, are flawed due to the high levels of food and nutrition insecurity, food losses and waste, rising levels of inequalities, health-related challenges, and high levels of environmental degradation arising from unsustainable production systems. This article provides reflections from my own experience as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit. It articulates the key drivers behind the conceptual shift towards systems thinking to addressing the world’s food challenges. The article discusses some of the challenges faced by the global food systems and highlights why a paradigm shift from the traditional narrow focus on production and self-sufficiency to a more holistic and integrated approach is urgently required. The article provides an African perspective to the food systems discourse, highlighting some of the priority actions identified by African stakeholders and articulated in the Africa Common Position to the UNFSS, which sets out Africa’s opportunity to turn adversity into opportunity through food systems transformation. The paper outlines some highlights of the Summit, with a view to emphasising the key transformative pathways and crucial next steps that are required at country and regional levels.

Key messages

  • To achieve SDG 2, Zero Hunger, we need a deep and transformative shift in our food systems, to shift consumption patterns towards healthy and sustainable diets and to protect and regenerate environmental resources.

  • The UNFSS successfully mobilised stakeholders to reimagine and redesign our food systems.

  • Africa has developed a clear continental vision on the challenges and the solutions to building sustainable food systems.

  • Key next steps and priorities for Africa will include developing and operationalising food systems investment plans at country level and exploring viable and cost-effective financing mechanisms.

Introduction

At the time of my appointment on 16 December 2019 as Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), the agricultural sector, in many countries of the world, was facing unprecedented challenges that needed urgent attention. For many developing countries, beyond the traditional known challenges of inadequate access to affordable farm inputs as well as output markets, the unprecedented challenges include: the increasing threat of climate change; worsening inequality; and pests (more specifically locusts, fall armyworms) and diseases (for example, African swine fever, avian flu and foot and mouth disease among others that have appeared for the first time or reappeared after a long time as a result of warming temperatures).

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the food systems challenges and exposed its fragilities, the most visible of which was the fact that everywhere in the world there are extremely vulnerable people whose ability to access a decent meal was compromised by the crisis. There is also the fact that 82 million people globally are food insecure, 149 million children are stunted, while an estimated 2 billion people have micronutrient deficiencies worldwide (Béné et al, 2020). Globally, therefore, hunger is a growing challenge and food systems currently, as at the time of writing, contribute 30 per cent to the problem of emissions and, therefore, to climate change. Going into the UNFSS, there was consensus that the world was not on track to achieve the targets set out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 (Global Nutrition Report, 2020). It became increasingly apparent that we needed a deep and transformative shift in our food system to ensure that we get back on track to achieve zero hunger, to shift consumption patterns towards healthy and sustainable diets; to ensure that environmental resources are not only protected, but regenerated; to ensure that equity and shared values between producers, society, businesses and consumers are enhanced; and to ensure that there are deliberate and concerted efforts to build resilience to the shocks and stressors that are only set to increase as a consequence of climate change damage.

These challenges demand that we examine not only how to repair this damage and stem the tide of rising hunger and inequalities, but how to fundamentally reimagine our food systems to make them more nourishing, resilient and sustainable.

The UN Secretary-General therefore launched the 2021 Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), with a vision to inspire urgency and action and to shape the direction for the transformation of global food systems so as to accelerate the implementation of the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030. He called for a People’s Summit – recognising that each of us has an intimate relationship with food and that the decisions we make as individuals have the power to change the world. The Summit therefore initiated unprecedented and extensive stakeholder engagements, with multistakeholder national dialogues across 148 countries, and more than 1,000 independent dialogues across UN agencies, multilateral and development organisations, and public and private sectors, producer groups, Indigenous peoples, youth, and other civil society groups. Working collectively and through these dialogues, stakeholders identified the key challenges and constraints facing food systems and the interconnected nature of these challenges, starting with local context to shared global challenges that would shape agency and global partnerships and cooperation around achieving SDGs.

The Secretary-General also called for a Solutions Summit, noting that the solutions to our challenges were already existing in our midst and we needed to harvest, harness and scale them for the benefit of all. We reached out to leading institutions across critical areas of the food system to shape and lead an intense and inclusive solution-finding process across five action tracks that spur on the impact of the food system. Across each of the action tracks, hundreds of game-changing solutions across tens of institutions and businesses were identified. Over 2,000 solutions were identified and consolidated into 56 solution clusters that could be deployed across different challenges of our world. Some of these solutions went on to inform commitments and coalitions for action across businesses, institutions, governments and so on, defining new partnerships that will fast-track how the world comes through on the 2030 Agenda.

The Secretary-General put in place a Scientific Group of experts to ensure the Summit decisions and choices were informed and anchored in science and evidence coming from networks of the world’s leading experts. These scientists have demystified the complexity of food systems and made it possible for a global audience to come together around the need to transform food systems if we are to achieve the SDGs.

These efforts translated into a Summit moment in which 163 Member State statements, including from 77 Heads of State, made commitments to transform foods systems and to develop national mechanisms that create and implement national pathways that are inclusive and consistent with countries’ climate commitments, locally adapted and building from key lessons, priorities and innovative ideas from national dialogues. Across dialogues, national and independent, action tracks and the Scientific Group, five action areas were agreed upon as critical to informing the transitions needed to realise the vision of the 2030 Agenda. These are described in the Secretary-General’s Chair’s Summary and Statement of Action as:1

  1. Nourish all people (including ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all, promoting and creating demand for healthy and sustainable diets, reducing waste).

  2. Boost nature-based solutions (acting on climate change, reducing emissions and increasing carbon capture, regenerating and protecting critical ecosystems and reducing food loss and energy usage, without undermining health or nutritious diets).

  3. Advance equitable livelihoods, decent work and empowered communities (raising incomes, distributing risk, expanding inclusion, creating jobs; adding value).

  4. Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses (ensuring the continued functionality of healthy and sustainable food systems).

  5. Accelerating the means of implementation (including finance, science and innovation, data, governance and trade).

Under each of these areas, the Summit saw the emergence of multistakeholder commitments, initiatives and coalitions. Both the action areas and emerging coalitions were echoed in statements of commitments from Heads of Member States. An analysis of statements made by the 40 Heads of Member States of African countries shows an increasing appreciation of the complex nature of the pressing challenges facing the continent’s food systems, and a growing recognition of the need for transformation through a systems approach. Juxtaposed with these statements, and given the overriding challenges the continent faces, it was not surprising that for Africa, the dominant trend was increased focus on coalitions to end hunger, foster healthy diets, promote sustainable production systems and build resilience to climate change and other shocks.

This article summarises my experiences and perspectives as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 UNFSS and the various engagements and contributions made towards food systems transformation. Given that the transformation agenda is particularly urgent and critical in the developing world, I will focus on giving an African perspective which, though unique in its own right, will resonate with broader concerns poor countries, of farming and producer communities, especially smallholder farming communities in Latin America, Asia and the Far East.

This article is organised as follows: first, I articulate the need to reimagine and redesign food systems. This section sets the vision of the food system through the lens of the developing world in general, and with a unique African perspective. Second, I unpack and summarise some of the key lessons drawn from the processes and various engagements leading up to the UNFSS, as well as highlighting the key milestones and emerging outcomes from the various stakeholder engagements. Third, I present some bold commitments, looking at how we can best support national mechanisms that develop and implement national pathways to 2030, which are inclusive and consistent with countries’ climate commitments, building upon the national food systems dialogues.

What are the key achievements and lessons from the UNFSS?

Reimagining and redesigning food systems

Through the various engagement platforms leading to the Summit, the UNFSS helped to foster a progressive shift towards a systems approach to addressing the world’s hunger problems. This represents a huge paradigm shift from the traditional narrower focus on agricultural production and driving down affordability at any cost and or a single-minded focus on food self-sufficiency. This approach left essential dimensions of food, such as healthy diets, while the food systems also continued to exhibit staggering levels of inequality. Throughout the UNFSS dialogues and across different bodies of work, there was an increasing recognition that food and agriculture are one of the largest contributors to global environmental changes, significantly contributing to biodiversity loss, aggravating soil degradation and deforestation, increasing greenhouse gases and depleting freshwater resources (Gladek et al, 2016). Coming out of the work of the Scientific Group and the thousands of dialogues there was consensus that adopting a system view allows us to tackle the seemingly intractable challenges around food. It recognises that the present challenges on our hands are more complicated than simply increasing food production to end hunger. It also provides a guiding framework upon which we can frame the nature and depth of challenges facing food and identify potential levers for action and investments on both the demand and supply side of the food equation. A systems approach, though complex, was seen as a critical solution to our food challenges, allowing us to go beyond agriculture, to include trade, governance, health, environment, gender, education, transport, infrastructure, energy and others. Critically, taking a systems approach meant we could not simply tackle one issue without addressing them all at the same time. Therefore, the ability to explain food systems and their complexities, as done by the Scientific Group of the Summit, was a huge achievement that help simplify how the world thinks about food and takes actions around food.

A conceptual shift to food systems was epitomised by the convergence of critical minds across the African continent, that saw the development of the Africa Common Position to the UNFSS, which proposed several game-changing solutions, particularly the urgent need to foster sustainability and resilience as a means of achieving food systems transformation. From an African perspective, the shift to food systems thinking brings out two interrelated and critical issues: that countries need to cooperate and sectors need to coordinate around existing continental frameworks rather than create new ones. The Common African position on food systems was more evidence that Africa was the most engaged continent.

A leading role for science to guide food systems transformation

The food systems discourse was guided by the insights and evidence from the Scientific Group of the UNFSS, an independent and diverse group of leading researchers and scientists from around the world who were tasked with ensuring the robustness, breadth and independence of the science that underpins the Summit and its outcomes. The continuous engagement with the data and evidence emanating from the Scientific Group represented the growing recognition of the central role that science and technological innovations play in transforming our global food systems. This group helped dissect and shape the framing of the food systems concept, providing a guiding framework for answering the normative questions around food systems ambitions. The group also came up with background papers that helped clarify the vision for food systems transformation, critically reviewing the five action tracks within the context of global food systems, as well as highlighting the necessary conditions that must be in place for food systems to deliver on the stated objectives. This has yielded the following key knowledge outcomes:

  1. Critically demonstrated the interconnectedness of the action tracks and hence the need to foster synergies to guarantee effective system-wide outcomes.

  2. Highlighted the need to pay attention to cross-cutting themes and systems issues such as gender inequalities and marginalised areas and communities, incorporating insights from indigenous food systems and related knowledge, as well as strengthening systems vulnerabilities to weather, climate and health shocks, including the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.

  3. Brought about an increased appreciation of the need to examine the true value of food, and hence address the environmental, social and health costs and externalities associated with the production, distribution and processing of food. Today’s food system is failing us. It generates at least $12 trillion (World Bank, 2021) in hidden social, economic and environmental costs each year. It prioritises volume over nutritional value, fails to pay a living wage while creating sizeable profits for a concentrated set of players, and treats the natural environment as an infinite resource – resulting in massive waste and undermining the stability of the entire food system and global economy.

  4. Demonstrated the need for quantitative modelling frameworks and analytics to help measure and monitor progress as well as assess critical synergies and trade-offs among SDGs.

Supporting inclusive stakeholder engagement

The UNFSS lived up to its promise of a People’s Summit as it rallied critical masses across governments, businesses, civil society and communities, including women, youth and Indigenous peoples. By their very nature, food systems are incredibly diverse and location-specific. Therefore, interventions to address food system challenges much reflect the uniqueness and heterogeneity of circumstances and increasingly recognise the roles of local actors and stakeholders. The UNFSS provided a platform for various engagements in food systems, including supporting national and regional food systems dialogues, as well as bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders and leading institutions and organisations across different regions, to engage in intensive discussions and consolidate national and regional views, perspectives and experiences through independent dialogues. The Summit thus championed inclusive voices of often forgotten issues and stakeholder groups in the food systems discourse, fostering ownership and inclusiveness of the journey to food systems transformation. By the time of the Summit, thousands of people had been engaged on the various UNFSS platforms, including multistakeholder dialogues convened by governments in 148 countries and more than 1,000 independent dialogues all around the world, anchored in food systems that included heroes, champions, Indigenous people, youth and many other stakeholders. Regional, continental and global independent dialogues brought together critical voices of diverse stakeholders and key actors across critical issues that touch on the food system including energy, the oceans, biodiversity, environment, trade and many more when the nexus to food needed to be better understood. Critical voices that chose not to take part in the Summit were also engaged and heard, as discussed later, and the issues they brought out on corporate capture, and green/white-washing by big businesses against Agenda 2030, further underscored the complexity of the food system and the lack of trust among key players that have led to fault lines in the partnerships we can build together.

For the African continent, 49 countries were engaged in national dialogues leading to all submitting their national pathways; hundreds of independent dialogues were organised and this approach is now being used at country level where multistakeholder engagement and views are being sought to design strategies for food systems transformation.

Rallying political will and commitments at country level

With participation across 193 countries, and communication of the Summit estimated to reach an estimated five billion people, there is no question that the Summit achieved engagement like very few others have. It was the first of six food meetings since 1943 that brought Heads of State and government to the table. Of the 193 countries, 166 made commitments at the Summit and 148 of these commitments were anchored in national dialogues over a period of 12 months. As at the time of writing, 112 countries have submitted national pathways that encapsulate their commitment to the Summit and to the transformation of the food system.

An analysis of pathways and statements made by the 40 Heads of Member States of African countries shows increasing appreciation of the complex nature of the pressing challenges facing the continent’s food systems, and a growing recognition of the need for transformation through a systems approach. Figure 1 summarises the Heads of States’ statements on specific areas.

Figure 1: Analysis of key coalitions identified and prioritized by African Heads of States during the UN Food Systems Summit. It is clear that the prominent coalitions were healthy diets for children and all as identified by 16 countries; achieving zero hunger noted by 14 countries; sustainable productivity growth identified by 13 countries; and fostering climate change resilience as noted by 11 countries.
Figure 1:

Overall summary of number of African countries that committed to key areas, and joined coalitions to drive food systems transformation

Citation: Global Social Challenges Journal 1, 1; 10.1332/OYYL3696

The following points summarise the priorities and key messages:

  • Most countries, as seen from their statements, are aligned on the action areas of Nourish All People (zero hunger, healthy diets or children and all, child school feeding), boosting nature-based solutions, especially in the areas of sustainable production, resilience and attention to climate change.

  • The continent’s challenge of food security was further demonstrated by the number of countries committing to participating in the coalitions on Zero Hunger (14 countries), School Feeding (10) and the Healthy Diets for Children and All (16).

  • Coalitions on women and girls, sustainable productivity growth, climate resilience and youth engagement, as well as promoting local food production are also among the most prominent focal priority areas. There was also interest in a few areas including soil health and social protection that remain integral to food system transformation. All these are areas that will be mainstreamed and integrated into holistic approaches and intervention in country food system transformation journeys and against which they will report in the follow-up stocktaking every two years.

Advancing the climate change agenda

Climate change remains the greatest challenge of our time. The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) on climate change recognised the need to transition towards sustainable and climate-resilient food systems, considering the vulnerability of agriculture to impacts of climate change. We hope that this recognition can be even stronger in COP27 in Africa (November 2022) with significant emphasis on building resilience and helping communities adapt to shocks and stresses. In essence, the transition towards sustainable and climate-resilient food systems means that countries must prioritise the following areas that are part of the 52 solution clusters emerging out of the food systems action tracks:

  • Soil and nutrient management: practices that optimise use of nutrients, including regenerative practices.

  • Sustainably managed livestock systems, such as enhancing animal health and carbon sinks on pasture and grazing lands. Carbon sinks provide negative feedback loops that take and retain more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit.

  • Scaling up support and resources to achieve inclusive, sustainable and climate-resilient agricultural systems including agroecology.

Executing these elements will be critical to guarantee food security and ending hunger, while achieving climate objectives, especially those concerning carbon emission reductions. Box 1 outlines some commitments and coalitions that emerged from the COP26 process that are aligned with the UNFSS.

Coalitions and commitments from the COP 26 Summit (Kapuya, 2021)

  • The commitment to secure net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the mobilisation of US$100 billion in annual funding from developed countries.

  • The Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C), which is a joint initiative led by the US and the United Arab Emirates and is now co-signed by 30 countries.

  • The Global Methane Pledge includes countries committing to reducing methane emissions by at least 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030. It is supported by several emitting countries like Brazil, Canada, Argentina and New Zealand. China, India, Australia, the US and Russia declined to commit.

  • The Dairy Net Zero Declaration seeks to reduce the dairy industry’s contribution to global methane emissions. Countries proposed identifying ways of creating sustainable food systems through efficiency and productivity as a means to reduce methane emissions.

  • Commitment to stop deforestation, with 100 countries signing up for this initiative. In sub-Saharan Africa, rapid agricultural production growth was primarily driven by an expansion in cropped area that came as a result of deforestation and exploitation of ecologically fragile lands.

  • The Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration recognises that global food systems form one the key drivers of greenhouse gas emissions and currently account for about a third of the total global contributions. It pushes for new climate-smart food strategies at national, regional and local levels. It has received support from hundreds of governments as well as cities and municipalities around the world.

Climate change continues to erode the gains made by African countries in reducing hunger and improving food security. The continent must therefore innovate to improve productivity. Given the unique and specific challenges that sub-Saharan African economies are facing, African agriculture needs to be reimagined within the context of new and emerging challenges, especially climate change and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The renewed focus on reducing carbon emissions, maintaining low levels of soil contamination, reducing the application of chemicals (such as pesticides) and fertilisers may still be pursued within the limitations imposed by health and environmental sustainability regulations. Given the simultaneous need for Africa to promote both the adoption of high-yielding technologies on the one hand, and of environmentally sustainable production practices on the other, a varied mix of both practices will be essential in driving future growth.

A reflection of what didn’t work well in UNFSS

The choice by a small section of civil society to not fully engage and integrate their issues and concerns in the several dialogue sessions that were going on was a missed opportunity given the platform the Summit provided. While there were a lot of attempts to engage the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), there were certain forms of CSOs that did not engage sufficiently. They kept their participation away from the Summit and kept raising concerns outside the summit process on issues they care about. Our call was that people needed to be sitting together and have conversations even when they felt that some areas were uncomfortable. Fortunately, some of the constituencies that these CSOs represent were involved in the dialogue processes. Overall, some of them presented critical issues to advance the agenda, including the SUN (Scaling Up Nutrition) movement, the Committee on Food Security (CFS) and many national CSOs.

The other missed opportunity was the limited discussions and engagements on the importance of key food systems issues, particularly the effect of agriculture systems on climate change – the part that contributes 30 per cent of the emissions – was not sufficiently addressed so that agricultural systems themselves could be part of the solution of aiming for the 1.5°C limit. Member States and corporates alike missed the opportunity to draw out clear pathways to reducing emissions and any other damage coming from the food system, as highlighted by the science of the Summit.

Furthermore, we barely touched on some of the discomforts around our world, particularly issues around the root causes of the growing rates of poverty and inequalities. Overall, the Member States felt that for some of the critical and global issues to have the required consensus, there must be concrete negotiations and not just dialogues.

Overall, there was absence of discussion linking the UNFSS to the COP26 conversation that recognised that transforming food systems is at the centre of dealing with the challenges of climate change. As a result, there was limited appreciation of the impact of food systems within the Glasgow conversations.

For Africa, the biggest paradox is that, while it is not a major emitter, the continent will pay a price for climate effects, with the hardest-hit countries being those that are the most vulnerable – with minimal capacity to adapt. For these countries no conversation can be too uncomfortable to have and everything must be done for us to stay on the 1.5°C trajectory.

What are the next steps for food systems transformation in Africa?

Developing and operationalising food systems investment plans at country level

For Africa, the outcome is a continental agenda in the form of the common continental framework. Because all actions take place at country level, translating continental frameworks into country processes is a critical priority that is an immediate next step. Second, the common framework agreed upon by African Heads of State must be trackable and reported against to show progress; therefore, it is critical to ensure that food system indicators are incorporated into existing indicators currently being tracked under the biennial review of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and other frameworks under nutrition, resilience and nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Finally, the most critical next step is how, at country level, national pathways and Heads of States’ statements get translated into food systems strategies that can identify the critical gaps across sectors impacting the food system, and structure strategies and investments plans that optimise resource use and account for the true cost of food. It is essential to ensure appropriate coordination and follow-up so that progress can be tracked across gaps, in sectors, across coordination and across how well gaps get funded; progress must be well-documented and reported against the strategies.

A few countries have already started working on translating ambition into action, beginning with a clear mapping of sectors that impact food systems, mapping of food systems actors and stakeholders, and identifying their relative roles, contributions and aspirations.

Emerging results and outcomes from the various engagements in food systems dialogues and platforms must be the basis for supporting countries to develop concrete and actionable country action plans as part of the post-summit implementation. The AUC (African Union Commission) and AUDA (African Union Development Agency), should mobilise technical institutions such as AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), the International Food Policy Research Institute and others, just as was done at the onset of CAADP, to support the designing of country frameworks and blueprints that different institutions and countries can use to guide programming and action planning, including the following specific areas:

  • Mapping, engaging, and helping develop a coalition of partners who would be needed to achieve food systems transformation within the country-specific contexts. AUDA and AUC could use their convening power such as the Specialised Technical Committee to help adopt a framework for country food systems strategy planning and programming. They could also develop a coalition for food, and rally partners such as the World Bank, CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) and the African Development Bank, among others, to initiate this transformative journey.

  • Mobilising the AUC Member States to integrate food systems pathways and action areas into the National Food Security Investment Plans and other sectoral plans beyond agriculture.

  • Mobilise countries to develop flagship programmes that can attract funding focusing on concrete recommendations and pathways by country, aligned to national processes and systems.

Countries are not waiting and a few partners, including AGRA, are supporting counties to design food system strategies and investment plans. Our hope is that each year, governments can showcase the progress they are making at the annual continental forum (AGRF, the African Green Revolution Forum) to attract investment; we also would like to see a mechanism of reporting back to the continental frameworks and to the food systems hub every two years to show the progress they are making. Success will depend on how coordination, accountability, report-back and financing are designed at a local level; these areas were secured by the Summit under the means of implementation as critical to coming through and are briefly described here from an African context.

Enhancing coordination mechanisms

The recognition that food systems are multisectoral, and cut across various government and non-state institutions, calls for a need to orchestrate inter- and multisectoral dialogues and effective coordination mechanism. We will need to review the existing in-country coordination mechanisms across sectors and design a country-tailored coordination mechanism with clear accountability systems. To move forward, it might be necessary to coordinate around agreed indicators rather than wait for a perfect mega food system programme that gets sectors to deliver as one – this would take time and will be difficult to design in the near future. But individual sectors based on identified contribution to food systems and identified gaps can prioritise food systems key performance indicators. All sectors can then coordinate around delivery on critical food system indicators. This seems to be the approach taken by some of the countries that AGRA is supporting, to ensure they start moving on food system actions.

Tracking the UNFSS investment and outcomes

Implementation of the post-Summit support programmes will be guided by the construct of existing continental frameworks including the CAADP Results Framework and the Comprehensive CAADP Biennial Review, the NDCs on environment, and existing continental frameworks on nutrition and resilience and others including the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This recognises that a holistic approach may not be available through one framework. Nonetheless, the continent must make every effort to coordinate around and take advantage of the widely adopted CAADP Results Framework that now provides Africa and its partners with a set of goals and results, has significant political buy-in, and has the technical impetus to foster policy alignment and harmonisation of interventions geared to advance the agriculture transformation agenda at country level and continent wide. It is, probably, one of few well-established and properly tracked accountability instruments. Discussions are already under way for the CAADP Biennial Review to incorporate indicators emerging out of the food systems work that may not have been already part of the existing 47 indicators. This is expected to lead to a food systems dashboard and tracker linked and integrated to CAADP Biennial Review, including a national multisectoral Joint Sector Reviews for food systems actors and players.

Financing food systems transformation

Transforming food systems will undoubtedly require considerable investment. These investments will need to be guided by assessments, such as true cost accounting, that give an in-depth appreciation of the positive and negative externalities of all food systems and quantify them. But it is also true that we need $33 billion per year to deal with hunger globally and Africa would need to mobilise some of these resources. There are a lot of resources available in the global space but redirecting them to the food systems gaps is not easy; it is nevertheless going to be a critical task. African governments are already grappling with COVID-19 issues and increases in the prices of various commodities due to rising oil and gas prices and the recent Russia–Ukraine crisis. Government spending is already depressed, with a lack of financing, and resources are going to be needed to support Africa governments to come through with food systems. For instance, delivering on debt relief for highly indebted poor countries and on commitments already made to end hunger and on adaptation finance would provide the momentum needed for these countries to start implementing food system transformation strategies.

Conclusions

Overall, the biggest success of the UNFSS was a paradigm shift in how we think about food and the urgency for the need for food systems transformation as a pathway to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Equally successful and important was the mobilisation of the world behind the need to transform food systems across different levels of society’s stakeholders that were engaged in dialogues and that stepped forward to make commitments; we were able to foster political will to address the pressing challenges facing our food systems today. The dialogues have helped shape a common ground and strongly contributed to building consensus on how we move forward; we have agreement on actions that must be taken forward to transform our food systems to achieve the 2030 Agenda. This consensus across multistakeholders is the greatest milestone in the journey to transform our food systems so far.

Africa came forward with a clear continental vision though the common framework on food systems that was laudable given the time available to mobilise such a position, speaking to the fact that Africa is very clear on what its food systems’ challenges are but also the opportunities to fix them. The world has an opportunity here to support countries in Africa and other parts of the world to keep the momentum and deliver on the promise of the Summit.

Here we leave with you a few principles that are critical to moving forward in Africa, but they apply to the rest of the world as well:

  • Build and support national capacities to develop, implement and track national food systems pathways in ways that are coherent with the continent’s vision.

  • Recognise the value of dialogues and engagement with various stakeholders, particularly those whose are often not heard in discussions. These include basic sectors, such as farmers, youth, women and Indigenous peoples. All relevant food systems players should be involved.

  • Encouraging conversations and debates around difficult topics (trade, livestock, fertiliser and pesticide use, and so forth) as these issues are central to the food system transformation challenge while taking stock of commitment to be able to achieve the continent’s desired outcome.

Finally, food systems transformation will not be a straightforward journey, especially given the often-competing goals and diverse needs of society. We will therefore need to anticipate and optimise trade-offs with a view to fostering synergies. A greater appreciation of the true cost of food principles should guide the kind of investments that need to be made. We must look at the right balance between health, people and the planet, producing the right food while keeping the environment safe. As the work of the action tracks showed, the solutions we seek are already in our midst; we need learn, adapt and scale what makes the most sense to every country, every community context. The UN institutions and the 500 institutions that were behind solution clusters, the network of scientists activated by the Secretary-General during the Summit and many mandated institutions are already mobilised and available to support counties.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Vine Mutyasira for his help with research and collation of data.

Conflict of interest

The author declares there is no conflict of interest.

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    Overall summary of number of African countries that committed to key areas, and joined coalitions to drive food systems transformation

  • Béné, C., Fanzo, J., Prager, S.D., Achicanoy, H.A., Mapes, B.R., Toro, P.A. and Cedrez, C.B. (2020) Global drivers of food system (un)sustainability: a multi-country correlation analysis, PLoS ONE, 15(4): art e0231071, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231071.

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  • Gladek, E., Fraser, M., Roemers, G., Sabag Muñoz, O., Kennedy, E. and Hirsch, P. (2016) The Global Food System: An Analysis, Amsterdam: WWF Netherlands.

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  • Global Nutrition Report (2020) The 2020 global nutrition report in the context of COVID-19, https://globalnutritionreport.org/reports/2020-global-nutrition-report/. 

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  • Kapuya, T. (2021) Outcomes of COP26 and climate change commitments on agriculture: agribusiness global insight, 3 December, Farmer’s Weekly (South Africa). 

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  • World Bank (2021) Food finance architecture: financing a healthy, equitable and sustainable food system, 23 September, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/publication/food-finance-architecture-financing-a-healthy-equitable-and-sustainable-food-system.

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  • 1 President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), , Kenya and former Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit

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