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.