CIRAD’s commitment to food system transformation at the United Nations Summit

Call to action 17 September 2021
The United Nations Food Systems Summit will be held on 23 September this year. Faced with the urgent need to transform systems that are unable to correctly and sustainably feed billions of people, business as usual is no longer an option. This summit, which is also a “people’s and solutions summit”, is aimed at driving real change across all sectors, from production to consumption. CIRAD has been actively involved in its preparation, especially during the Pre-Summit in July this year, and is calling for territorial solutions designed by and for local actors.
Women cooking in a high altitude village in northern Laos © V. Bonneaud, CIRAD
Women cooking in a high altitude village in northern Laos © V. Bonneaud, CIRAD

Women cooking in a high altitude village in northern Laos © V. Bonneaud, CIRAD

Today’s food systems are not sustainable. They are responsible for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is a vicious circle, since agricultural production and livestock systems are in return impacted by climate change: limited water resources, extreme drought and flood events, disruption of the ecosystems that underpin agricultural functions, etc. At the same time, modern agriculture and livestock farming are largely responsible for soil degradation, biodiversity loss, forest destruction and freshwater pollution, among other things. This situation is untenable, especially given that three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet, 811 million are suffering from hunger, and 41 million from famine.

A people’s and solutions summit

The Pre-Summit of 26-28 July enabled numerous stakeholders to take the floor: representatives of states, indigenous peoples, civil society, young people, producers’ associations and the private sector. “Gender issues and the role of women in food systems were also addressed”, says Sandrine Dury, an expert in food systems at CIRAD. More than 2 000 initiatives and solutions for more sustainable food systems were presented, further to hundreds of consultations organised throughout the year ahead of the summit. The tens of thousands of people who participated shared their experience and honed their arguments to accelerate the transitions.

CIRAD is particularly committed to agroecology and school food

Multi-stakeholder coalitions and national transformation pathways are now being structured with a view to delivering these solutions at the United Nations Summit, and must continue afterwards. CIRAD has been particularly involved in two coalitions, one on agroecology and the other on school food.

The goal of the first coalition is to transform food systems through agroecology, a concept consisting in applying ecological principles to agriculture in order to enable the sustainable use of resources while meeting the need for more equitable food systems.

CIRAD has made agroecology one of its priority research topics and is actively involved in this area in the field and internationally.

The second coalition on school food is becoming a focus of action for food system transformation. By addressing this issue, the local authorities, national powers, and stakeholders at all levels can truly influence child nutrition, promote short supply chains and encourage waste reduction, while helping children to enjoy eating together and to learn social and cultural rules, etc. France has valuable experience in the field of school food and the UNESCO Chair in World Food Systems is coordinating a group of French scientists that will be an integral part of the research consortium for this coalition.

"A key element of CIRAD’s strategy is reducing post-harvest losses and food waste, including the circular economy. This is a crucial aspect of food system transformation."

Participatory assessments of food systems are underway in 50 countries

CIRAD is also working with FAO, the European Union and their partners in around 50 countries to produce assessments of their national food systems with the goal of improving their sustainability. The first assessment concerned Burkina Faso, followed by Madagascar, Bhutan, Senegal, Nepal, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Malawi.

Scientists are working on all subjects in consultation with society and policymakers 

Publishing scientific briefs, organising independent dialogues, participating in consultations with stakeholders from the global South: CIRAD’s researchers have provided their expertise to inform the French positions during the summit, to contribute to the outputs of the scientific group and to enrich the debate at the summit.

By way of example, CIRAD organised an independent dialogue on geographical indications as a territorial tool for food system sustainability.

The Summit’s Scientific Group, chaired by Joachim von Braun, provides scientific expertise on the questions and solutions discussed for the Summit. CIRAD is represented in this group by Patrick Caron.

Several scientific briefs, drafted by researchers from CIRAD, have been published by this Group, one of which was presented during the science days for the summit in July this year.

The starting point for global mobilisation 

This Food Systems Summit is an important step in the process of global mobilisation for the transformation of our modes of food production, processing, distribution and consumption. For CIRAD, the game changing solutions will need to be articulated on all levels, from the local to the global. They will also need to be developed in a multidisciplinary and multisectoral manner, integrating health, economic, social and ecological considerations.

Above all, “the idea of a miracle one-size-fits-all solution is outdated”, says Sandrine Dury. “Transformations need to be aligned with the needs and potential of local people. This is what CIRAD hopes to achieve through the territorial governance of food systems.

The issue of the governance of food system transformation, along with that of the science-policy interface, from the local to the international level, will be crucial for the future and the effectiveness of the actions undertaken.