A Recipe for Healthy, Sustainable Food Systems

With just under one year to go before the Voluntary Guidelines for Food Systems and Nutrition are presented for endorsement at the CFS47, progress is charging forward. These guidelines are a revolutionary step to strengthen nutrition action and create healthy, sustainable food environments.

Following a comprehensive and inclusive consultation process, the Zero Draft of the Voluntary Guidelines is now undergoing revision to produce the First Draft. 2020 will be a busy and productive year as this First Draft is negotiated during the first semester of the year for endorsement by October.

The voluntary guidelines are negotiated based on the 2018  High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) report on Nutrition and food systems and will be the CFS’s most important contribution to the Decade of Action on Nutrition. The HLPE report identified three constituent elements of food systems which serve as policy entry points for improving nutrition- food supply chains, food environments and consumer behavior. These three areas now set the architecture of the guidelines.

The consultation process has included an e-consultation which received over 100 contributions as well as six regional consultations to ensure the guidelines consider the complex and contextually specific determinants of food systems. UNSCN members were present at all regional consultation and the coordinator attended the final one in Washington. Stineke Oenema reports ‘It was encouraging to hear that consultations mentioned a few key areas that need to be addressed. Participants called for guidelines that protect consumers, small scale producers and indigenous communities at home, but also to change trade and subsidy schemes to become more beneficial for food systems elsewhere in the world’.

As described by Dr Liliane Ortega, Chair of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG), ‘the harvest is fabulous’ from these consultations. Feedback from the process is crucial to ensure the final guidelines are aligned with national priorities and stakeholder needs to overcome the policy fragmentation that currently hinders progress towards healthy food systems. The OEWG met on the 29th of November to discuss the collective feedback, inform stakeholders and plan for the next steps in the process towards a first draft. Areas already identified for amends in the zero draft include strengthening the alignment of the voluntary guidelines with achieving the SDGs, enhancing focus on the consequences of inaction on malnutrition, expanding on the impact of poverty and inequality, better articulating the specific constraints faced in humanitarian crisis situations and enhancing emphasis on the need for bold decisions.

As the first draft is developed there is widespread acknowledgment that climate change is our constant backdrop. With food production and consumption responsible for up to 37% of human caused greenhouse gas emissions, work on food systems must consider climate change and environmental sustainability. The recent release of the guiding principles on Healthy Sustainable Diets by FAO and WHO, upon request of the OEWG, provide support for this work on healthy, sustainable food systems. 

UNSCN has been helping to promote this message with the recent presentation on food system transformation at the 4th Eurasian Food Security Conference in Yerevan, Armenia as well as during a seminar with the World Bank in Washington, United States. Sharing examples of how all UNSCN members are advancing work on food systems the presentations emphasized that now is the time to act by harnessing global momentum during the Nutrition Decade and placing a focus on fostering diversity, both in the type of actors engaged and in promoting dietary diversity.

Next steps Stay tuned for the first draft of the voluntary guidelines which will become available by the end of 2019. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also announced that the FAO and CFS will partner to convene a UN Food Systems Summit in 2021 as part of the Nutrition Decade.

©FAO/N Tuan Anh

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