Despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought to food system actors, this year could lead to some major improvements in the global approach to a more sustainable sector. The United Nations Food Systems Summit intends to launch bold new actions to deliver progress for a sustainable world by 2030. This will bring together not only United Nations member states but all food actors, such as producers, wholesale and retail markets, NGOs, experts and citizens from all regions with a common objective: to move towards healthier and sustainable food systems.
These vital food sector actors need to determine their main intersections, foundational relationships, and roles in advancing healthy diets in a sustainable way. This is key in driving growth and the future of humankind. An understanding of the challenges and pathways of widespread healthy diets and taking care of the environment will be of major help in securing the food sector’s status as one of the main drivers of sustainable life and human existence in the post-Covid-19 world and far beyond it.
Questions in focus:
Two years ago, a worldwide pandemic was perhaps seen as something from a remote past for humanity. Now after the Covid-19 outbreak, it is clear that in the forthcoming years no one will take for granted that frontiers will always be open and that it is unnecessary to have contingency plans for the food sector in a globalized world.
During the pandemic outbreak, disruptions in the supply chain occurred due to lockdowns and radically changed consumption patterns and food delivery methods. Restaurants were completely closed or had to adapt to new restrictions by developing take-away options. School and work canteens were also closed and lots of people found themselves working remotely and eating all meals at home. Vaccination campaigns are taking place and the world hopes to resume normal activities again. Food is one of the fundamental forces that has shaped our societies.
In this sense, is it worth to examine together: will this new food consumption patterns remain? Will the world of food be forever transformed? What can we learn from history of human relation to food in order to shape a resilient future? How can we use lessons from the pandemic as an opportunity for envisioning together a sustainable future and ensure food accessibility?
Questions in focus:
During the coronavirus outbreak, food actors have been coping with various crisis management challenges. Facing the vulnerabilities that are exposed and integrated by Covid-19, governments became aware of the importance of having a resilient and sustainable food system. Even when faced with these unprecedented circumstances, food systems should have both the capacities and capabilities to produce and provide nutritious and safe food to everyone. This transformation towards resilience and sustainability in food systems requires an insightful exploration of the risks and opportunities in the food systems worldwide.
Given this context, it is critical for food actors and all other stakeholders to exchange about lessons learned, good practices, insights and perspectives to improve sustainability in the fresh food system. It recognizes the necessity of reflecting on past experiences especially that of crises to address relevant issues and challenges. More importantly, these exchanges rely on a combination of cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches to developing resilience and sustainability in our food systems.
Questions in focus:
At the onset of the pandemic in 2019, 25% of the world struggled to eat “safe, nutritious and sufficient food” according to to the UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report. With disruptions due to the pandemic, this has most likely not changed for the better.
Globally, fresh food consumption is growing according to UN data from 2021 Food Balance Sheets. However, is it growing fast enough? Oils and fat in daily diets are still increasing faster while the intake of sugar is not significantly decreasing. Obesity and sicknesses related to bad diets are threatening the heath of communities around the world. The world is also experiencing a rise in overweight and obesity. Today, over 2 billion adults are overweight and obese, and diet-related noncommunicable diseases including diabetes, cancer and heart diseases are among the leading causes of global deaths and over 820 million people continue to go hungry every day. There is a need of more widespread availability, awareness and uptake of healthy diets.
If the world is going to make healthy diets more accessible to all, it will be important to implement a systemic approach. Effective policy frames needs to be developed, networks of key fresh food actors should be promoted, efficient food ecosystems providing communities around the world with a diversity of healthy products even in stringent times should be ensured.
Questions in focus:
Covid-19 resulted in supply shortages and imbalances, leading to delivery delays, economic losses, and social and employment impacts. In this sense, it sheds light on the importance to have resilient supply systems with better communication among relevant stakeholders, better food governance structure, smart urban planning, and integrated, transparent, and diversified distribution channels able to overcome future external shocks like pandemics, conflicts or climate change related-hazards.
We have also observed the fresh food supply chain that has arguably functioned as one of the best throughout the current crisis and featured the core role of wholesale markets in ensuring reliable, safe and rapid food logistics. How have fresh food logisticians and wholesale markets been able to maintain their core functions, how do they collaborate, and what are opportunities for them in the future? How can wholesale markets promote better food safety, more traceability and more efficiency in their operations?
New innovations and approaches to food system practices are reconfiguring food systems so that they are better equipped to deliver healthy and accessible diets to all people. This has transformed human activities, including the production, trade and consumption of food. Emerging innovations to produce, govern, process, and distribute food demonstrate a great potential to lead the transition towards a more resilient and sustainable food system. Digitalization is an example, making food traceability possible and trading easier. Another example is smart logistics which can reduce distribution routes and decrease pollution. Technological advancement has become a cornerstone and indicator of the progress and evolution experienced by food systems worldwide.
However, despite the widely recognized benefits of modern technology in strengthening food systems, it is equally important to acknowledge disparities in terms of accessibility and availability of these technologies in the various countries and food systems around the globe. The discussion on innovating for resilience will take into consideration the unique contexts and diverse narratives of food systems across the world, including the issues that are most critical to be addressed by these innovations which vary from case to case.
Questions in focus:
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