The UN FOOD SYSTEM SUMMIT: Upside and Downside for US Agriculture

The UN Food System Summit (FSS), to be hosted by Secretary-General António Guterres as a part of the UN General Assembly this September, is generating increased attention for several reasons:


  1. It’s fast approaching.
  2. Hunger is on the rise.
  3. The new Biden/Harris Administration is committed to international engagement and hunger reduction.
  4. US agriculture has much at stake.

In 2019, the Secretary-General announced that he would host a summit this year with the aim of maximizing co-benefits of a food systems approach in reducing hunger by 2030.  The United Nations has 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  The second goal is Eliminate Hunger by transforming the world’s food and agriculture systems to be more productive, but also be environmentally sustainable and deliver more nutritious and accessible food.


Worth noting is that the Secretary General has chosen an experienced and widely respected African woman to be his Special Envoy for the summit.  Dr. Agnes Kalibata of Rwanda holds a PhD in entomology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and serves as President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.  AGRA’s goal is to grow Africa out of poverty. 


After decades of steady decline, the number of people who suffer from hunger – as measured by the prevalence of undernourishment – began to increase again in 2015. According to the World Food Program, 135 million suffer from acute hunger largely due to man-made conflicts, climate change, and economic downturns. The COVID-19 pandemic could now double that number, putting an additional 130 million people at risk of acute hunger.  The Director of the World Food Program, David Beasley, has reported to the UN that more people are at risk of dying from starvation than dying from COVID. 


Julie Howard, a recognized expert on food, agriculture, and Africa recently authored an important article for the Center Strategic and International Studies where she serves as a Senior Advisor.  Howard notes that the FSS comes at a “watershed moment” as hunger is rising, and doubt abounds about whether the world can adequately nourish 10 billion people by 2050.


To do so, the world needs innovation.  And farmers – especially smallholder farmers – need public policy that affords flexibility to use the best and most productive options for their circumstances.   In Africa and other hunger-challenged regions of the world, many smallholder farmers and ranchers still do not have access to hybrid seeds, modern genetics, fertilizer, and agriculture education. Finding the right balance to meet their needs will be key to a successful summit.


Hopefully, the FSS can point the world in the right direction.  Under the direction of Dr. Kalibata we are optimistic.  


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