– With its political and economic clout, the G20 should lead in delivering sustainable food systems as the world grapples with rising hunger, malnutrition and inequality.
That was the consensus of leading food and development leaders at a virtual conference on Fixing Food 2021: An opportunity for G20 countries to lead the way, hosted this week by Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation (BCFN) and the Economic Intelligence Unit.
The conference coincided with the launch of a new Food Sustainability Index (FSI) related to G20 countries, a collective of powerful economies.
The 2021 FSI measures the sustainability of food systems in 78 countries across the pillars of food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture and nutrition. Food systems include the whole range of actors in the agriculture sector and their interlinked value-added activities, including production, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food products from agriculture, forestry or fisheries.
The G20 is a forum of 19 countries and the European Union bringing together leading economies whose members account for 80 percent of the global GDP and have 60 percent of the world’s population. They sit on 60 percent of agricultural land worldwide and are responsible for 75 percent of Green House Gas Emissions (GHG) that the Paris Agreement allocates to food production, thus risking the global climate agenda.
While it has the financial and political muscle in influencing global policymaking, the G20 group needs to lead the way in making food systems more sustainable owing to its big environmental footprint, the FSI noted.
“On a per-head basis, people living in the G20 consume three to five times the maximum optimal intake of 28g of meat per day and wasted 2,166kg of food in 2019 —which is greater than the weight of the average large car,” the report found.
It cautioned that “if all non-G20 countries adopted the food habits of G20 members, there would be not just higher environmental costs, but higher health costs too.”
The G20 has prioritised food sustainability and recently committed to addressing food and nutrition security at the recently opted Matera Declaration.
Italy, which takes over the Presidency of the group at its Summit in October 2021, is focusing efforts on people, the planet, and prosperity when the world is grappling with increased hunger and malnourishment. The G20 has an enormous challenge to help transform food systems in achieving the SDGs, especially SDG 1 of ending poverty by 2030.
Marta Antonelli, Head of Research, BCFN, said G20 countries have a strong responsibility to create the conditions for more equitable and sustainable food systems.
“G20 members’ actions, both domestically and globally, are critical for promoting sustainable growth in food and agriculture, fostering better nutrition, and building the world back better and more equitably,” Antonelli told IPS.
“We need the G20 to lead, to set forth a coordinated action agenda that builds upon a common sense of purpose for food system transformation that paves the way and inspires to new policies and approaches at the regional, national and local level.”
“We are at a crossroads that requires immediate action,” said Antonelli highlighting that the G20 can provide collective and coordinated leadership to tackle current food crises, boost investments in the transition towards more sustainable food systems.
The countries that performed well on the three pillars of the Index include Canada, Japan, Australia and Germany and France because of their robust policy responses. For example, Canada has strong national policies on food loss and waste and sustainable agriculture. Furthermore, most of the countries in the group have targets on addressing food loss and waste the need to improve on measuring it.
“Measuring is hard though and more needs to be done by countries to report levels of food loss and waste,” commented Diana Hindle Fisher, a Senior Analyst at EIU, calling for countries to adopt a target-measure-act approach on food loss and waste.
Policymakers are strategic in helping assess data on food loss and waste and developing binding legislation to commit to set targets. At the same time, the business community could form new schemes to reduce food loss and waste.
Fisher said that civil society could promote positive behaviour and launch information campaigns on reducing food loss and waste.
Barbara Buchner, Global Managing Director at the Climate Policy Initiative, noted that while all the countries had made progress on the three pillars of the Index, there was room for improvement through investment in climate action awareness and plugging knowledge gaps that hinder governments from making efficient policy decisions.
“There is a tremendous opportunity for the G20 not only to lead by example but to learn from and listen to the experiences of farmers and food eaters from the global south,” said Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder of the Food Tank who commended the FSI for including new indicators on food availability and gender equality.
“The role of women in agriculture is important,” Nierenberg observed. “It is no secret that women are agriculture leaders, making up more than 40 percent of the agriculture labour force, and in many countries, they are the majority of farmers, Nierenberg said.
“Unfortunately, women are discriminated against and do not have access to the same resources male farmers have, including access to land, banking and financial services.”
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) laments that the world is not on track to achieve targets for any of the nutrition indicators in the SDGs by 2030.
More than 800 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020, 161 million more than in 2019, while nearly 2.3 billion others did not have adequate food in the same period, according to the FAO.
“Against this backdrop, the G20 group has the resources, power and influence to unlock the necessary transformation in food systems by providing real leadership and inspire action not only domestically but internationally,” Antonelli said.
Painting a bleak picture of global hunger exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic, the report said the pandemic had exposed the fragility of global food systems, but there was an opportunity to build forward better and get on track towards achieving SDG 2 of ending hunger.
“We are aware that transforming food systems so that they provide nutritious and affordable food for all and become more efficient, resilient, inclusive and sustainable has several entry points and can contribute to progress across the SDGs,” Qu Dongyu, FAO Director-General, Gilbert F Houngbo, IFAD President, Henrietta H Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, David Beasley WFP Executive Director and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus WHO Director-General, said a joint foreword to the report.
“Future food systems need to provide decent livelihoods for the people who work within them, in particular for small-scale producers in developing countries – the people who harvest, process, package, transport and market our food,” said the report.
It concluded that transformed food systems could become a powerful driving force towards ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.