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UN Food Summit targets ending hunger, creating resiliency

USDA Photo Vilsack G20 ag ministers.jpg
G-20 AG MINISTERS MEET: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with agriculture world leaders at the G-20 Ministers in Florence, Italy on September 17, 2021 ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit held Sept. 23 and 24 virtually.
Vilsack highlights proposed investment of $5 billion to strengthen food systems in the United States.

The United Nations Food Systems Summit kicked off Thursday, setting the stage for global collaboration to eliminate hunger and build a more sustainable, resilient food supply. Leaders on the world stage offered big promises, but the United States’ promised $10 billion will still need to be approved by Congress. Rather than a list of dos and don'ts on what agriculture can do to meet the daunting challenges of improving food security as well as addressing climate impacts, political ag leaders offered a path forward that includes coalitions and the understanding that there are multiple ways to improve food supply chain resiliency.

This virtual summit, which convened thousands of participants including UN member states, private sector representatives, farmers, producers and civil society participants, focused on concrete actions to transform food systems to accelerate progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“Some have viewed the summit as an opportunity to issue lengthy lists of do’s and don’ts to the farmers worldwide who work hard every day to feed us all. We’re proud to promote an approach that recognizes that farmers everywhere advance sustainability in many ways – with America’s dairy farmers at the forefront,” says National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern. “Rather than trying to impose a uniform, misguided ideology on how the world eats, farms and produces food, we all need to do our part to use limited resources wisely and efficiently to feed a growing world population in environmentally sounds ways.”

During the UN General Assembly, President Biden previewed the United States’ commitment to $10 billion in multi-year initiatives to strengthen food security and nutrition for all, accelerate climate change mitigation and adaptation, and expand inclusive food systems at home and abroad, especially for the most vulnerable, including half of those funds targeted by USDA.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and United States Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power joined UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and global partners in the UN Food Systems Summit on Thursday to spur urgent action to end hunger and malnutrition and build more sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems at home and abroad. 

Demonstrating commitment to accelerating progress toward these goals, the United States announced a planned multi-year investment of more than $10 billion which would still require Congressional approval to promote food systems transformation through innovation and climate-smart agriculture, improved infrastructure for food access and inclusive market opportunities, programs prioritizing women’s and children’s needs, improving nutrition, reducing food loss and waste, and climate change mitigation and adaptation within our own country and worldwide.

Specifically, Vilsack highlighted an intended investment of $5 billion to strengthen food systems in the United States, including through investments in systems and infrastructure to ensure access to healthy diets for all Americans, and investments in fair and efficient markets to improve the inclusivity and resilience of our food systems. Other domestic investments support the expansion of climate smart agriculture and forestry.

During the summit, Vilsack noted in remarks: “We must use the power of ingenuity to improve on food systems so they provide safe, nutritious, affordable and accessible food for all, while conserving natural resources and combating the climate crisis.”

Power announced a $5 billion commitment over five years to Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, and an expansion of Feed the Future target countries. Within the Feed the Future expansion, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation set a goal to finance $1 billion in food security and agriculture, research and food fortification programs. 

Power stated, “With new investments and a new strategy, Feed the Future aims to contribute to a 20% reduction in poverty and stunting in target countries over the next five years. But the United States cannot end hunger on its own—no country can. We need the support of foundations and food scientists, donors and development agencies, private companies and partner countries, to not just feed the future, but build a future where hunger is a distant memory.”

Other commitments include launching the Global Coalition on Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security which Vilsack discussed following his pre-summit meeting with world ag ministers in Rome the week prior. Industry groups such as the North American Meat Institute, National Milk Producers Federation and American Feed Industry Association have recently announced their support to the productivity coalition to ensure any actions required of farmers does not limit productivity capacity.

Related: Vilsack defends U.S. farm practices on world stage

In addition, a coalition on Resource Conservation looks to sustainably feed the world, alleviate poverty, achieve our global environmental goals and confront climate change.

For the summit, USDA led U.S. efforts to promote the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, or AIM4C, with the goal of dramatically increasing public and private investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation. The number of countries supporting this global initiative has more than tripled since the United States and United Arab Emirates announced it at President Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate in April.

The United States also vowed to share U.S. expertise and experience in science-based innovation, technology and development to help countries advance along their own paths to eliminate hunger and malnutrition and build sustainable, resilient and equitable food systems.

Farmer support

Mulhern thanked Vilsack and Power for clearly laying out key commitments of the United States in the journey to enhanced food systems. “Global progress requires global engagement, and as the world’s leading producer and exporter of food, U.S. leadership is crucial to furthering sustainable approaches that enhance food and nutrition security for all,” he says.

“NMPF looks forward to future events, such as the UN’s Climate Change Conference in November, as benchmarks to highlight and encourage further progress toward more innovative and efficient production practices. More than that, we look forward to productive, collaborative efforts that advance these goals,” Mulhern says.

In a declaration of Food Systems Summit support issued earlier this month, farmer-based Solutions from the Land committed to inspire agriculture and forestry leaders to help direct the broader discussion of sustainable food systems and climate change, including adaptation and mitigation; mobilize thought leaders to advocate for needed changes in food system land use practices, research, education and policy; and educate ag and forestry leaders on the potential impacts of climate change on food systems in ways relevant to their daily lives. SfL leaders will also work to equip producers with the tools and knowledge they need to make informed decisions and manage new risks under changing conditions.

In the lead up to this week’s summit, SfL staged a food systems dialogue back in April when it engaged a cross-section of farmers and ranchers in discussing the optimal use of environmental resources in food production, processing and distribution. These deliberations led to the development of a set of FSS guiding principles that will enable food systems to support the timely attainment of the goals.

The principles include keeping farmers at the center of all discussions and decision-making; looking beyond a simplistic, “silver-bullet” solution for enhancing the resilience of agriculture and food systems; and relying on science-based decision making in adopting climate-smart practices for sustainable agriculture and global food production, among others.

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