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Diverse champions appeal for more inclusive food systems at UN Food Systems Pre-Summit

ROME – Equality campaigners, community leaders and academics took centre stage during the second day of the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome to call for countries to transform food systems to be more inclusive.

The official programme featured sessions dedicated to four decisive “levers of change”, including women’s empowerment, and human rights.

Speakers tackled issues including the need for greater recognition of land tenure rights, the right of Indigenous Peoples, the links between humanitarian and development sectors, and gender-responsive food systems.

As from the outset with this “People’s Summit”, UN leadership welcomed this approach and reaffirmed its commitment to an inclusive and transparent process during the Pre-Summit.

“The Secretary-General was very clear that this Summit would be about including everyone,” said Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, during the opening press conference.

She added that the structures across the Summit leadership groups, including the Advisory Committee, have been deliberately shaped to be inclusive. “For instance, of our 29 members, a third of them are civil society and we have representation from indigenous groups, from farmers, with important voices from young people. There is, out of the 29, one [from the] private sector,” she said.

Today’s “Bold Actions for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Food Systems” session came on the heels of Rwandan President Paul Kagame calling for increased investment to African women farmers access the productive resources they need.

“It’s one of the key issues that we have to grapple with: how to support women smallholder farmers, how to make sure they actually have the productive resources that they need to transform food systems, how to ensure they actually have right to the land that they cultivate,” said UN Food System Summit gender champion Dr. Jemimah Njuki, who is Director for Africa at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

“There are 1.7 billion rural women and girls in the world – more than one-fifth of all humanity. It is unacceptable that they make up almost half the agricultural labour force, yet they are more likely than men to live in poverty and hunger,” said Sabrina Dhowre Elba, the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Likewise, in a joint statement, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for children and young people to be at the heart of food systems transformation citing how their nutritional health has been hit the hardest even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

In moderating the session, “Transforming Food Systems Together – Youth Actions for our Present and Future”, Victor Mugo, who is Co-chair of the Youth Liaisons Group,
Highlighted how “the youth have led from the front, and are actually exemplifying that we are not the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today.” Fellow youth champion Yugratna Srivastava echoed this urgency, saying, “For children and youth of the world, food systems transformation is a matter of justice between generations and people.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights and Co-Chair of IPES-Food Olivier de Schutter led a panel discussion on how a human rights approach to food systems could deliver the Sustainable Development Goals alongside keynote remarks from Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“Food is and should be treated as a public good, a common and a human right,” said fellow panellist Wenche Barthe Eide, Associate Professor emerita at the University of Oslo.

Indigenous leaders also discussed the unique contributions and needs of their communities around the world. Food systems champion Jessica Vega Ortega, who is also Co-President of the Global Caucus of Indigenous Youth and Member of the LAC Indigenous Youth Network, said, “We have a vital role to play preserving and guarding nature and our identity. We have an enormous wealth of knowledge, ancestral wisdom, traditional practices, languages and cultures. However, we are disproportionately affected [by extreme poverty].”

The day’s events followed urgent appeals during the official opening from world leaders, the UN Secretary-General and Pope Francis to commit to transforming food systems.

The Pre-Summit concludes on Wednesday, July 28 with statements from Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, and the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed ahead of the Summit in New York in September.