Agri-Food Systems webinar

Transforming Agri-food systems for biodiversity!
Exploring pathways for convergence between the agri-food systems and biodiversity agendas, the webinar represented an original moment to bring together two communities for common ambitions in the pivotal year of 2021. As preparatory work for CBD COP15 and the UN Food Systems Summit is under way, this event highlighted how this unprecedented opportunity had the potential to lead to more inclusive, effective and coordinated solutions that positively impact nature, climate, food security and health.

Agri-food systems count among the most pressing contemporary challenges and opportunities to trigger positive changes for nature and people, for a more sustainable and biodiversity-friendly world. Their transformation represents an important leverage to bring progress for biodiversity, climate and people. Conversely, evidence is increasingly shared that a biodiverse world is a critical condition to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular those related to food systems.

From unsustainable farming practices and value chains, harmful agricultural subsidies, imported deforestation to food security, healthy nutrition and diet changes, climate-smart agriculture and agroecology, green jobs and equity in supply chains, the evolution of agri-food systems offers many opportunities for a green and equitable recovery. While some very ambitious plans – including the EU Farm to Fork Strategy– offer innovative solutions to this end, a strong science-based policy dialogue is needed to align action plans, with an eye on our planet’s health, human wellbeing, and global prosperity needs.

In hopes to bridge the remaining gaps between the biodiversity and food systems communities, Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework . EU Support hosted a webinar on April 13, 2021, under the theme “Transforming Agri-Food Systems for Biodiversity and Sustainable Development. Moderated by Dr. François Pythoud and under the patronage of the co-Chairs of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, the event featured high-level representatives from UN processes, academia, and other stakeholders to move from strategic discussions into concrete proposals.

“We must transform agri-food systems for but also by biodiversity, breaking the silos between communities.” Dr. François Pythoud, Special Envoy International Sustainable Agriculture, Federal Office for Agriculture (Switzerland) and Chair, FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Personifying these ambitions of converging agendas, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit and Elisabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the CBD, respectively provided opening and closing statements. Both underlined the unprecedented space for synergies between two communities that had been kept separated in the past. 2021 and its series of global milestones was presented as the moment to commit, implement ideas, collaborate and trigger real positive change, from the international architecture of nature and food strategies, to the small farmers depending on biodiversity for their subsistence.

Patrick Caron (French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development) and Ana María Hernández Salgar (Chair, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – IPBES) opened the first panel discussion by launching a call for a thriving science-policy dialogue within each sector, but, above all, between them.

Based on the outcomes of the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) on Food Security and Nutrition and the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, they showed the interdependency between nature and agriculture, and proved that multi-governance, science-based interventions would open the space for positive, informed, implementable and effective action. While Ms. Hernandez recalled the need to listen to science but also to different knowledge systems, and to promote transformative agro-ecological practices, Mr. Caron elaborated on four pillars to this transformation:

  • Actionable knowledge including metrics
  • Better models elaborated using various data sources
  • Strengthened scientific cooperation
  • Expertise mobilization mechanisms to address multi-sectoral challenges

“We need a shift of paradigm and do business as unusual. Food systems are at the heart of the change.” Patrick Caron, Vice President for International Affairs, University of Montpellier (France), Former Chair of the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) on the Food Security and Nutrition Steering Committee (2015-2019)

Professor Lindiwe Majele Sibanda (Director and Chairwoman, African Research Universities Alliance Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Pretoria) elaborated on these observations, recalling experiences from around the African continent. From knowledge to action, she underlined that development programmes should be designed in a “win-win” perspective, with a focus on ensuring livelihoods to those most vulnerable while fostering a healthy environment.

Participants and panellists alike agreed on the emergency to act, and to turn 2021 into a Super Year for action towards sustainable agri-food systems and the inclusion of biodiversity concerns in and across sectors. This fostered a space for lively discussions in the webinar’s second segment, exploring pathways and operational solution for biodiversity-friendly agri-food systems.

Gerda Verburg (Scaling Up Nutrition movement) opened the floor by stating that change goes further than systems and governance, involving people, behaviours and all levels of society. On the question of solutions, she highlighted the relevance of the involvement of the biodiversity community in the various food systems dialogues under way, the role of reforming the economic sector, in particular biodiversity-harmful subsidies. She reminded that Ministers of Agriculture and the Environment must work together as “friends, not enemies”.

“Good food is love. But current food systems are destroying our planet. It is bankrupting our health. It’s pushing to malnutrition and poverty.” Gerda Verburg, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Coordinator, Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement

The event also allowed for stakeholders to present their ambitions and hopes for more action. Jhannel Tomlinson (Young Professionals for Agricultural Development) and Suneel Pandey (Vice President Procurement & Supply Chain (Raw Material), ITC Ltd) agreed that decision-makers had a critical part in creating the enabling conditions for young people and the private sector to carry out their role of contributors and implementing partners to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Observing that a youth community was already ready to get involved in “green” employment and to support the transformation of our economic systems, Ms. Tomlinson elaborated on the need to move beyond tokenisation, to give youth a seat at the decision-making table and to make the training, skills and opportunities available so that new generations can become agents of change. A similar analysis was made by Mr. Pandey, who presented the various processes in place to ensure the sustainability of agri-food value chains, while questioning the existence of mechanisms to embed nature and food quality convergence within business models.

Youth are eager to acquire and uptake green, innovative knowledge, technologies and solutions, and to develop sustainable agribusiness models to drive transformative outcomes.Jhannel Tomlinson, Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD)

Fuelled by a lively discussions and questions from the audience, the webinar triggered thoughts on solutions to overcome the apparent competition between biodiversity and thriving food systems and showed that, not only are both sectors complementary, but that one cannot thrive without the other.

Without healthy nature, we cannot have quality nutrition & good health. […] The Post2020 biodiversity framework will be an indispensable pillar of food systems’ transformation.Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity

“We need a holistic lecture of food systems and their implication for food security, our environment and biodiversity, etc. The UN Food Systems summit will engage each & everyone of us.” Dr. Agnes Kalibata, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit

The organizers closed by thanking panellists and attendees, hoping that the workshop represented one step forward in bringing together the biodiversity and agri-food systems and looking forward to fruitful developments on the road to COP15 and the UN Food Systems Summit.

“Talking about change: we are going to do more, different, better with a critical contribution to the post-2020 biodiversity framework’s 2nd objective: meeting people needs.” Basile van Havre, Co-chair, Open-Ended Working Group on the Post2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

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