Joachim von Braun, chair of the Scientific Group for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 has called for an intergovernmental treaty or framework convention on food systems to be ushered in at this month’s UN Food Systems Summit.
Writing in Nature magazine, with fellow authors, he says that in contrast to other fields, agriculture, food security and nutrition do not have an international agreement or convention to consolidate action.
“We call on the UN Food Systems Summit and UN member states to explore an intergovernmental treaty or framework convention on food systems, analogous to the conventions on climate, biodiversity and desertification agreed on in Rio de Janeiro in 1992,” he writes.
“The framework will need to include a strong independent scientific body that provides policy advice in the follow-up to the summit. We recommend that all science organisations and academies with food-relevant research be included in a preparatory process.
“Bringing the tools of science to the table will help to transform the global food system to end hunger and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”
He writes that the UN Food Systems Summit marks the first time scientists have been explicitly brought in to multilateral discussions around food.
“The true costs of food are twice the current market value of food consumption”
And says that governments should allocate at least one per cent of food systems gross domestic product to food research, saying, “Many countries spend only half of that. Least-developed countries should be given aid to reach a similar level.”
To end hunger for the poorest, a special fund should be established, supported by development-aid donors and bonds backed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
He said that approaches to food are shifting — away from production, consumption and value chains towards safety, networks and complexity.
The indirect, adverse effects of policies on climate change, biodiversity loss and health need to be factored in to the true costs of food which are estimated to be about twice the current market value of food consumption globally.
Research priorities should include scaling up solar energy and battery storage technologies to make food processing and preservation more affordable.
Packaging using recycled materials, coatings of nanomaterials and even edible films would keep foods fresh for longer.
“Researchers should develop policy guidelines for educational food labels”
School feeding programmes, with incentives to keep children in education should be progressed.
Researchers should develop policy guidelines for educational food labels and model the impacts of putting taxes and regulations on unhealthy foods.
The health properties of fortified foods and cultivated meats must also be established.
New insurance products aided by remote sensing and weather forecasts would provide cover for lost crops and livestock.
Solar-powered irrigation systems would reduce risk from drought. Smartphone apps would provide farmers with information on local crop pests, weather risks and market opportunities.
Payment schemes are needed to encourage farmers to manage and capture carbon in soils and trees, and to trade it.
“Indigenous peoples food systems need to be better understood”
Protecting the land rights of smallholders, women and Indigenous peoples is paramount, he writes, recommending blockchain ledgers of ownership rights to allocate land.
Researchers need to find ways to restore soil health and improve the efficiency of cropping, crop breeding and recarbonising the soil and biosphere.
Alternative sources of healthy protein need to be advanced, such as plant-based and insect-derived proteins, including for animal feed.
Traditional food and forest systems, including those of Indigenous peoples, need to be better understood and supported in national agricultural research systems.