“Hidden” Costs of Our Food Systems

SOFI launch event. Credit: FAO

By Zoltán Kálmán
ROME, Sep 3 2020 (IPS)

Five years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda we are far from
achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to
the recently launched SOFI
(The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World
2020), we are not on track to eradicate poverty, hunger and
malnutrition. On the contrary, with the current trends, the global
number of undernourished people in 2030 would exceed 840 million.
Moreover, WHO has reported alarming rates of overweight and
obesity, globally affecting 39% and 13% of the adult population,

What are the reasons?

The SOFI Report identifies conflicts and climate-related shocks
as main causes, adding that even in peaceful settings, food
security has worsened, due to increased inequalities and economic
slowdowns affecting access to food for the poor. Unhealthy diets
contribute to increasing rates of overweight and obesity, creating
serious social, health problems, triggering heavy burden on public
health expenditures. Our broken food systems have negative impacts
on the environment as well, leading to biodiversity loss, soil
degradation, increased GHG emissions, etc. Food losses and waste,
as preventable consequences of unsustainable food systems, are also
contributing to food insecurity. This year’s SOFI Report makes a
clear reference to some of the externalities, the so-called
“hidden” costs of our food systems. It
quantifies the increased medical costs: Diet-related “health
costs are projected to reach an average of USD 1.3 trillion in
2030” and the costs of climate damage: “The diet-related social
cost of GHG emissions related to current food consumption patterns
are estimated to be around USD 1.7 trillion for 2030 for an
emissions-stabilization scenario”. In addition, the costs of
inaction on biodiversity loss, described by
a recent OECD report
, should also be taken into consideration:
“The world lost an estimated USD 4-20 trillion per year in
ecosystem services from 1997 to 2011, owing to land-cover change
and an estimated USD 6-11 trillion per year from land

The shocking figures confirm the urgent need for an
overall assessment of all positive and negative
externalities of our food systems
. Results of this
assessment, based on neutral science, could be a solid foundation
for policy decisions to elaborate and apply appropriate policy
incentives aiming at more sustainable food systems. Scientists
agree that transforming our food systems is among the most powerful
ways to change course and realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance that in 2021, UN
Secretary-General António Guterres will convene a Food Systems
Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
As UNSG said: “Transforming food systems is crucial for
delivering all the Sustainable Development Goals.”

According to the concept of the Summit “we are all
part of the food systems
, so we need to come together to
bring about the transformation that the world needs”.
Transformation of our food systems should be a bottom-up, inclusive
process, where all stakeholder groups are involved: FAO and other
UN organizations, governments, local communities, private sector,
civil society, academia, famers’ associations. In this regard,
the unique, inclusive and multistakeholder model of the UN Committee on World Food Security
(CFS) could apply. The reports of the
High Level Panel of Experts are valuable, relevant instruments and
the CFS policy
recommendations and other CFS “products”
(adopted by
consensus) can also provide proper guidance for governments and all
other stakeholders in their policy decisions.

To enhance the role of private sector in the process of
transforming our food systems, it is much appreciated that the new
management of FAO decided to prepare a revised strategy for the
private sector engagement, following the recommendations of FAO
governing bodies.

From FAO Members’ perspective, the basic values such as
transparency, accountability, inclusivity, neutrality and
independence and regular impact assessments could be guiding
principles of the new FAO private sector engagement strategy. For
the sake of transparency and accountability, it
would be desirable to make available some basic information on
existing private sector partnerships (main objectives, the
financial and non-financial contributions, etc.). Naturally, it
requires the (hopefully granted) consent of the private sector
partners. What does it mean if they do not agree? It might mean
there is something to hide and this lack of transparency would be a
matter of serious concern.

FAO has an important role and responsibility to ensure, as
honest broker, that private sector partnerships follow the
principle of inclusivity, address the real needs
of people and contribute to eliminating poverty and hunger. FAO
should guarantee the participatory and needs-based approach and
make sure that all private sector investment projects and
initiatives are developed in consultation and close collaboration
with national governments, local communities, civil society
organisations and farmers’ associations. This would increase
ownership of the rural communities. In addition, FAO could help
countries with policy advice to create the enabling economic policy
environment where private sector finds its profit interests while
the investments are serving the needs of the local communities,
contributing to their development.

Neutrality and independence of FAO has been a
great value and it should be preserved, in particular when private
sector engagement is extended to fields like policy dialogue, norms
and standard setting. In this regard, appropriate process for
selecting partners should be in place to reduce and manage any
potential risks (conflicts of interests, reputational risks,
interference in standard setting, etc.).

In addition, compliance with CFS policy
and other CFS “products”, such as the
RAI principles and
the Voluntary
Guidelines on Land Tenure (VGGT)
, could be a prerequisite for
private sector partners wishing to engage in partnership with FAO.
Why? Because CFS “products” are relevant instruments, they can
guide governments and all other stakeholders in their policy
decisions. CFS “products” are adopted by consensus, after
inclusive, multistakeholder discussions, including by the Private
Sector Mechanism at CFS. Compliance with the CFS VGGT is a rather
serious issue, statistical figures clearly show that in many parts
of the world land grabbing situation has been worsening also in the
past decade.

In order to improve efficiency and effectiveness of private
sector partnerships, it is essential to regularly assess
their impacts
, possibly involving external, independent
experts. Appropriate benchmarks should be in place to understand
the extent to which the private sector partnerships contribute to
the achievement of SDGs, in particular SDG 1 and 2, eliminating
poverty and achieve zero hunger. Based on these assessments,
private sector partnerships performing well should be scaled up,
and those with poor results should be improved or terminated.

All in all, private sector has an essential role to play
(engaged with due respect to the above principles) to achieve the
common goals. As Agnes Kalibata, UN Special Envoy for the 2021 Food
Systems Summit has put it: “We believe in a world where healthy,
sustainable and inclusive food systems allow people and planet to
thrive. It is a world without poverty or hunger, a world of
inclusive growth, environmental sustainability, and social justice.
It is a resilient world where no one is left behind.”


The post “Hiddenâ€
Costs of Our Food Systems
appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Zoltán Kálmán, Ambassador, Permanent
Representative of Hungary to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies
in Rome, Member of the Advisory Committee of the UN Food Systems

The post “Hiddenâ€
Costs of Our Food Systems
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
“Hidden” Costs of Our Food Systems