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2021 Debate Insights

Food for thought: Transforming the food system for a better world

Author: Sciences Po student Lydia Jayakumar summarizes the debate session of the fourth edition of the Paris Peace Forum

Date: 12 November 2021


Food for thought: Transforming the food system for a better world

We are at the very precipice of a food crisis, with many countries already experiencing this crisis through food shortages and other difficulties, leading to large sections of the population living with hunger. Hunger affects nearly 10% of the global population, and according to FAO, and the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed up to 132 million people into chronic hunger in 2020. Hunger, food systems and climate change are intrinsically linked, and it is becoming clear that agriculture in its current state cannot continue to thrive in a world that is warming up. The panel ‘Food for thought: Transforming the food system for a better world’ was held at the Paris Peace Forum 2021, where this intrinsic link between food systems and climate change was discussed. Food systems are already in transition, for the worse. Coupled with the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, the severity of this crisis has never been clearer. The transition towards sustainable food systems is one of the big tasks facing the global community.

Climate change’s impact on the agriculture sector is immense. FAO figures show that farmers, laborers, and others in the rural workforce make up a large proportion of the 100 million people at risk of falling below the poverty line due to climate change. Small scale farmers, landless laborers and women who work in agriculture are particularly vulnerable. Gilbert Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), centered the discussion on the situation of countries of the African continent, emphasising the need to focus on the most vulnerable. “There is a predominance of small scale farmers involved in food production, which indicates both low labor productivity and low total factor productivity, and around sixty percent of the rural workforce in the African region is women”, he emphasized the need for a gender sensitive approach to attaining sustainable food systems. This need was reiterated by Assia Ben Salah, Ambassador at Large of his Majesty Mohamed VI, the King of the Kingdom of Morocco, who insisted on the need for inclusive approaches to create an inter-generational link between traditional generational know-how and innovative sustainable methods. She said, “The real solutions to food security will come from the local to the global”. In discussing solutions, the emphasis on moving away from mitigation of climate impact to adaptation of food systems was brought up by Houngbo. “While our long-term goal for over twenty years is mitigation, what small scale farmers need today is adaptation, and yet only about two percent of the global climate financing goes to climate adaptation, and within that the agriculture sector gets even less”, he said.

The big question that the panel kept coming back to was regarding how this transition in food systems would be financed. Within global financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation, there is a serious lack of financing and funding for the agricultural sector. This lack of support was noted by every speaker. Farmers and agricultural workers are the ones who are on the frontlines of climate change impact. “We are seeing droughts and extreme weather events caused by climate change, yet there is a huge lack of support. Farmers are crucial if we want to end climate change. We saw private wealth soar throughout the world during the pandemic, and what we’re asking for is not even a fraction of that wealth”, Houngbo added. Even innovation and research in sustainable agriculture requires financing. Rémy Rioux, CEO of Agence française de développement (AFD) reiterated, “We have the technology, mobilizing and harnessing existing technology is needed for mitigation. The next wave of innovation, or any new innovation, requires financing. We need systems in place that support research on agriculture and sustainable food systems.” The food and finance nexus is an ongoing debate, but our transition to an environmentally sustainable food system depends on how food systems and financial systems will align with each other to achieve sustainable goals and targets.


Contribution by Lydia Jayakumar

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