Food Systems Under the Microscope During Alliance and FAO World Food Prize Event

October 20, 2020

“Nothing less than a radical transformation of agri-food systems will bring us closer to a hunger-free world.”

The pre-recorded words of Qu Dongyu – Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – spelled out the theme of this high-level World Food Prize side event.  The event, Building More Resilient and Sustainable Food Systems for Improved Global Food Security and Nutrition, was co-hosted by the Alliance to End Hunger and FAO Liaison Office for North America, and featured leaders in global food and agriculture research and policy.

Keynoting the event was the 2020 World Food Prize Laureate, Dr. Rattan Lal. Dr. Lal, the Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and founding Director of the Carbon Management & Sequestration Center at the Ohio State University, who spoke on the essential nature of viewing food systems holistically from his unique vantage point as a soil scientist. “All things in nature are ‘hitched’ to one another,” stated Dr. Lal. “Growing more and more only to waste more and more and degrade the environment is not a sustainable system.” With regards to soil, Dr. Lal explained that healthy soils – while not always leading to gains in yields or wealth – can contribute to a healthier world. He went on to explain how both technological advances and policy changes can positively affect soil health and other environmental factors.

Introductory remarks were also made by Vimlendra Sharan, Director of the FAO Liaison Office for North America; and Rev. David Beckmann, President Emeritus of the Alliance to End Hunger and 2010 World Food Prize Laureate. Mr. Sharan reminded attendees of the incredible progress the world has made in reducing poverty and hunger, but also stressed the distance we have to go – made clearer by the shortfalls of food systems exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Rev. Beckmann highlighted the need for advocacy in the U.S. context, “The U.S. government has historically been a leader in mobilization around global food security… Now more than ever, Congress needs to know that the issue of global hunger is important to us.”

Barbara Stinson, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, also made special remarks that again underscored the urgent need to address whole food systems, “We are seeing the world converge on the absolute need to address all the needs of the food system simultaneously… we cannot afford to have tradeoffs between various components.”

Moderated by Rob Bertram, Chief Scientist for USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, a high-level panel brought in additional expert voices in food systems including Máximo Torero, Chief Economist at FAO, and Lawrence Haddad, CEO of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the 2018 World Food Prize Laureate. Máximo Torero pointed to the fundamental shortcoming of how our community often analyzes food security. “We normally talk about the resilience of the household or farmer level. We rarely talk about the resilience of the entire system. We need to find policies that minimize the necessary trade-offs to realize what we need.” He went on to underscore the importance of disseminating data in a way that ensures everyone in a food system – from farmers to policymakers – are able to utilize data to optimize food systems.

Finally, Lawrence Haddad dove into the policy perspective of food system improvements. “Three billion people in the world cannot afford a healthy diet. This is the new definition of the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have nots.’ How do we change food systems to fix this?”  Haddad then explained what he saw as four policy mechanisms that need attention: investment in agricultural research and development; public procurement of nutritious foods (vs. simply caloric) for institutions such as schools and hospitals; cash and food-based safety nets; and incentives to female entrepreneurs, who are systemically discriminated against.

You can view the entirety of the event by clicking HERE.