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Everybody wants a better Food Systems Summit. Let’s go and build that together.

Published: 26 Nov 2020
Author: Peter Bakker
Type: Insight

Geneva, 26 November 2020: We just had two days of the Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good event – a new milestone toward next year’s UN Food Systems Summit. As the CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, as well as in my role as a member of the Advisory Committee to the UN Food Systems Summit, I’m proud to help share the private sector perspective and insights as we prepare for the Summit in 2021.

The levers of change for the food systems are clear: we need to change the way in which we produce, process and consume food and galvanize global actions and commitments to improve our food systems to provide safe, nutritious food for all within our planetary boundaries – and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

This is no easy task, though. The urgent and ambitious agenda of food systems transformation goes beyond business as usual. And beyond the power and reach of individual players. Realizing the transformation, and unlocking the business opportunities it represents, will require systemic change for economic, environmental and social resilience, as well as pioneering new forms of collaboration between all stakeholders involved – so the business community, the public sector, civil society, international organizations, youth representatives, farmer leaders, as well as each and every one of us and other key actors along the food value chain.

There are three big ideas we heard during the pre-event Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good that I would like to particularly emphasize for our journey toward the systemic transformation of the food systems.

  • The first one is the move towards regenerative agriculture, where I expect to see some real commitments coming out of initiatives like One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B) and others.
  • The second one is around dietary shifts: rethinking the kind of food we consume for the health of people and planet.
  • And the last big type of ideas is around zero waste, both at the farm loss level, as well as the consumption and food waste level.

I agree with the UN Secretary General who stated that the Food Systems Summit needs to be a “People Summit”. All of these big ideas will and should be centered around people. In particular, this concerns farmers at the early parts of the value chain, whose operations need to be made more resilient in adapting to climate change and biodiversity loss. And on the other side of the value chains, this also concerns the consumer, with the main focus being on health aspects.

I am pushing hard to ensure that this will also be an “Action Summit” focused on solutions that can scale up fast.

And that is exactly where the role of business in all of this comes in. Business has a clear voice at the table in the food systems discussion, as so many core elements of our food – from farmers to those who process food and those that ultimately sell and market it – depend on the innovation, expertise and dedication of the business community. We want to work together as transparently and openly as possible and ensure that businesses support the success of the Food Systems Summit as well as systemic change.

By now, we have convened a Private Sector Guiding Group with 27 business associations selected to create geographical, supply chain, and business size diversity and true business representation as we prepare for the Food Systems Summit.

The Private Sector Guiding Group, strongly supported by the work of the WBCSD Food & Nature Program, has the clear aim of helping to mobilize food and agriculture companies, multi-national corporations, SMEs, business associations and other sectors that help our food system thrive such as finance, transportation, information and digital companies.

The five Action Tracks of the Summit are, in my mind, a brilliant choice for the mobilization of solutions. But where I believe the magic will actually happen is between those Action Tracks. We need to find solutions that benefit more than one Action Track. That’s what we call “game changing initiatives”. So in this Private Sector Guiding Group, we’ve done an initial inventory and came up with 95 of those game changers, and we’re open to receive more.

But there is more business can and should do. We know that we should also focus on showcasing the willingness of the business community to set ambitious commitments. For instance, the Responsible Business Pledge for Better Nutrition is an example that will really change the way we think about what we will serve consumers.

WBCSD is now also publishing, in stages, a roadmap for food systems transformation. The first roadmap chapter, focused on healthy and sustainable diets, is out and goes into great detail over the targets for dietary shifts and the business actions and solutions to deliver those targets. Early 2021, we will publish the chapters on the production of food, the livelihoods around food, and lastly, the policy changes that we need to scale all up to real scale.

The Private Sector Guiding Group has developed a Statement of Ambition that clearly outlines the private sector’s commitment to the Food Systems Summit and achieving success by working together to help implement its outcomes. This statement of ambition will be developed further as the work of the action track materializes, to see where the business community can contribute and lead best.

In my opinion, the big challenge in the coming eight months is to find the middle ground between the conceptual big ideas and the bold ambitious plans and statements that individual companies have made (like Unilever and IKEA) or will be making. What are the big bold actionable solutions that business in collaboration with all stakeholders can develop for fast scaling?

The Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good events have shown real dialogues and diversity within a greatly organized, action-led framework for the Food Systems Summit. 

I want to end this article on an important point: the importance and need of trust. Some might say that the current trust in the Food Systems Summit is too low to have any productive conversations. But if we are nine harvests away from disaster, then we have no time anymore to not trust each other. We are all on the same planet. Everybody wants a better Food Systems Summit. Let’s go and build that together.

Businesses are ready and all in. And my team and I are here to further support the Private Sector Guiding Group as well as the broader private sector as a core vehicle for the success of the Food Systems Summit in 2021.

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