MIL-OSI United Nations: Deputy Secretary-General’s Press Conference on 2021 Food Systems Summit

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Source: United Nations secretary general

Thank you, everyone, for joining us here today to mark the beginning of our Food Systems Summit. It has been two years in the works.

As you may have heard from the Secretary-General, it couldn’t have come at a more crucial moment. Put simply, our food systems are failing to deliver what we need for our people and the impact that they are having on the planet.

Let’s consider that, every day, over 800 million people are hungry. Or that millions of children are starving, while nearly a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. And this waste, today, is worth over a trillion US dollars. And that for me doesn’t seem to make very much economic sense, and what we have been speaking about through the last two years is how we make this work.

Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. At the same time, two billion men, women and children are overweight or obese. Our current consumption patterns are expected to generate over another trillion dollars in diet-related health costs.

Meanwhile, the recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report is yet another stark warning informing us that our temperatures will be reach the critical thresholds of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, 10 years earlier than predicted. And the way that we produce, consume and distribute food is a key factor.

It’s not news that we face tremendous and interconnected challenges in our world today.

But we do need to send that message of hope and it needs affirmation of our ability to work together. In this Summit, we have found something quite remarkable.

We have found that food offers us hope. Through sustainable food production systems, it is possible to feed a growing global population while protecting our planet.

But this only can happen when we work together.

Tens of thousands of people around the world joined us in this remarkable journey to arrive at this moment. We are convinced that we have generated a new momentum for the recovery from COVID that is oriented towards achieving the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and a world that really is free of hunger, where healthy lives are ensured and our planet is protected.

The Secretary-General has issued a call to action for all of us, particularly governments. He has urged us to keep the promise we made through the 2030 Agenda, which is a shared vision for people and planet.

But it is also an opportunity. Food systems hold a potential to do even more for people and planet. And a well-functioning food system can help prevent conflict, protect the environment and provide health and livelihoods for all.

Food systems do differ all over the world and so there is not a uniform prescription for change. Yet, transformative actions are needed everywhere, building in some transformations that are already happening in some regions. But sometimes, we need to go that step further if we are to make the necessary transitions to realize our goals.

Talking about food is not always easy. It touches so many aspects of our cultures, our economies and our environments, and it invokes some pretty strong feelings.

Today shows what we can do to make that effort to productively engage with one another.

Throughout the rest of the day of the Summit, we anticipate an echo of commitments announced earlier by youth, farmers and Indigenous Peoples with statements from more than 150 Member States, including more than 85 Heads of State and Government. I have to say this process has had full engagement of Heads of State and Government around the world. They will be reaffirming their commitment to delivering on the 2030 agenda, which is why we have this Summit in the first place. It is the SG’s contribution to accelerate action towards the 2030 Agenda and, in particular, SDG2.

I’m pleased to join with other leaders like the ones alongside me virtually. Good to see you, gentlemen, who are stepping up to scale up action, with urgency. 

We heard that there was an announcement from the U.S. and also, from many of our countries in Africa yesterday and today.

One thing does remains clear, however. No single community or country, however powerful, can solve these challenges alone.

We need everyone around the table. Everyone needs to be in the tent. Including those who may not putting the best behaviour forward. That is the only way we can get them to change. Transitions mean that business models have to change. Transitions mean that cultures have to address what happens between their families and the community, and the environment. 

The Summit is not about privileging any particular group or perspective. It does bring everyone into the discussion, and we have spoken about the transitions that are needed if we are to have a better recovery from COVID.

Today is a reminder of what we are capable of. It also encourages us to remain relentless about the efforts that we need to make.

This agenda is about being demand driven with those who produce the food until it gets to the table. More health, more in tune with our environment, and at the end of the day, good for all.  

Thank you.

[Tom Vilsack makes opening remarks]

**Questions and Answers

Evelyn, please. The microphone, please. Thank you.

Question:  Mrs. Mohammed, as well as the Secretary of Agriculture, the African Union official, the Finland Foreign Trade Minister, welcome on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association. I look forward to hearing the full briefing whenever you’re able to get the communications up. Stéphane’s working very hard on that.

Okay. One question to you. You’re going to participate in a big gala affair on Saturday, is it, at Central Park? Do you hope to raise money from it? What do you… which of your many projects are you going to stress, the food, the education, what?

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you so much and for joining us again today…

Yes, the Global Citizen event has been happening for a number of years now, and we go every year. And I think the attraction there is that we’re speaking to an audience of young people, those that hold really the responsibility of caring what the future will mean for them and for future generations. So, it’s always an opportunity to interact with, really, an audience that we don’t often have that interaction.

In the Food Systems Summit we have had, this has been through the national dialogues because, as we designed the process, we wanted to be true to our word that this would also be about people; it would be about solutions, and those solutions really are in the hands these days of young people.

So, in the Global Citizen Concert, we will be talking about the nine years left to go and what everyone has an opportunity to contribute to individually and collectively. There will be people on stage who will be saying what they are doing as part of their governments’ efforts, as part of the efforts of donors to invest in the SDGs. So, there will be a number of audiences. But for me, my audience is young people, how they take up this baton and continue to get the nine years through to the 2030 agenda.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Deputy Secretary-General:  All 17, you know. I’ve always said that, you know.

[Mr. Vilsack answers a question]
 
Spokesman:  Thank you. Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press.

Question:  Thank you. Appreciate it. This is probably a question predominantly for the Deputy Secretary‑General. I have two. One is, is there a total of the pledges, financial pledges, made in conjunction with this summit, or might we get one later today?

And the other is, I did hear you about the desire to be inclusive in this summit, but as I’m sure you know, there were quite a number of objections to it from a roster of civil society groups, indeed, from the UN’s own Special Rapporteur.

If I understand these complaints there, that this has been too top‑down, too tech‑focussed and too corporate. How do you respond to that?

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much. Well, you’ve heard one of the contributions to food systems around the world from the United States, and we’re hoping some of those countries that have got these pathways that they brought forward will benefit from some of those funds as we work with the United States Government and our country teams around the world.

In terms of inclusiveness, I actually don’t know of a more inclusive process than the one that has been had on the food systems process. And I can say that from the point of view of taking a four‑year process on the SDGs. People look at the SDGs. They see themselves in that, and we wanted to reflect that in this people solution summit.

Now, no one size fits all to the discussions that are happening. So, we try to crowd in as many constituencies and experiences and representation as possible.

Governments were there writ large across – governments not just at the national level but at the local levels. So local governments came; mayors came.

When it came to constituencies, civil society was perhaps the most represented. Even those who did not want to come in because they didn’t believe we were taking up their issues, we stretched out and had individual discussions with those groups through the whole of this process.

We will never get it right, but we can always work towards getting it right. And, so, for us, the pre‑summit was an opportunity to bring all those voices in across over 150 countries. National dialogues were not government dialogues. They were dialogues of civil society. They were dialogues of business. They were dialogues of science, indigenous people, youth.

Right from the beginning when we set up action tracks and we set up champions, we said, where are the youth in this? For the first time, we had three co‑chairs. We didn’t have two. And this included bringing in youth. Many of these youth came from civil society. So, I do believe that we have not answered 100 per cent the concerns of everyone, that that, I think, is more than anyone could possibly do, but we’ve gone a long way to doing that.

I’ve heard that this is elite capture. I’m not sure which part of it is elite, and it would be good to hear about that. I’ve heard that this is a colonial capture. Well, I mean, you’re speaking to Agnes Kalibata and Amina Mohammed, and we are all independents, baby. So, there ain’t no colonial capture there.

We’ve put a process in where we have experienced being ministers on the ground for environment, for agriculture. We have been activists in civil society. We would not participate in a process that did not include people.

So, I mean, I think as a DSG, I would say we’ve done the best we can on behalf of the SG and the UN system. All the agencies, particularly the Rome-based agencies, made considerable efforts to bring their existing stakeholders and many more.

From the perspective of me as a person, I think I took this, as Agnes Kalibata did, 24/7 to get us to where we need to. Why? When we started this process, we didn’t have COVID, and we went into it with COVID. We kept this process alive, seeing the food systems as the silver lining in the dark cloud of the pandemic. And I think that what we’ve done today is to bring that out to show how we have engaged the whole world, region by region, constituency by constituency, and I think the real pressure right now is how do we take this out of the summit into the homework that we need to do to get the nine years finished on SDG2. I think that we’ve done good foot forward, much more to do, but we’re happy with that.

[Ville Skinnari and Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki make remarks]

Spokesman:  We’ll take a question from the floor, and then we’ll go to the screen.  Ibtisam, Ibtisam Azem?

Question:  Al‑Araby al‑Jadeed. So, my… first part of my question is to the US Secretary of Agriculture and to any participant who would like also to answer it, and it’s about healthy food. Healthy food is very expensive, even in industrial countries like the US. And the question is, how do you want to make this more accessible money‑wise to the people who need it the most? But there is also another issue in the US, the issue of accessibility in areas outside the cities in agricult… sometimes rural areas that you don’t have healthy food… even in food banks, that they don’t deliver healthy food. It’s mostly food in cans and other issues. So, is there a plan, a practical plan, to tackle this problem?

And the other question is to the SG. If you could talk about this issue, the issue of healthy food in your aid delivery and how you work it in conflict pla… areas. Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary?

[Mr. Vilsack answers]
 
Spokesman:  Thank you, sir. DSG?

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you, Ibtisam, for those questions. I think, on the access question, what has come through is this whole multi‑sectoral approach that we need to have to food and that it isn’t siloed and that we can see the multiplier effects; we can see the better efficiency and resources. So, where you would go around the table in a country, different sectors would be holding on to their appropriations and spend it in that.

But now, if we can see that water, agriculture, power is all coming together to take care of the same issues in those places, then we can get the efficiencies better. We can get better access. We’d reduce the cost of food, reduce the waste.

So, that’s the most complex part is, first of all, getting people out of their silos and their sectors to work together and that it all serves the same goal, which is getting healthy food on the table to everyone.

It’s often that we’ve seen in these dialogues that those that produce the food are less likely to get the most nutritious and adequate food for themselves and their children, the women. And we need to flip that around, and so, we’ve seen a lot of discussion here, how to bring indigenous food in small island states where we know that processed food has been the bane of their health system. I mean, really, you go into a small island state and you find that Diabetes Type A is over 80 per cent of some populations’ health burden. It’s huge. And, so, here, that discussion’s been had.

And this is where we did bring business into the room because they have to be part of the solution given that they’ve been a large part of the problem in many countries.

The other piece of this is that, as we come to talk about the transitions, what does a green transition or a blue transition mean? And if it is to affect the food systems, then we have to know the conversations that we have on energy transitions, where we are taking off‑grid solutions to local areas, that this must be integrated with whatever we’re doing with the food systems, on storage, preventing food loss and waste.

But then we also talk about connectivity. How do we keep young people engaged? And as such, there, we open up the markets at the local level, which then feed the rest of the country, across borders. It becomes a global food system, as it were.

And technology’s not getting where it ought to. Closing that digital divide and connecting communities, whether it is to have a cash‑free society so that women can actually get their goods to market and get paid for it or it is really the technology that you need to ensure that you get the best possible food out of the land that you have, and then can you do that with all sorts of technology today.

The question on conflict and what we’re doing in those areas, the humanitarian side of the house has done incredible work in making sure that they bring nutrition into aid, what we use in terms of food aid. And it’s in different ways. Local food production for procurement happened years ago. I remember it in my own country when that changed, the policy changed; it really became, for women and for children, a really big part of how this fed the local level, school feeding. It became a part of the education, which we didn’t have when we talked about nutrition. So, there was… there’s a huge body of knowledge and things that have been going on that we found. We’re not starting afresh in the Food Systems Summit.

But how do you bring it all together? And I think the Secretary of State talked about positive discrimination. It’s really important for us to put people first to the solutions and not just to bypass them, as they say, to the top. So, I think the UN response you will see at the local level has also included the development side of the house, which has, for a long time, invested in the agriculture system, their own base agencies, again, huge amount of science, research that has gone into the food and what is the best for those communities.

[Mr. Skinnari answers a question.]

Spokesman:  Thank you. We’ll go to Thin Lei Win from The New Humanitarian. Please go ahead.

Question:  Thank you very much. I have two questions for the Deputy Secretary‑General. You talked about the number of people who are hungry and malnourished. What concrete changes do you hope will be coming from the summit in the lives of people who are living in food insecure places?

And second, there’s also a push for humanitarian sector aid workers to think more broadly around food and not just in terms of emergency aid or food aid but a systems thinking. Can you explain why that is important and how that will help transform food systems and hunger? Thank you.

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much. Well, what I do hope we take out of the summit, you’ve heard already some of our colleagues talk about the coalitions that are coming together to contribute to what should be scaling up the response at the country level. What we have is a follow‑up mechanism where we will use the footprint of the UN in convening and helping governments to coordinate the implementation of those pathways. It’s why we’re saying it is the country level that is the most important for us in the nine years to go.

Where the global agenda comes in here is the support for the gaps that we will see at that local level, and there will be many. There will be means of implementation, finance, technology, the latest science to get things done in half the time, investments needed for, as I said, the energy transitions that we need to make.

So, you will see a set of five organising principles that will help us to get these pathways stood up. And let me just say here, it is not the government’s first time to look at a plan. What is new here is that we brought the sectors together, and you have to do that today. The resources are not there, and we’re finding that actually we have… not only will we get the scale, but we will also get the urgency behind moving three, four sectors together behind an issue that you need to see done with, which is zero hunger.

So, a lot of emphasis on our follow‑up mechanisms, what our agencies will do on the ground, how we will bring governments and all stakeholders together. We’ve never had this much interaction with young people, indigenous people in the manner in which we have had it seen today.

And I have to say, the rights question that has been engaged with has got us… for instance, Burkina Faso is putting the right to food into their Constitution where they didn’t have it before. South Africa is reinforcing their right to food with the access piece and elaborating on it. These are now setting high ambition in the Food Systems Summit and what we want to do on making this a reality. As someone said, let’s go beyond the speeches and into implementation.

It will require a huge response from the international community on funding. Now, some of that, we’re seeing as we speak to the recovery of the pandemic. It’s the response now that we want to see. If the SDRs (standard drawing rights) are on the table, how many of them are going to be able to be accessed by countries that have the most vulnerable, the largest share of those people living in an unequal world, and how do we make that connect with the food systems? And that’s what we hope that, with the UN, our partners, that we can do better, both on the humanitarian side, the development side, as well.

In the humanitarian side of the house, I think the reason why we want to put much more emphasis in what we’re doing and how we’re handling food in crises is because we should not be just preparing for a crisis alone. We should be more resilient to that in being able to adapt to crises when they come and stand and not have either a weather event, an extreme weather event, or a conflict. Just take the rug out from under vulnerable communities and you find them in extreme hunger and losing many lives.

What we want to do is, as you are giving that food, we are looking at those deserts. We’re looking at where these… the foresight planning that needs to go of where these crises will come and how can we build more resilience into this and better adaptation.

The two new emphases that we brought into the foods discussion has been climate action. So, climate change has thrown up a whole lot of issues around adaptation and resilience, and this we’re bringing into the food systems and the work of the humanitarian side.

The other side ‑‑ and it’s two sides to the same coin, I would say ‑‑ is the health piece. The health piece is a global issue. You hear us talk about obesity, malnutrition, but it is also about those who are living with hunger every day and that we’re trying to get past this in many other crises that we have.

I know that that we had Afghanistan on the agenda earlier today, and we’re looking at 18 million people who are in crises right now. We have another 18 million who could go into crises. So, what are the two things we need to do? First, ensure that the humanitarian response today can be funded and that we can, in a complex situation that is so fluid right now, get to those people on the ground.

We were already there with them before the Government fell, and so what we need to do is to hold on to what we have and scale up the response, whether it is in Afghan women and young people feeding themselves from the production that they have there or access through the various different supply chains that have been broken and need to be put back again.

But I think what’s also important is not just saving the lives; we now have to save the livelihoods, and we know that, in a place like Afghanistan today, we are not able to do that right at this moment, but we do know that, if we don’t and the economy collapses, we have a whole lot of other lives that are going to be lost.

So, how can we gain from what we’ve done, learn what we can do at the local level better protecting rights and particularly women to do this. The food system discussion is coming in as a solution to many, many of the challenges that we have, whether it’s access to livelihoods or to education. Are we using it as an entry point or, in this particular case, where women and girls are going to be most affected?

[Mr. Vilsack answers a question]

Deputy Secretary-General:  Just one addition.

Spokesman:  Yes. Go ahead, please.

Deputy Secretary-General:  It’s me.

Spokesman:  Oh, sorry. Sorry, sorry. [Laughter]
 
Deputy Secretary-General:  Just a very quick addition to what the Secretary had to say. We found that, within the process of the Food Systems Summit, that the Commission for Food Security had its high‑level Panel of Experts in Science, and there was a huge, I think, brain trust of information. There were tools there, but they need to get out to the countries, and we need to build the capacity, science and research capacity, at the local level, as well.

And, so, here, you’ll see a huge compendium of what has gone out there. The research group that was stood up showed us how much more there is to do on the science piece. So, just to add that, while we’re looking at new research, there’s an abundance of existing research that needs to be lifted and taken to the country level so they can have a lot of this leapfrogging that is needed for them to get the scale and the agency of food production through their countries and their systems. Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you. DSG, thank you. Secretary Vilsack, thank you. Dr. Mayaki, thank you. And Minister Skinnari, thank you. And Agnes, thank you. And you have to return to the GA podium, so we have to release you.

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