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About the symposium

Adequate nutrition is essential for health, growth and well-being and every person on this planet has the right to nutritious food. Yet, 793 million people, or one in every nine, go to bed hungry. They lack even the basic food to meet their energy needs. Hidden hunger or lack of adequate vitamins and minerals (in particular vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc), affects even more people: an estimated 2 billion. Not eating a balanced diet is another form of malnutrition that can lead to suffering from obesity, an issue that is increasing at an alarmingly fast rate, affecting approximately 1.9 billion people worldwide. Overweight and obesity are a risk factor for diet related noncommunicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and others.

To tackle these issues, 164 Members of FAO and WHO attended the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) that was co-organized by FAO and WHO, in Rome, on November 2014. They were joined by 164 civil society and private sector organizations as well as other UN and intergovernmental organizations, and acknowledged that current food systems are being increasingly challenged to provide adequate, safe, diversified and nutrient rich food for all that contribute to healthy diets.

The Conference adopted the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and its Framework for Action, and governments committed to eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition worldwide. Among others, Member States committed to:

  • enhance sustainable food systems by developing coherent public policies from production to consumption across relevant sectors to provide year-round access to food that meets people’s nutrition needs and promote safe and diversified healthy diet.

One year later at the historical global summit, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted to guide global development through 2030 while ensuring that no one is left behind. The SDG Goal 2 “to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” as well as many other SDG goals reiterate and reinforce the commitments made at ICN2. Further building momentum for nutrition, the Decade of Action on Nutrition from 2016 to 2025 was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in April 2016, following the recommendation of the ICN2. Its first pillar focuses on food systems for healthy, sustainable diets.

The Decade of Action creates an enabling political environment for turning commitments into action. However, for this to translate into actionable programmes, countries need additional technical support. Therefore, FAO and WHO have proposed to hold the International Symposium where practical solutions and successful country experiences in implementing sustainable food systems will be shared. In this way, the Symposium will also be an opportunity for participants to update the global community on those actions countries have taken for complying with ICN2 commitments. 

Expected outcomes

At the end of the Symposium, participants will have an increased understanding of the different elements of the food system; from production and processing to marketing and consumption. Participants will then have an additional set of tools to shape food systems to improve nutrition through healthy diets. There will also be a better understanding of capacity building needs for implementing the ICN2 recommendations.

As a follow-up to the ICN2, the Symposium will contribute to the continued dialogue, engagement and collaboration between country governments and stakeholders. It will provide a platform for a diverse group of participants focusing on different aspects of nutritional issues in their countries. The symposium will be a place for them to connect and agree on ways to continue to share, listen and identify innovative solutions that enable food systems to deliver healthy diets for improved nutrition.

The symposium will not be an intergovernmental meeting nor will it result in a final declaration or political document.

Symposium sub-themes

The Symposium will concentrate on three sub-themes that together provide a comprehensive picture of food systems and their actionable entry points for promoting healthy diets:

  1. Supply side policies and measures for increasing access to healthy diets: to exchange views and country examples on improving nutrition by sustainable agriculture diversification, reducing food waste and improving post-harvest management, food processing for improved nutrition value, product reformulation, bio fortification, food safety and ways to facilitate market access will also be discussed. A particular attention will be given to forests to identify the challenges and opportunities for exploring this important and nutritious food resource. 
  2. Demand side policies and measures for increasing access and empowering consumers to choose healthy diets: successful examples of nutrition-sensitive social protection, nutrition education and awareness raising, regulations on food labelling and advertisement, and strategies to empower women as key-food system drivers will be showcased.
  3. Measures to strengthen accountability, resilience, and equity within the food system: to discuss and showcase concrete examples of linking data to policy and programme design, monitoring and evaluation, to exchange views on ways to shape comprehensive multi-sector and multi-stakeholders policies effectively. This sub-theme will also showcase country examples of  maintaining functioning food systems in crisis, including areas affected by climate change