FAO Liaison Office in New York

World Food Day: Secretary-General announces his hope to convene food systems summit


The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Antonio Guterres, announced his intention to convene a food systems summit, in his video message to the 2019 World Food Day. “Transforming food systems is crucial for delivering all the Sustainable Development Goals. That is why I hope to convene a Food Systems Summit in 2021 as part of the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals,” said the Secretary General.

This year’s observance in New York was celebrated on 17 October with Member States, members of the UN, academia, civil society and entrepreneurs that gathered in the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in an event was organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Programme (WFP).

In his opening remarks, the President of the General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande stressed the need to make nutrition advocacy mainstream, as taking action on Zero Hunger would entail moving forward with all of the 2030 agenda goals. “Food is central to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,” affirmed Mr Muhammad-Bande. “If there should be one element that it is necessary for us to work on, on a daily basis, it is whether or not we produce enough food that is available, affordable, and within the reach for all.”

The President also noted that growing international focus on small-holders farmers brings hope, however, it must be complemented by the development of local food systems, including linking producers with consumers through adequate infrastructure.

Mr Muhammad-Bande’s statements were echoed by Carla Mucavi, Director of the FAO Liaison Office to the United Nations, who highlighted the need to fix current food systems: “While seemingly unrelated, poor diets are responsible for the double burden of malnutrition, where obesity and different forms of undernutrition coexist.“

This year’s World Food Day theme focuses on the importance of “healthy diets for a world without hunger. “World Food Day provides an important opportunity to reflect on how to tackle hunger and malnutrition, considered one of the challenges of our time, as the number of hungry people in the world continues to increase – reaching over 820 million people, according to this year’s report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World,” said Ms Mucavi.

 A healthy diet is one that meets the nutritional needs of individuals by providing sufficient, safe, nutritious, and diverse foods to lead an active life and reduce the risk of disease. Unfortunately, nutritious foods that constitute such a diet are not available or affordable for many people, and the number of individuals who are overweight and obese are increasing in every region of the world. 

The correlations between food, health and the environment were explored in a panel discussion moderated by Coco Ushiyama, Director of the WFP office in New York.

 Marion Nestle, Professor Emerita of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University spoke of the link between health and nutrition and the relevance of a food systems approach. “For me the three most important public health problems in the world are not having enough food, having so much food that you become overweight, and the effects that agricultural production and food systems have on the planet”, said Ms Nestle. “Food system thinking is relatively new, but it has become overwhelming important in tackling these issues.”

Executive Director of World Health Organization Office at the United Nations Dr. Nata Menabde explained the urgency behind such thinking by stating that “We live in a world where the right to health and nutrition is violated on a daily basis.”

Maria Elena Varas brought the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) perspective on the table by placing emphasis on the roles of multi-stakeholder collaboration and technology in view of achieving large-scale impact.

Underscoring the important role that small and medium-sized farms can play in strengthening regional food systems and advancing biodiversity, Amanda Merrow discussed how carbon sequestration and regenerative farming techniques can be used to combat climate change. Within just 10 years, Ms Merrow and her partner have turned Amber Waves Farms from a small non-profit farm into an agriculture community supported program that covers nearly 30 acres of vegetable and grain production.

Rounding up the panelists was global tv personality, chef Grace Ramirez, whose mission is to empower children, women, and minorities through educating them about every aspect of food, including creating a healthy relationship with it. Chef Ramirez remarked on the need to provide young children with first-hand experiences about where food comes from and how it is grown to stimulate healthy eating habits.

The 2019 World Food Day event in the UN also featured speeches by Ambassador Lazarous Kapambwe, Permanent Representative of Zambia to the United Nations, and Ambassador Yasuhisa Kawamura, Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations. They stressed the necessity for all actors to take measures that will ensure food security for all, highlighting in particular the actions needed to address hunger facing women and girls. In closing, the representative of Japan announced that his country will be hosting a Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2020.

The full event can be viewed on UN Web TV here

Related links:

-          World Food Day Statement by the President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande

-          World Food Day Statement by the Director of FAO LON, Carla Mucavi

-          The ABCs of healthy diets

-          How much do you know about healthy eating? Let dietary guidelines steer your choices