Committee on World Food Security

Making a difference in food security and nutrition

24 February 2022 | Remarks by CFS Chair at the Global Leaders' Symposium at the Food for Future Summit 2022

24 Feb 2022

Friends, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to speak with you this morning about a tech-enabled food future. I am especially happy to be speaking on this topic here in the UAE which has committed to become a leading hub in innovation-driven food security. I commend the Government of UAE for its leadership and its efforts to promote healthy diets, produced sustainably.

Ladies and gentlemen,

From AI applications and robotics, to data science and automation, our food systems are becoming a melting pot of science, innovation and tech. Add to these block-chain, alternative proteins, off-grid renewable energy, and the many innovations you are seeing around you, and you have a sector for which tech can help address the enormous challenges we face in delivering truly sustainable development.

Today, the world produces 150% more food on only 13% more land compared with 1960, thanks to many innovations in food production made over the years.

But, are we factoring in all the true costs of such innovation?

The answer is a resounding NO. Our food systems face multiple, interconnected and complex challenges like never before:

  • According to the UN, more than 3 billion people around the world – 40% of the global population – cannot afford a healthy diet; meanwhile, death and disease from unhealthy diets are pushing our national budgets to the brink;
  • Agriculture and food production account for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Agriculture consumes 70% of the world’s fresh water;
  • And, up to two thirds of biodiversity loss worldwide is attributed to food production and land use activities.

What does all this mean? It means that while innovations have had positive impacts, they have clearly not worked for ALL people, or for the overall benefit of the planet.

They particularly did not work for smallholder farmers around the world who produce 80% of the food we eat, but remain mired in poverty face ever worsening challenges from climate change, from conflict, and now from pandemics.

How then, do we achieve a sustainable, tech-enabled food future?

Despite the enormity of the challenges, I remain optimistic that we have what it takes to achieve the 2030 development goals - especially SDG 2 on Zero Hunger.

However, agricultural tech and innovations alone cannot deliver such transformation. Here, I do not mean isolated innovations that institutions and individuals are driving. I am referring to broader innovation in the way we govern of our food systems, what I like to call ‘governance innovation.’

A major hallmark of governance innovation will be adoption by policy-makers of a “food systems” perspective – cognizant of the various trade-offs associated with choosing one pathway versus another. Such a perspective will reward sustainable, nature-based solutions; encourage less energy consumption; promote application of organic over chemical inputs; and apply water efficiency. More important, such a perspective will respect the rights and knowledge of food workers and indigenous peoples through inclusive decision-making platforms and processes like those exemplified by the Committee on World Food Security - CFS, of which I am the Chairperson.

Innovating for success and scale

I am not worried about our ability to innovate. We have lots of brilliant minds here, and beyond, to come up with mind-blowing innovations, for which potential big profits will continue to motivate research and development. But apart from the profit motive, how do we help ensure governance innovation firmly takes root and produces fruit.
Below are some key principles we need for innovative policies and effective governance architecture at the heart of our food systems:

  1. Innovate while protecting and respecting the rights of all stakeholders, particularly the most vulnerable, to participate fairly in decision-making around food systems. Innovation must feature inclusive and participatory decision-making, involving a diverse set of stakeholders - be they smallholder farmers, women, youth, indigenous communities, community-based organizations, consumers, entrepreneurs, or others;
  2. Innovate for food systems transformation to have positive social and environmental impacts by adopting nature-positive and sustainable approaches while ensuring equitable livelihoods. Innovation in the food system needs to ensure that meeting increased demand for food does not compromise our natural environment and its biodiversity, nor lead to social and economic exclusion by society’s elites;
  3. Innovate to encourage open-access solutions, joined-up collective action and differentiated knowledge sharing. Key innovations can be scaled out effectively by reducing barriers that allow new entrants to gain access to financing and technical support, facilitating economies of scale, promoting open-source approaches, developing complimentary infrastructure, and supporting learning-by-doing coalitions that enable the co-creation of solutions;
  4. Innovate to create new interactions and networks to reconfigure value chains and marketplaces to reduce inherent biases; ensure equitable access, include protection for consumers; reduce unintended consequences and support the co-creation of proposed solutions;
  5. Innovate to build ecosystems that allow for the reconfiguration of associated policy, incentives, financial and de-risking tools to promote innovation uptake that is both accelerated and self-sustaining while supporting prioritised food system transformation outcomes.
  6. Innovate to align food systems ecosystems with those of other sectors such as health, environment, consumer protection and especially education and extension services;
  7. Innovate to identify and scale solutions which enable the functionality and resilience of food systems in areas particularly vulnerable to systemic and compounded risks and stressors (e.g., climate extremes, disasters, conflict, instability, economic shocks, pandemics, and migration).

The Committee on World Food Security (CFS)

Do these principles sound familiar? If so, it is because they reflect the very DNA of the Committee on World Food Security. Established in 1974 and reformed in 2009, CFS serves as the foremost inclusive intergovernmental UN platform that connects governments and other stakeholders to agree on science-based food security and nutrition policy guidelines in the context of agri-food systems transformation.

Since 2009, the Committee has delivered globally agreed Voluntary Guidelines, Principles and policy frameworks that are cornerstones of well-functioning Food Systems; on the governance and tenure of land and natural resources; on responsible investments in agriculture; on climate change, water management or empowering smallholder farmers, to name a few. Last year, CFS membership endorsed Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition, as well as Policy Recommendations on Agro-ecology and other innovative approaches. This year, we are working to negotiate guidance on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment, as well as on Youth Employment and Inclusion.


As I conclude I would like to emphasize that individual technologies and innovations are important but are not our “silver bullets.” We won’t invent our way out of the global challenges we face, if we are not willing to innovate the way we govern ourselves and our food systems for truly sustainable development.

As a start, I offer the CFS policy tools and reports which are a valuable set of resources to inspire and guide governments and individuals in the formulation of policies, strategies, legislation, regulatory frameworks; and to empower all stakeholders to build a vibrant innovation ecosystem at global, regional and national levels, to maximize potential impact, and to mitigate unintended consequences.

I encourage you to promote their uptake and continue using the unique CFS global platform.

I look forward to the what promises to be an interesting discussion here today.

Thank you all!