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CFS Members endorse new Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

The guidelines will support countries in their efforts to eradicate all forms of hunger and malnutrition

11 February 2021, Rome - Members of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) endorsed the first-ever Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition aiming to support countries and others in their efforts to eradicate all forms of hunger and malnutrition by utilizing a comprehensive food systems approach. The endorsement took place during the CFS 47th Session (8-11 February 2021).

The Voluntary Guidelines represent a unique tool addressing malnutrition across the entire agri-food systems in a coherent and holistic manner. They include a wide range of recommendations aimed at reducing policy fragmentation between relevant sectors with a special emphasis on the food, agriculture and nutrition sectors, while also addressing economic, social, and environmental sustainability - all of which have an impact on food systems and have to be addressed at all levels.

Combatting malnutrition in all its forms including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity, is one of the most pressing global challenges for countries today. 

According to  FAO's latest estimates, hunger is on the rise with nearly 690 million people  chronically undernourished and as many as 130 million more being pushed into hunger because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies and the number of adults that are overweight or obese is continuing to rise putting them at high risk for non-communicable diseases, the number one killer globally. More than 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet.

Resulting from a five-year inclusive multi-stakeholder negotiation process, the guidelines are informed by the scientific input of the CFS High Level Panel of Experts and a Technical Task Team from among the CFS Advisory Group constituencies. The Voluntary Guidelines aim to support the development of coordinated, multi-sectoral national policies, laws, programmes and investment plans to enable safe, healthy and nutritious diets through sustainable food systems, to operationalize the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) Framework for Action in accordance with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

"Today is a historic day for the Committee on World Food Security and the entire UN family," CFS Chair and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN Agencies in Rome, Thanawat Tiensin said of the Voluntary Guidelines' endorsement, adding that the next step would be even more important and challenging -  their uptake and implementation at the regional, national and local level.

Presenting the final draft of the Voluntary Guidelines, Hans Hoogeveen, Ambassador of Netherlands and Chair of the CFS Open-Ended Working Group on Nutrition that negotiated them, said that the document represents a concrete tool in the hands of governments, UN agencies, civil society, private sector, financial institutions and other actors that can provide guidance on policies and interventions at local and national levels to address malnutrition in all its forms from a holistic food systems perspective.

FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero said: "FAO appreciates the timeliness of the Voluntary Guidelines to support the implementation of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition by increasing the visibility, coordination and effectiveness of policy and action across food systems for better nutrition recognizing the interconnectedness with better environment, better production, and better lives."

Food systems approach

Food systems shape people's dietary patterns and nutritional status. They are a complex web of activities involving production, processing, handling, preparation, storage, distribution, marketing, access, purchase, consumption, food loss and waste, as well as the outputs of these activities, including social, economic and environmental outcomes.

The recommendations contained in the Voluntary Guidelines focus on promoting transparent and accountable governance, sustainable supply chains, equal and equitable access to healthy diets through sustainable food systems, food safety across the sustainable food systems, nutrition knowledge, education and information, gender equality and women's empowerment, and building resilience of food systems in humanitarian context.

The CFS members today also shared views and presented ideas and proposals on how to promote dissemination, use and application of the Voluntary Guidelines at all levels. The Voluntary Guidelines will also be an important contribution to the UN Food Systems Summit scheduled to take place in September this year.  The guidelines are the only policy instrument negotiated at multilateral level on the issue of food systems and nutrition. 

This week, the Committee is also expected to initiate work to develop new Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment as related to food security and nutrition.

CFS is the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all, hosted and co-funded by FAO.

Photo: ©FAO/Fredrik Lerneryd / FAO
A woman is sorting French beans that she harvested in the morning at one of Njukini Corporative's farms in Taveta, Kenya.