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The next steps after the Food Systems Summit

Experts' corner - 04.10.2021

This opinion article written by Juan Carlos García y Cebolla, FAO Right to Food Team Leader, was published in El Pais on 4th October 2021. The following text is a translation of the original text in Spanish.

 We live in times with a tendency towards the superlative, there is no proposal that is not considered key. In this scenario, it is difficult to have clear ideas about what to do and which way to proceed. To manage the complexity, It helps to narrow things down, distinguishing levels of priorities and relevance.

On September 23, the UN Food Systems Summit took place. The meeting had generated a multitude of debates from the first moment it was convened by the Secretary General last year. In addition to the myriad global conversations, there has been a great number of regional, national and local discussions and initiatives, which in many cases have meant progress in bringing new issues and new voices to the agenda.

Now it is time to understand how we can get the most out of these efforts. There are two aspects with a strong presence in the Summit process and that will be important to continue moving forward, both have to do with decision-making processes and their connection with the needs of all people and the interests of different groups. That which, somewhat pedantically, we call governance.

First, we need to improve national and local decision-making mechanisms on food systems to respond to local problems, as well as to unblock supranational mechanisms. Without well-anchored positions at the local and national level, governments and other actors do not have enough guidance to tackle in depth some of the global debates, where all parties have to look beyond their main agenda to reach operational consensus. Likewise, without this linkage to national forums, global conversations can be self-absorbed and have limited influence. We have much to do to improve multilateral governance mechanisms. But, one of the most promising paths is to build on the national debates and processes that the Summit has achieved and to follow up on them.

Secondly, we need to focus on young people. Not only is it urgent to create opportunities that facilitate their economic insertion, but also to allow them to participate effectively in decision-making. The different international processes of policy dialogue point towards these objectives. However, it is not always easy to find a deep or widespread understanding of what it means and why it is important.

Without a concrete and accelerated incorporation of young people into training and decision-making, it is difficult to imagine that proposals to transform food systems or respond to challenges such as climate change, will have sufficient and lasting support to be successful. The decisions we make today will have an impact on tomorrow, not only in the results, but also in the distribution of costs and benefits. There is no reason to expect the youth of today and leaders of tomorrow to feel compelled to uphold resolutions that did not take them into account, and which they may even consider unfair. 

We will not be able to transform food systems, to make them contribute to general well-being and to the realization of human rights (such as to adequate food, health or gender equality), if we do not improve the governance mechanisms that connect the local and the global levels, and incorporate young people into decision-making. So, let's get down to business.

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