The Right to Food

Stefanos Fotiou, Head of the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub: “Human rights are vital to achieving more sustainable agrifood systems transformation”

Experts' corner - 19.09.2022

Rome -One year ago, all eyes were on the Food Systems Summit, which brought together millions of people from all around the world ready to take action to transform food systems. In the follow-up, the United Nations Food Systems Coordination Hub was set up to assist countries in further developing and implementing their national pathways. The Hub is led by Stefanos Fotiou, who shoulders the task of turning commitments into actions.

In this interview, Stefanos talks about how human rights are incorporated in the agenda of the Hub as a critical component for achieving sustainable development and leaving no one behind.

SDGs: Facing the challenges to move towards the 2030 Agenda

A combination of factors has resulted in real time crises for many of the most vulnerable people. What is needed for governments to get back on track again, specifically in relation to their commitments on Zero Hunger (SDG2) and No Poverty (SDG1), as well as on Gender Equality (SDG5) and Reduced Inequalities (SDG10)? 

Stefanos Fotiou: The latest State of Food Security and Nutrition report (SOFI) highlights alarming trends. World hunger has been on the rise over the recent years, and as many as 828 million people may have suffered from hunger in 2021. The numbers also show persistent regional disparities: over 20 percent of people in Africa were facing hunger in 2021, compared to 9.1 percent in Asia, 8.6 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 5.8 percent in Oceania, and less than 2.5 percent in North America and Europe.

Children in rural settings and poorer households, whose mothers received no formal education, were even more vulnerable to stunting and wasting, while children in urban areas and wealthier households were at higher risk of becoming overweight. It unveils the other persistent national inequalities and vulnerabilities.

Projections show that we could still be facing chronic hunger in 2030 – at the same level as in 2015 when the 2030 Agenda was launched.

While the world is severely off track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030, this goal cannot be achieved in isolation. Ending hunger requires us to consider food as a system, revealing a range of intersecting challenges that are undermining our progress towards all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Too many of the world’s agrifood systems are fragile, unexamined, and vulnerable to collapse. When our agrifood systems fail, the resulting disorder threatens our education, health, and economy, as well as human rights, peace, and security. As in so many cases, those who are already poor or marginalized are the most vulnerable.

"When our agrifood systems fail,
the resulting disorder threatens
our education, health, and economy,
as well as human rights, peace, and security" 

Science has confirmed that transforming our agrifood systems offers an opportunity to drive progress across the board, from climate action to reducing pollution. This was the rationale of the United Nations Food Systems Summit held in 2021.

Governments must review their current support to food and agriculture to reduce hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms.

True transformative change is the only way to get us back on track – and ensure that we remain on track – towards Zero Hunger and progress towards all SDGs.

"True transformative change
is the only way to progress
towards all SDGs"

Humanity cannot continue with business as usual.  With only eight years remaining before the SDG 2030 deadline, only by investing in sustainable development – driven by transformed and reconceptualized agrifood systems – can we address the root causes of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.

The Food Systems Summit: where do we stand today?

The Summit secured many high-level commitments as well as clear pathways for transformative change to agrifood systems. In which way does the Hub support countries and other stakeholders to follow up on these?

SF: As the Hub, one of our first steps was to reach out to countries and understand what kind of support they need. Out of dozen requests, a few areas emerged as main priorities for all countries. These included, but were not limited to, the following: operationalize pathways into specific, costed implementation and investment plans; mobilize science for understanding and ownership of an “agrifood systems” approach and associated concepts; and foster knowledge and learning through peer-to-peer exchanges of good practices and experiences.

The UN Food Systems Coordination Hub is committed to supporting countries with the implementation of their national pathways and has therefore included in its two-year work plan specific streams of work on supporting the national pathways through thought leadership, means of implementation and mobilization of the Ecosystem of Support.

"The Food Systems Coordination Hub
supports countries thought
meansof implementation
and mobilization of the Ecosystem of Support"

In this regard, the Hub has started supporting the countries in close collaboration with UN Resident Coordinators and National Conveners. So far, we have initiated support for Serbia, Nigeria, and Tajikistan. We also have some pipeline countries such as Lesotho, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Bhutan, and Uruguay.

Of course, we have some criteria for selection of pilot countries and solutions for catalytic investment in agrifood systems transformation. For starters, we look to ensure that national pathways are mainstreamed and translated in the national policy and strategy framework, provide concrete implementation, and reflect broad and comprehensive agrifood systems approach, as well as multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral agrifood systems perspectives and solutions – including for localizing supply chains and expanding private sector engagement. We also prioritize strong national and UN Country Teams commitment to agrifood systems transformations, and results-oriented and sustainable solutions embedded in wider national or UN assistance framework.

I want to highlight that the support that the Hub provides is based on bringing together the assets of the United Nations system and the entire Ecosystem of Support. The Hub is neither a funding nor an implementation body. We support coordination actions.

The Food Systems Summit and human rights

The Summit identified the potential of human rights to encourage and deliver wide-ranging positive change, focus on the most vulnerable and bridge the nexus between normative frameworks and commitments. Why are they so powerful for the transformation of agrifood systems and how does this speak to engagement?

Human rights are vital to achieving healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable agrifood systems transformation. The fundamental point of departure is the right to adequate food. This right is crucial to the enjoyment of all rights, including the right to life, right to health, right to water and the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, with the latter universally declared in 2022. Food should be affordable, accessible, available, adequate, and sustainable for everyone, everywhere. Instead, 828 million people are suffering from hunger and 3.1 billion are not able to afford a healthy diet, with growing numbers of malnutrition, stunting and wasting.

"The right to adequate food is crucial
to the enjoyment of all rights"

The Summit recognized human rights as a lever of change, and the participatory consultative nature of the National Food Systems Dialogues is meant to include various stakeholders in the process. It is also critically important to highlight the role of governments and national authorities committed to putting their national agrifood systems pathways into national implementation, thus bringing forward the obligation of the States to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food in their countries.

The Coordination Hub: supporting countries to walk the talk

Human rights are at the heart of the SDGs and lay ground for the entire United Nations system. What kind of support is the Hub providing to promote this vision through its coordination role? What is your view on the role that FAO should play to contribute to it, in particular on the right to food?

The Hub maintains a strong focus on inclusion and human rights as we work to support countries in implementing agrifood systems transformations. We take a multi-stakeholder approach to all our work by frequently engaging the Ecosystem of Support – consisting of coalitions, action areas, stakeholders, and other relevant entities involved in agrifood systems – to ensure our support is demand-driven and reflective of the diverse constituencies involved in these efforts. We are also establishing a Stakeholders Engagement and Networking Advisory Group, consisting of representatives of youth, women, Indigenous People, producers and the private sector.

One of the ways we foster inclusion is by hosting Food Systems Dialogues on a monthly basis, bringing together United Nations Resident Coordinators, National Convenors, coalitions and other stakeholders, to discuss key topics related to food system transformations. These serve to elevate the voices and perspectives of various actors of support and promote knowledge sharing in a collaborative and inclusive way.

The human rights-based approach (HRBA) is a fundamental component of the Hub’s strategic direction, and we need to draw upon the knowledge and expertise of various UN entities who specialize in this work. The Right to Food Team of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) can help mainstream the HRBA to further assist countries with the implementation of the Right to Food Guidelines and provide policy support to processes related to the national pathways. They can also support capacity development through human rights-based trainings, and via policy backstopping to ensure vulnerable-centred approaches that further strengthen the right to food.

Healthier, more inclusive, sustainable, and equitable agrifood systems have the power to catalyse the achievement of all 17 SDGs. But we cannot achieve this alone. We urgently need to harness the capacities and expertise of the UN system and wider Ecosystem of Support to ensure our solutions are systemic, country-driven and empowering to all rights-holders.

"We urgently need to harness
the expertise of the UN system and
wider Ecosystem of Support
to ensure our solutions are systemic,
country-driven and empowering
to all rights-holders"

The Coordination Hub: monitoring and evaluation

The HLPF 2022 Ministerial Declaration adopted last July makes reference to stocktaking in 2023 in follow up to the Food Systems Summit. Can you tell us how the Hub is monitoring and evaluating agrifood systems transformation, and why this is important for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda ?

Accountability and transparency are essential to human rights. The role of the Hub is to monitor the progress made after the Food Systems Summit. To this extent, the Hub will not monitor impact level indicators of food system transformations (for example, nutrition, resource use or health aspects). The impact level indicators for food system transformation are monitored by FAO and other organizations and are aligned with the SDG Indicators.

"Accountability and transparency
are essential to human rights"

The Hub will track process level aspects of food system transformations related to the implementation of national pathways. This will be a voluntary process. The Hub will also partner with organisations that have global, regional, sub-regional or other level monitoring frameworks and make this knowledge and experience available to the countries.

About the Food Systems Coordination Hub

The Hub serves as the catalyst inside the United Nations system in relation to food systems and the 2030 Agenda. Following the 2021 Food Systems Summit, the Hub is taking on essential coordination functions to bring together food systems knowledge and expertise from diverse constituencies to support national progress on the SDGs in response to country priorities. Hosted by FAO, the Hub’s role is to support countries to further develop and implement their national food systems transformation pathways, relevant dialogues, and other processes, through the coordination of technical and policy support.

About Stefanos Fotiou

Stefanos Fotiou is an expert on environment and sustainable development with 30 years of experience in the United Nations system, private sector, and research organisations. He currently serves as Director of the Office of Sustainable Development Goals in FAO as well as Director of the Food Systems Coordination Hub. In these roles, Stefanos provides strategic leadership and oversees coordination mechanism to support countries on developing and implementing SDGs-based agrifood transformations. He holds a PhD on Natural Resource Economics, a Master of Science (MSc) on Forestry and Natural Environment and a MSc in Information Systems.

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