The United Nations is convening the Food Systems Summit in September 2021 to support bold action for positive transformation in the way we produce, distribute and consume food which—taken together—is our biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Food systems are a complex topic, affecting communities in many ways—from production to consumption to environmental impacts to health implications. One way to engage people more broadly in the Summit is through the Food Systems Summit Dialogues. As food systems touch all of our lives, through the dialogues, we have the opportunity to contribute to actions for and thinking about the new food systems of the future. 

Together with our partners, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has led three dialogues intended to engage stakeholders in Europe, North America, and Latin America, but all dialogues touched on global impact of food systemsparticularly on our climate. All three dialogues brought together a kaleidoscope of perspectives, allowing a unique mixture of stakeholders to engage more openly and talk to people that they might not normally meet with.

The very first online Food Systems Dialogue marked World Environment Day and focused on the connection between the environment and building back better from COVID-19. Organised by CCAFS and Bayer, the event saw representatives from business, civil society, research, governments and farmers, all converging around a common interest in averting food and climate crises as we respond to the pandemic.

The Latin America dialogue

CCAFS then hosted a second dialogue, again in partnership with Bayer, which opened the floor to people from across Latin America, being simultaneously translated into English, Spanish and Portuguese. The Latin American Food Systems Summit Dialogue highlighted the importance of collaborative work between public and private sectorsas well as civil society and those who work across food value chainand proposed solutions to support the sustainable recovery of food systems in a post-COVID19 era. 

The dialogue called for alliances to transform Latin American food systems, taking advantage of the region's potential to use science and innovation to mobilize major changes to build resilient, sustainable and evidence-based food systems to address poverty and help vulnerable groupsparticularly smallholder farmers, women and youth.

CCAFS Regional Program Leader in Latin America, Deissy Martínez Barón, explains the actions needed to unleash holistic and inclusive transformation processes that promote changes in behavior, habits and norms in the way we produce and consume our food.

The north america dialogue

A few weeks later, CCAFS , collaborated with Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and Bayer on a similar dialogue, but for our audience based in North America. Bayer’s Sara Boettiger met IRI’s Walter Baethgen after the event to reflect on what they found most stimulating about the dialogue. 

Walter and Sara talked not only about the importance of listening to voices that you don’t normally hear, but also the importance of finding ‘integrators’ who understand the science, how decisions are made and what implementation entails.

Such figures can connect the different parts of the food system to help tackle its challenges and complexities. As Lawrence Haddad, chair of that event, pointed out at the dialogue: “We have to talk to people we don’t agree with. They’re the most important people we talk to.” Walter pointed out the importance of events like the UN Food Systems Summit. He noted that while many outside the scientific community’s bubble may feel remotely detached from UN international forums, the dialogues can really help to bring us closer.

CCAFS continues to work with our global partners to feed in ideas and seed deeper partnerships to get the transformative actions our planet needs on the table. The summit organizers have established five Action Tracks that are aligned to the summit’s key objectives. They offer stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds the space to share and learn, with the hope of fostering new commitments and partnerships or accelerating initiatives already underway.

CCAFS is deeply engaged in the third action track on boosting ‘nature-positive’ production and the fifth track on building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress. The CCAFS-led Transforming Food Systems Under a Changing Climate initiative brought together more than a hundred partners organizations last year to set out a climate-smart roadmap for food systems. The initiative resulted in a call for 11 transformative actions across 4 action areas: reroute, de-risk, reduce, and realign.

CCAFS will continue to broaden and deepen its partnerships and dialogues to put these actions on the table this September.

The Food Systems Summit Dialogues mentioned here were the result of a partnership between CCAFS and Bayer.

Alison Rose is a Science Officer with the Flagship for Climate Service and Safety Nets at CCAFS and is based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.