GOAL View: UN Food Systems Summit highlighted how connected the global food system is to many critical issues. - GOAL Global Skip to content

GOAL View: UN Food Systems Summit highlighted how connected the global food system is to many critical issues.


October 6, 2021 • 4 min read

Last month, activists, businesses, and world leaders, including Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins, gathered for the virtual UN Food Systems Summit 2021.

The Summit, held during the UN’s annual General Assembly, took place in response to increasing levels of hunger and multiplying global crises in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Almost one in ten people globally suffer from the impact of hunger, and the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed people even closer to hunger and poverty. Through our experience of working with the world’s most vulnerable communities for over 40 years, GOAL understands that global issues like food insecurity and climate change are caused primarily by systems of inequality.

The myriad of speakers at the Food Systems Summit emphasised two things. Firstly, it is poorly designed policy and hugely unequal food systems, not a lack of supply of food, that is causing widespread hunger. Secondly, the Summit highlighted just how connected the global food system is to so many critical issues: global health, gender equality, sustainable livelihoods, and climate change to name a few. Moving to a sustainable food system is vital for progression in each of these areas.

Gender Equality

Women’s empowerment and a recognition of women’s roles in the global food system was cited as a key action towards sustainable food systems. Inequality has a significant impact on both nutrition and livelihoods available to women globally. Women are often excluded from ownership and control of land and resources. They are also impeded economically by unpaid and undervalued responsibilities, such as caring for family and community work. To move towards a more sustainable food system, gender equality must be a key part of all policy and programme design. Women and girls should be included in the design and implementation of food systems interventions that recognise women’s existing and often invisible workloads

Indigenous populations

The Summit also emphasised the incredible efforts to which Indigenous people globally have gone to protect our planet. Adaptation to climate change must accelerate, and be carried out in locally sensitive ways, as the impact of climate change varies across crops, regions, and contexts. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President of the Association for Indigenous Women & Peoples of Chad, stated in her Summit address that indigenous peoples, many of whom already maintain plant-based diets, must be supported in their fight for self-determination. Changes to the global food system must be grounded in the rights and expertise of the people who tend to the ecosystem.

Interconnectivity – achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Poor diets are now the main contributor to the global burden of disease, and unsustainable practices in the Global Food System are increasing vulnerability to climate disaster, while climate change disrupts the global market and access to nutritious food. To move to a sustainable food system, we will need an integrated and multifaceted approach  including access to education, sustainable livelihoods, and clean water and sanitation. Each of the SDGs are interlinked, and in order to achieve them we must prioritise sustainable food systems.

The Next Generation

Youth representatives at the Summit made it clear that the current Food System is failing younger generations. Sophie Healy Thow, Irish activist & Co-chair of the Summit’s Youth Liaison Group, urged swift and effective action: “We have nine harvests left in this Decade of Action, and we the young people of this world have committed to large scale actions across the food systems.” Globally, the agricultural sector is responsible for 70% of child labour, while 26% of all forced labourers in the world work in the food supply chain. To make sure the future is better for young people globally, serious and coordinated climate action, reduction in inequalities, and above all, a move to sustainable food systems will be vital.

Next Steps

The Food Systems Summit will hopefully be a first step towards these goals. However, voices that should be far more prominent in these discussions should be from rural communities, and small-scale farmers who make up the majority of farming and food productions. These communities play an essential role in the global food system, and without them, we cannot have a sustainable food system.

In 2020, GOAL reached over 1.2 million people with food and nutrition programming and over 158,000 people in building livelihoods, most often through agri-food initiatives, using a market systems approach. This vital work is life changing and often lifesaving but cannot fix a broken global food system.

The true success of our global food system should be measured by the extent to which it creates economic opportunities for micro-enterprises which are environmentally, socially, and economically equitable and sustainable. Local governments, public services, and private companies of course each have essential roles to play in the creation and maintenance of resilient, equitable, and sustainable food systems. But it is rural communities, indigenous people, and younger generations, whose wealth of knowledge and focused action that should be supported far more actively than we currently see.

Victoria Walshe is Global Citizenship Manager at GOAL.

For more information on GOAL’s work to highlight global interconnectivity, see GOAL’s #Connected2 campaign.