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Fundamental Change Needed for an Equitable, Sustainable Global Food System


September 23, 2021 • 3 min read

by Victoria Walshe

The UN has warned that more than 811 million people – approximately one in ten of the world’s population – are suffering from malnutrition and hunger, 118 million more people than last year.

Poor and inadequate diets are now the main contributor to the global burden of disease. Some communities are far more at risk than others. This can be due to many factors including: poverty, age, gender, disability, and location, just to name a few.

GOAL sees the effect of these inequalities every day in our work with vulnerable communities in fourteen countries around the world. In the past eighteen months, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed vulnerable communities even closer to poverty and hunger.

In response to increasing levels of food insecurity, global leaders will discuss potential solutions at a United Nations Food Systems Summit on Thursday 23rd September. The Summit aims at creating an equitable, resilient, and sustainable global food system for all.

What are Food Systems?

“Food Systems” refers to the complex network of actors and actions along food value chains. These range from production through transport and processing, to consumption and disposal: “farm to fork” and beyond. Food Systems are connected to all sorts of other global systems, including environmental, market and health systems.

The UN Food Systems Summit aims to mobilise action to ensure access to safe and nutritious food; shift to sustainable consumption patterns; boost nature-positive production; advance equitable livelihoods; and build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stresses to food systems. Approaches to achieving these goals will look different depending on the context. One thing is for certain – it’s going to take global solidarity and collective action. Each Government and every person needs to take responsibility for making our global systems fairer and more equal.

How do we do this?

It will require fundamental change – adaptation to climate change must accelerate and be carried out in locally sensitive ways. Trading interests must not be prioritised over gender equality and human rights.

At home, we must ensure that our national agricultural policy meets the highest environmental standards. Our food policy must also move towards more sustainable diets. Internationally, access to and use of climate-smart agricultural practices must be increased. Inclusion and equality across all of society should also be sought in policy and programme design.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for taking action towards a fairer and more sustainable world for all. While achieving goals such as ‘Zero Hunger’ and ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’ present significant challenges, the seventeen SDGs show that improvements towards one of these interconnected goals will also help to achieve others. If we strive to improve the fairness and sustainability of the Global Food System, we are working towards achieving all SDGs, from ‘Reduced Inequalities’ to ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’.

Ireland is leading the charge in this respect and should continue on this path. At a recent Irish Forum for International Agricultural Development (IFIAD) event, Ireland’s Special Envoy on Food Systems, Tom Arnold, lauded Ireland for its national Agri-Food Strategy 2030. He highlighted how we are one of the first countries in the world to align our domestic agri-food policy with international development and sustainability objectives. Let us continue to build upon this and be a global leader in sustainability and solidarity.

A united response

GOAL works with communities experiencing crises and extreme poverty, and we now know how these global issues are caused by systems of inequality. To combat these issues, we must understand our role in these systems, be aware of what needs to change, and be united in our response. GOAL’s recent #Connected2 campaign encourages the Irish public to notice the connections between Food Systems and Climate Change, between different people and locations around the world, and the interconnected solutions to global problems. Small actions and changes can have significant knock-on effects on global health and wellbeing. Each of us has the ability to affect real change in the world; whether that change is a positive one is up to us all.

#Connected2 – Learn More

Victoria Walshe is Global Citizenship Manager at GOAL.

GOAL Food Systems Discussion Paper: