The Urgent Need for Food System Transformation

28 Jul 2021

The transformation of the entire food system is an urgent requirement that can no longer be delayed. That is the premise for the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit, which began yesterday in Rome.

Such a transformation demands profound thinking and drastic changes in order to confront the challenges we are facing: Challenges that concern not only the food system but also the life of our communities and the safeguarding of ecosystems, currently in great peril. From this perspective, food systems unquestionably play a key role. Using an international summit to tackle these issues certainly sends a strong and virtuous signal. But if this meeting cannot highlight some absolutely crucial priorities, then it risks being unable to help bring about the transformation we need. It is therefore important to set out some fixed points to try to push the outcome of this meeting in a positive direction, so that we can achieve a tangible change in global food policies and the systems that depend on them.

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I would therefore like to elaborate on three aspects that I believe cannot be postponed and which must find space within the summit’s agenda. The first is the need to escape the imperatives imposed on us by an economy that I see as profoundly harmful to the quality of the environment and social relationships. This economy is based on the hegemony of growth, profit and financial capital. Insisting that the public interest, and with it the prioritizing of common and relational goods, must exist as a vital point of reference, is a preliminary condition to facing our future challenges. We cannot overcome them without radical change in the economic and financial paradigms that have contributed to creating the current catastrophic situation in which we now find ourselves.

The second point is the reassertion, not only in principle but also in substance, of the centrality of human rights. The food sector is still home to gross abuses and exploitation, often on a par with slavery, which cannot be tolerated in the 21st century. This centrality must be essential to starting any discussion, and must be agreed to by everyone as a commitment that is crucial to the transformation of the whole system. In this context, among the most in need of protection of their rights are women: Gender equality must be asserted decisively, due to the role that women have always had and continue to have in the production of food and ensuring the food security and sovereignty of the people. These elements must be placed at the top of the agenda for change, because without them there is no hope for a real transformation.

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Finally, this great challenge can only be dealt with by leaving space for governmental autonomy at a local level. It is within neighborhoods that we can see the capacity to affect change, to strengthen the bonds that all of us must establish with grassroots organizations, volunteer groups and the people who are dedicating their lives to promoting a food system in harmony with nature. At the local level, policies can become reality. This does not mean not having a global vision and not feeling part of a bigger project, but the bigger project can only move forward when it is driven by millions of people who are realizing this ambitious and useful transition in the places where they live.

For all these reasons, I am siding with the 300-plus civil-society organizations from around the world that are courageously and in a great spirit of solidarity organizing their own event during these days, in parallel with the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome. An event that does not exclude dialog, but rather carries it forward and opens it to everyone. To be effective, dialog must be inclusive and not involve only the usual privileged elite of the very economic and financial system that is responsible for the current disaster we find ourselves living through. Dialog and sharing are elements that can bring about the transformation of the food system that we so desperately need. And, I should add, that will allow us to achieve the objectives we should all be pursuing, not only for the health of our environmental system, but also for social justice and harmonious coexistence among peoples. Only in this way can we create a system that guarantees food sovereignty and ends the problem of malnutrition in all its forms, with the most inhuman leading to people still today dying of hunger.

 

Article published on La Stampa, July 27

 

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