Chapter 4

Food Systems Summit Overview

Background

The first-ever UN Food Systems Summit was convened by the UN Secretary-General on 23-24 September 2021 in conjunction with the High-level Week of the UN General Assembly. The Summit served as a capstone moment for an 18-month process designed to empower all people to leverage the power of food systems to drive our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and get us back on track to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It offered a catalytic moment for public mobilization and actionable commitments by Heads of State and Government and other constituency leaders to take this agenda forward throughout the Decade of Action. The Summit took a fully virtual format in light of the ongoing circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Programme Overview and participation

The Summit programme focused on harvesting the outcomes and commitments to action emerging from the Summit process. The Summit – originally intended to be one full day on 23 September – continued through mid-day on 24 September due to high interest by the Member States in making statements. A final version of the programme can be found on the Summit website and all content is available on-demand on the Summit’s virtual platform.

Overall, the Summit garnered 37,000 registered delegates and was viewed by more than 50,000 people from across 193 countries.

Key Outcomes and Takeaways

The Summit delivered on a range of outcomes as a result of its 18-month global process, shepherded by the Summit’s Advisory Committee with considerable efforts by support structures and various self-organizing constituency groups. These outcomes and takeaways included, but were not limited to, the following:

  • The Summit successfully elevated the discourse and political relevance of food systems on the global agenda and in all countries by working through traditional actors, but by also bringing new or marginalized actors to the table. This crowding in of new actors sets the table for a robust UN system-wide follow-up effort, led by the RBAs, and continuing to build on Summit outcomes in partnership with a broad range of groups.
  • The Secretary-General’s Chair Summary and Statement of Action called on the world to keep its promises for a better future through food systems that work for people, the planet, and prosperity. It outlines how progress in five key areas at the national and regional levels would amount to a global shift in making progress on the SDGs. The five areas, informed by the Summit’s Independent Scientific Group, Action Tracks, Levers of Change, and the Summit Dialogues are: (1) Nourish All People; (2) Boost Nature-based Solutions; (3) Advance Equitable Livelihoods, Decent Work & Empowered Communities; (4) Build Resilience to Vulnerabilities, Shocks, and Stresses; and (5) Support Means of Implementation. It also describes the approach to follow-up from the Summit.
  • A Food Systems Summit Compendium was posted online, sharing an overview of the engagement process and the richness of findings, knowledge, and contributions generated in the lead-up to the Summit by all workstreams. Among other content, this included links through to policy briefs and more than 2,000 solutions compiled by Action Tracks and levers of change teams, synthesis reports from national and independent dialogues, and a Science Reader featuring research and more than 50 briefs by the Scientific Group and its global partners with state-of-the-art, solution-oriented knowledge, and evidence to inform the transformation of contemporary food systems to achieve more sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems.
  • Overall, 165 Member States – including 78 Heads of State and Government – made statements at the Summit speaking to the importance of food systems in advancing the 2030 Agenda nationally and globally. Of the 148 Member States leading national dialogues, 103 submitted National Pathways for food systems transformation by the time of the Summit. These are online and will continue to offer a basis for realizing the vision of the 2030 Agenda in particular country contexts with a range of stakeholders. Pathways are still being submitted after the Summit moment as well.
  • The most prominent message by the Member States called for international and regional cooperation and COVID-19 recovery. The next were commitments to ensuring food security, eradicating hunger, and improving nutrition. A desire to take action towards climate change mitigation and adaptation was also expressed, including making agricultural production climate-resilient and reducing GHG emissions. Care for the environment and ensuring rich biodiversity were likewise highlighted. Support for small and family farmers and rural populations, through such means as investment, technological support, and extension services were a priority. Science, technology, research, innovation, and investment were highlighted frequently.
  • Bold commitments were made by all food system actors, including significant financial commitments by some governments and other partners to support transformative action for food systems domestically and internationally, as well as more specific initiatives related to nutrition and ending hunger.
  • Several multi-stakeholder initiatives and coalitions emerged with commitments from the Member States and other stakeholders in order to align behind delivering on national and regional pathways for food systems transformation. These included multi-stakeholder announcements focused on zero hunger, healthy diets, universal school meals, food is never waste, agroecology, sustainable productivity, blue and aquatic foods, decent work and living income, and AIM for Climate, as well as others, contributing to boosting nature-based solutions, building resilience, and unlocking finance, innovation, and other means of implementation.
  • In total, 218 global commitments were posted to the Summit’s online registry by the time of the Summit, and more continue to come in. Of the initial batch: 29 Advance equitable livelihoods, decent work, empowered communities; 89 Boost nature-based solutions; 42 Nourish all people; 29 support Means of implementation. 20 have a digital focus; 48 have an innovation dimension; 24 have a focus on finance. Not all announcements have yet been captured in the online registry.
  • Strong declarations, commitments, and statements were made by each of the Summit’s self-organizing constituencies, including the Champions Network, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, Interfaith leaders, private sector, producers, and youth – representing hundreds of millions of organizations and people around the world.

Communications

In complement to the programme, the Summit Secretariat and its partners drove a range of communications and public engagement activities to engage a much wider audience during the course of the Summit and the activities leading up to and following after it.

  • #FoodSystems4SDGs 17 Day Countdown Campaign: From September 6-22, a 17-day SDG countdown campaign was launched; directly engaging with 40,000+ users and a potential reach of 92 million users. The SDG countdown campaign also highlighted 50+ op-eds and thought pieces.
  • Shared Meals: On September 19, the Summit prompted stakeholders to organize Global Shared Meals and “Sustainable Sundays” that encourage individuals to take small but meaningful action in their own contexts to help build the awareness and momentum that will be key to achieving the SDGs and can continue long after the Summit.
  • The Summit – September 23 & 24: Across all social media channels, the Summit directly engaged with 34,000+ users and had a potential reach of 125 million users.
  • Coverage across the two days of the Summit, in addition to the5 episodes of the BBC series, Follow the Food includes total coverage from press releases, interviews, statements, and press events in more than 1500 outlets globally and in all languages with a potential audience of more than 1.7 billion.

Next Steps

The Summit laid the base for accelerated action on food systems to achieve the SDGs, and yet it clearly noted that the Summit moment was just the beginning rather than the end of these efforts. The momentum built through the journey to date will need to be maintained.

The Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General noted that the UN system – led by the Rome-based Agencies – will move rapidly to finalize the approach to follow up that will draw on the efforts of the whole UN system and its partners.

Chapter 1 – Overview of the Food Systems Summit Process

Over the course of 18 months, and in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, the Secretary-General’s Food Systems Summit has engaged hundreds of thousands of people from around the world in an ambitious effort to accelerate action to transform food systems to realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In the context of the Decade of Action, as both a “People’s Summit” and a “Solutions Summit”, the Food Systems Summit has been a catalytic moment for global public mobilization and motivating actionable commitments by various stakeholders.

Chapter 2 – Key Inputs from Summit Workstreams

As part of the Summit process, over 147 UN Member States led National Dialogues. Their outcomes are being consolidated into national pathways, which are clear visions of what governments, together with various stakeholders, expect of food systems by 2030. Member States and a wide range of experts and stakeholders have contributed more than 2200 suggestions for accelerated action. The Action Tracks have clustered this rich input in a systemic way to build communities of practice and foster new partnerships. The Scientific Group consulted broadly and made a robust contribution to the evidence base underpinning much of the Summit’s work. The UN Task Force helped to mobilize over 40 key global institutions to bring knowledge and expertise. Through the Champions Network, Global Food Systems Summit Dialogues, and over 900 Independent Dialogues, people around the world have offered ideas on how to transform food systems.

Chapter 3 – Overview of the Pre-Summit

UN Food Systems Pre-Summit was held from the 26 – 28th July 2021, at the FAO in Rome and on-line attendance.  More than 100 countries came together over the course of three-days to discuss how they will transform their national food systems to drive progress against the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The official pre-summit programme featured sessions dedicated to four decisive “levers of change”, including women’s empowerment, and human rights.

Chapter 4- Summit

The UN Food Systems Summit will launch bold new actions, solutions, and strategies to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems. The Summit will awaken the world to the fact that we all must work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes, and thinks about food.