A blog by SI UN Representative in Rome, Liliana Mosca, from her attendance at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) International Symposium, 10-11 June 2019.
“Malnutrition, in all its forms, continues to be one of the greatest challenges in these times, while under-nutrition persists in many countries. We are also witnessing an unprecedented rise in obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in low- and middle-income countries. What is wrong with our food systems? How can we provide healthy and sustainable diets for all, whilst preserving the environment?
The 2-day symposium brought together academics, researchers, policymakers, representatives from civil society and private sector, parliamentarians and government agencies to discuss these questions (and many more), and explore pathways to a sustainable future of food and healthy diets for all.
The discussions focused on four main areas:
- Research, Knowledge Gaps and Needs for Sustainable Food Systems and Healthy Diets
- Governance of food systems for healthy diets
- Building Consumer Confidence in Food Systems
- Transforming Food Systems: What does it take?
The FAO chief, Graziano da Silva, said: “We need to change our focus from producing more food to producing more healthy food.”In fact, hunger is no longer the only major nutrition problem facing humanity. Currently over 2 billion adults aged 18 or more are overweight, of which more than 670 million are obese. Projections estimate that the number of obese people in the world will very soon overtake the number of people suffering from hunger, which currently accounts for about 820 million.The FAO Director-General put forward four measures that could improve people’s diets.
Firstly, countries should put in place public policies and laws with proper incentives that protect healthy diets and encourage the private sector to produce healthier food.
Secondly, governments should promote the consumption of local and fresh food by creating local circuits of food production and consumption. This means improving access to and promotion of local, fresh food.
Thirdly, international trade agreements must be designed to influence food systems in a positive way as ultra-processed food tend to fare better in international trade.
Fourthly, the transformation of food systems starts with healthy soils, healthy seeds, and sustainable agricultural practices.
“The whole food system needs to be readdressed,” said Graziano da Silva as he highlighted the need for growing food in ways that preserve the environment.
The second day, June 11, was also devoted to the High Level Event on the Mediterranean diet. The Director spoke about the impact of cultural, social, and environmental loss of local diets, including the Mediterranean diet that successfully combines the available food in the region. he continued, “if we allow it to disappear, what will be lost is not only the Mediterranean diet itself but also all the culture and the environment that enabled its development”. He pointed out that UNESCO’s inclusion of the Mediterranean diet on the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, denotes not only its health and safety dimensions, but also emphasizes the cultural, environmental, social and economic benefits it holds. To promote the Mediterranean diet could, for many, lead to better health and help curb the rising levels of obesity while fostering sustainable food systems, preserving the environment and empowering local producers.”