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The 2023 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture

The 2023 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture

Written by

Yara Matar, Leon Schlick

Published on

February 2, 2023

The 15th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture ( GFFA) took place from January 18-21, 2023 in Berlin, entitled "Transforming Food Systems: A Global Response to Multiple Crises." The forum brought together over 2,000 visitors from government entities, think tanks, international organizations, the private sector, and academia to participate in panels and networking events covering a range of food systems and agricultural topics. Alongside the forum, the world’s largest informal conference for agriculture ministers took place on January 21, 2023 and included 64 ministers of agriculture from all over the world.

The forum took place in the midst of the current food crisis, which has pushed the number of people grappling with acute food insecurity up from 135 million people in 2019 to 345 million people in 2022. This is paired with growing concerns around the impacts of climate change on global food security, highlighting compounded crises in food and agriculture. Under this context, GFFA's public events and closed ministerial roundtable covered the following questions:

  • How can we create crisis-resistant food systems?
  • How can food systems become more climate-conscious?
  • And how can governments and key players come together to facilitate this transition?

What were major topics highlighted during the GFFA?

Transforming food systems requires a global response to multiple crises

Leaders agreed that the current decline in global food security and the rise of malnutrition are not a cause of one, but multiple crises. The loss of biodiversity due to climate change, increasing frequency and intensity of climate disasters (from droughts to floods), and unsustainable agricultural practices are all major contributors to stressed food systems. This has only been made worse by the surge in fuel prices driven by the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine. Agriculture ministers emphasized this point by stating that all levers need to be addressed equally, and in a holistic and integrated way, to build resilient food systems.

There is no “one size fits all” approach to achieving food security

Food systems vary dramatically between countries and are highly linked to the local environment, economy, and social norms. The variation in food systems between countries poses a persistent challenge in identifying actions and key levers necessary to transform them. These differences, and the fact that food system transformations play out differently in different countries, create a complexity that can hinder action at the global level. To help reduce this complexity, organizations such as the WWF are mapping similarities and differences among food systems to create high-level country categorizations that can help define a set of potential actions to transform food systems in each country category.

For example, the UAE is characterized by insufficient arable land and water resources, low to moderate levels of biodiversity, and a mostly food-secure population driven by consistent economic and physical access to nutritious foods. Countries with the same characteristics as the UAE would then need to consider similar approaches for sustaining or enhancing their food systems. This includes import diversification plans and technology-intensive food production (e.g., controlled environments). More details on this categorization work can be found in the WWF report, “Solving the Great Food Puzzle: 20 Levers to Scale National Action."

Agricultural practices must become more sustainable to keep the ‘under 1.5°C’ climate goal within reach

The agriculture sector is tightly linked to climate change, with carbon dioxide from agriculture accounting for 25% of global greenhouse emissions. Further commitments need to be made by governments to scale up action in the agriculture sector in support of global climate goals. Activities for enhanced carbon sequestration in agriculture, including pastures, were mentioned during the ministerial roundtable and the need for reliable and clean energy supplies will also be crucial to support the transition towards more sustainable agricultural practices.

Agriculture sector resilience is essential for increased food security and the economic empowerment of marginalized groups

In recent years, droughts accounted for 82% of total agricultural production loss. Expanding food security, especially in climate-vulnerable communities, will require significant investments in climate-resilient agricultural practices. The convened agriculture ministers at the GFFA reinstated their commitment to promote inclusive and resilient food systems that can deal with climate shocks and better recover from crises, recognizing that this also includes ensuring that transformed agriculture systems are economically and socially viable and provide a “decent income and working conditions for farmers, pastoralists, workers and rural communities.” Particular attention was given to smallholder farmers, women, and other marginalized groups, including indigenous people and refugees.

Biodiversity conservation is a precondition for food security

The GFFA emphasized the urgent need to reverse biodiversity loss and environmental degradation by 2030, in line with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Panelists and ministers stressed the importance of conserving agricultural biodiversity, as an essential precondition for food security. Ministers agreed that conserving genetic resources for food and agriculture is crucial for biodiversity and reiterated their support for the work carried out by CGIAR and other organizations. In addition, biodiversity-friendly practices such as sustainable intensification (i.e., using innovations with positive environmental impacts to increase productivity on existing agricultural land) should be encouraged to support conservation efforts.

Stronger global partnerships are needed to tackle the multifaceted threats to food security

With food security being a complex and multifaceted topic, coordinated global action will be key to addressing ongoing concerns and supporting the transition towards equitable, climate-resilient, and sustainable food systems. This includes scaling-up and coordinating donor funding in the agriculture space, including areas and topics that have been previously neglected, such as the need for better agricultural data in LMICs. Agriculture ministers agreed that coherent policy across the sector will be essential to bring about transformative change and committed to strengthening cross-sectoral collaboration in the transformation of food systems, in line with the FAO’s One Health approach and its commitment to addressing the health of people, animals, and plants while enabling effective agrifood system transformations.

To spur action following the GFFA, where should the global community turn its attention?

The GFFA was a pivotal moment for global leaders, governments, and key organizations, to reinstate their commitment to global food security and openly discuss the challenges and concerns that are fueling the ongoing food crisis.

But the work is far from complete, and the path is still not clear. Many levers need to be pulled in the right direction to address global food security issues and achieve SDG2 - Zero Hunger. Solving the global food puzzle will require coordinated efforts across multiple stakeholder groups from international and private organizations to national governments, and local and indigenous communities.

Despite the importance of the topic, ODA to agriculture has not yet reached desired levels, while ODA to agricultural adaptation has not increased in line with increases in total ODA to climate change adaptation. Funding towards these topics needs to be scaled-up significantly if leaders are serious about translating their commitments into actions.

Yara Matar

Yara Matar

Leon Schlick

Leon Schlick

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