February 1, 2023

UN special envoy Agnes Kalibata thrilled by Biden administration’s engagement ahead of 2021 Food Systems Summit

|Food agriculture
|Guillem Sartorio/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations is thrilled by the Biden administration’s engagement ahead of the Food Systems Summit scheduled for September this year in New York. The re-engagement by the new US leadership is a break from the Trump administration which tried to undermine the UN and its global initiatives.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pose for a photo as they ride in the Presidential limousine from Emory University in Atlanta Friday, March 19, 2021, to Peachtree Dekalb Airport. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Since he was inaugurated on January 20, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has taken steps to restore U.S. leadership in the world. He has rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization. The American leader has also held a global climate summit attended by all major powers, including Russia and China, and told the world the U.S. was back at the table.

“First of all that’s excellent news,” UN Secretary-General’s special envoy to 2021 Food Systems Summit Dr. Agnes Kalibata told Today News Africa‘s Kristi Pelzel in an interview last April, reacting to the Biden administration’s announcement that it will be launching the Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate initiative during the Summit later this year.

AIM for Climate’s goal is to accelerate agricultural research, development and collaboration with global partners and enable the industry to better combat climate concerns.

Guillem Sartorio/AFP via Getty Images

Dr. Kalibata, who is from the central African country of Rwanda, said it is a good development “a major economy like the US is recognizing the importance of agriculture to the whole food systems summit.”

“The importance of this is that the US is prepared to lead by example, and recognizing that agriculture is so central to the economy of other countries, but most importantly that this is the people’s summit and I appreciate the leadership that’s being put forward to recognize the world’s poorest. It’s important to go forward and look at the transitions our food systems are taking to plan for the future. I welcome this effort,” she added.

Indeed, with the global reset by the Biden administration, the United States will be playing a bigger role at the food summit this year. The US delegation will be led by Elise Golan, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s 2021 UN food summit lead. Golan will be launching AIM for Climate for the Biden administration under the USDA umbrella.

Already, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is encouraging “all American individuals and organizations with an interest in food systems, food security, agricultural production, and related issues to participate in the preparations for the Summit.”

Overall, the aim of the United Nations Food Systems Summit this year is to launch bold new actions to build healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems around the world.

Dr. Agnes Kalibata, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the 2021 Food Systems Summit, and the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) said food systems to her is about people. “It’s an economy, paying for health care and schools. If we make food systems functional we build economies from the bottom up.”

“The food systems summit represents everything from how we produce food, to how we use the land, to “farm to folks” strategy. And it represents the behavior of consumers and that includes the food we waste and our choices,” she said. “It represents the environment and our food systems contributes to Carbon, about 30%, and this is not good. We need to build resilience and be able to deliver for our children and the climate.”

Dr. Kalibata said the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse, calling on the world to act with urgency.

“The global pandemic has injected wind in our sails and created urgency. People are stretched enough that they are reaching to areas they wouldn’t have, and we are realizing we are connected by technology, culture, economies,” she said.

She said the summit will look at all aspects of food security, including conflicts and crises.

“Thirty to forty percent of the people that are hungry are hungry due to conflict related challenges and we have to resolve that,” she said. “We need to think about longer term solutions to this problem, to reduce conflict in the first place, and then reducing the impact on people when it comes to hunger.”

On what will qualify as success for the 2021 summit, she said, it will be about refocusing the entire system on people.

“The summit success will come from how we view our place in the food system. This is about people in the first place, our culture, and our choices,” she said. “If I can influence your choices and how you think about the ecosystem that is a success.”

She added that success will also be about “the solutions coming from member states and countries taking bold actions and making big investment in innovation and policy to make a difference in people’s lives.”

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