Type of Dialogue
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The UN Food System Summit promises to “launch bold new actions to transform the way the world produces and consumes food, delivering progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.” An ambitious aim that reflects the urgency needed to address the profound global and local problems linked to existing food systems – from poor diets driving malnutrition and chronic disease, to the climate crisis, environmental degradation and widening inequities eroding the safety and sustainability of livelihoods. Many of these are shared global challenges, yet significant variations exist across regions and within diverse country contexts, where levels of food and nutrition security and safety are hugely divergent.
While high level rhetoric around food system transformation is positive, it is critical to understand how the evidence-base needed to underpin, guide and re-evaluate such priorities and policies in different settings will be generated and sustained. Ambitious ideas and goals emerging from the Summit must be supported by robust types of information. The expertise to generate contextually appropriate and scientifically robust evidence (cutting across disciplines) in a timely way is arguably as important as the policies themselves. In other words… “A game changer!” But unlike statements drafted for the Summit, they cannot be produced in a matter of weeks or months. Generating evidence that spans disciplines and sectors is inherently complex, but not insurmountable. However, bottlenecks may exist in the pipeline of expertise, particularly in countries where existing capacity may not yet be sufficient.
In light of, this, investing in systems of research, learning and sharing – within and among affected regions, particularly low- and middle income settings – will be paramount to steering context-specific interventions, informed by robust evidence-bases as food systems evolve. The political and financial commitments expected to flow from the Summit should extend to these systems, to ensure that support is provided ‘upstream’ to interdisciplinary curriculums and training, alongside mechanisms for cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder research and learning collaboration.
But before this can happen, a range of important questions must be addressed, including but not limited to:
- Both food systems and research will have to coevolve, one informed by the other in an ongoing fashion. How can we plan and invest in long-term research capacities needed to support this?
- What type of capacities are needed to prioritise policies in an evidence-informed way? I.e. to generate evidence to understand what works, what does not, how to improve, who wins, who loses, trade-offs and co-benefits across diverse outcomes of interest, as well as cost-effectiveness and financing
- How can countries identify and prioritize solutions that could be most catalytic for positive food system transformation, informed by evidence?
Multi-disciplinary expertise is needed in all regions to help address these questions and to underpin key recommendations from the Summit and beyond. By convening stakeholders across communities of research, education and policy, with a specific focus on the African context, this Independent Dialogue will provide a space for these important questions to be discussed, and for new concerns and considerations to be shared.
The outcomes of these discussions will contribute to the UN Food Systems Summit via the standard feedback mechanisms for the dialogues. The outcomes will also be fed into wider debates about the role of education and research in guiding multisectoral actions for healthy and sustainable diets in different contexts, which will be hosted by the ANH Academy later in 2021.
This Dialogue is facilitated through a partnership between the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health (ANH) Academy; the African Nutrition Society; and CGIAR.