Winning the Human Race, Together

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Climate Change, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Environment, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Migration & Refugees, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

NEW YORK, Oct 14 2021 (IPS) – “Now is the time for a stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateral system anchored in the United Nations,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his latest report “Our Common Agenda.” Indeed, there is a fork in the road: we can either choose to breakdown or to breakthrough.


Yasmine Sherif

Making this moral choice and adopting this legal imperative is more relevant today than ever. The estimated 75 million children and adolescents caught in emergencies and protracted crisis who suffer from disrupted education has now dramatically increased from 75 million to 128 million due to the pandemic. These vulnerable girls and boys are now the ones left furthest behind in some of the world’s toughest contexts, in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

The current education financing gap amounts to US$1.48 billion for low- and middle-income countries. A gap that is increasingly widening. In reviving the multilateralism that is so urgently needed, the UN Secretary-General will convene a crucial, timely summit on Transforming Education in 2022.

Despite all that we do, despite all our investments, we cannot win ‘the human race’ unless we invest in our fellow human beings, now. It is the children and young people impacted by armed conflicts, climate-crisis induced disasters, forced displacement and protracted crises who are in a sprint against time, with their lives and futures on the line.

We can no longer let “an entire generation facing irreversible losses be left behind in the ruins of armed conflicts, in protracted refuge, on a planet whose climate-change threatens us all,” as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Steering Group, The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown stated at the launch of Education Cannot Wait’s Annual Results Report: Winning the Human Race, on 5 October 2021.

Education is the foundation, the DNA and the absolute prerequisite for achieving all other Sustainable Human Development Goals and Universal Human Rights. Education means investments in the limitless possibilities of human potential: the workforce, governance, gender-equality, justice, peace and security.

“Access to quality education is key to addressing 21st century challenges, including accelerating the fight to end poverty and climate change,” says The LEGO Foundation’s new CEO, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, in this month’s ECW Newsletter high-level interview.

The time has come to connect the dots between individual human beings and our collective humanity and life on this planet. We are now investing more and more in Mother Earth through significant climate change financing. We must now also invest in the human beings populating the planet. The correlation between the positive impact of education upon on all aspects of life on the planet is indispensable and inescapable.

    Higher education levels lead to higher concern for the environment, and adaptation to climate change. If education progress is stalled, it could lead to a 20% increase in disaster-related fatalities per decade.
    Education is the one unique investment that can prevent conflict and forced displacement. High levels of secondary school enrollment have been shown to be associated with an increase a country’s level of stability and peace and reduce crime and violence.
    Every additional year of schooling reduces an adolescent boy’s risk of becoming involved in conflict by 20 percent. This effect reflects both education’s economic benefits and its role in social cohesion and national identity.
    Conversely, lack of education often leads to political disempowerment and regression to group allegiances. Across 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, sub-national regions with very low average education had a 50 per cent probability of experiencing the onset of conflict within 21 years, while the corresponding interval for regions with very high average education was 346 years.
    Education is also the most secure means of ending extreme poverty. For nations, each additional year of schooling can add up to 18 per cent to GDP per capita. For individuals, one more year of education brings a 10 per cent increase in personal income. If all children were to learn basic reading skills, the impact would be 171 million fewer people living in extreme poverty. *Footnotes below.

Education Cannot Wait is a multilateral global UN fund. Our Annual Results Report of 2020, Winning the Human Race, launched at the UN in Geneva this month, testifies to what we can achieve when we think and act multilaterally: when we connect the dots, become one, and act for all.

Through multilateralism, we reached more than 29 million crisis-affected girls and boys in 2020 alone through ECW’s COVID-19 emergency response, working with our strategic partners, including host governments, our 21 donors, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNESCO, UNDP, WFP, our civil society partners, such as INEE, Jesuit Refugee Service, AVSI, Save the Children, Plan International, Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee and numerous local civil society organizations across 34 countries. Through joint programming, we were also able to jointly deliver quality education to more than 4.6 million children and youth, of whom 51% were girls and adolescent girls, 38% were refugees – all while we increased ECW allocations to children and youth with disabilities.

This is made possible because ODA governments, private sector and philanthropic partners are scaling up their support for the catalytic ECW global fund whereby their investments are part of multilateral efforts that work as closely as possible to those we serve, establishing links conducive to numerous, diverse SDGs and human rights. The full list of our 21 generous donor partners can be found at the end of this Newsletter.

In connection with the UNGA week this year, ECW strategic donors advancing multilateralism, such as Germany, the United States, the European Union/European Commission, France, The LEGO Foundation and Porticus took giant steps and committed $138.1 million to ECW, bringing the total resources mobilized thus far in 2021 alone to $156.1 million and the total since ECW’s inception to $1.85 billion ($827 million mobilized for the Trust Fund; and, over $1 billion worth of programmes aligned with ECW MYRPs, as leveraged by ECW with partners).

Furthermore, the Global Hub for Education in Emergencies celebrated its new collective space under the ECW umbrella in Geneva, thanks to Switzerland which is the second biggest UN capital for humanitarian and development actors after New York City. The Global Hub brings together NGOs, the UN, academia, foundations, and governments to inspire more commitment and resources to quality education for those left furthest behind in emergencies and protracted crisis.

Multilateralism through the United Nations works.

Still, this is just the start of a major global effort to work through the multilateral coordination system to reach those left furthest behind and bring education from the margins to the center. Based on empirical evidence, ECW calls for an additional $1 billion to contribute to an innovative model that has proven to work.

Political leaders, governments, private sector, UN and civil society – all part of ECW’s multilateral UN system – recognize that education is a precondition for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Human Rights. Together, we think long-term and act now. Together, we connect the dots and see things from afar and within. Together, we work on what the world needs most right now: A Common Agenda to Win the Human Race.

Yasmine Sherif is Director,
Education Cannot Wait
The UN Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises

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UN Warned of Two Dangers Ahead: Health of the Human Race & Survival of the Planet

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (on screen) of Sri Lanka addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-fifth session. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

LONDON, Oct 5 2021 (IPS) – Addressing the UN General Assembly last month President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka raised several concerns, two that had to do with health. One concerned the health of the human race; the other the health of Planet Earth on which man struggles increasingly to survive.


It is understandable for the President to draw the world’s attention to the current pandemic that plagues the people of Sri Lanka as it does the populations of most other nations that constitute the UN family that have struggled in the last two years to overcome COVID-19 which has brought some nations almost to their knees.

As we know some countries have dealt with the spreading virus more effectively and efficiently than others because they relied on the correct professional advice and had the right people in the places instead of dilettantes with inflated egos.

The immediacy of the pandemic with its daily effects on health care and peoples’ livelihoods is seen as urgent political and health issues unlike the dangers surrounding our planet which, to many, appear light miles away while still others treat it with large doses of scepticism.

Quite rightly President Rajapaksa pointed to the dangers ahead for the survival of the planet – as underscored in the recent report of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — due to human activity and said that Sri Lanka, among other measures, aims to increase its forest cover significantly in the future.

What really matters is whether those on the ground — like some of our politicians and their acolytes who seem to think that saving the planet is somebody else’s responsibility but denuding the forests and damaging our eco-systems for private gain is theirs — pay heed to the president’s alarm signals that should appropriately have been sounded at least a decade ago.

But what evoked a quick response was not the call for international action to save the people from the pandemic or the planet from climate change as President Rajapaksa told the UN but what he told the UN chief Antonio Guterres at their New York meeting.

While reiterating Sri Lanka’s stance that internal issues should be resolved through domestic mechanisms what aroused interest was the president’s sudden and unexpected readiness to invite the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora scattered across the Global North and in smaller numbers elsewhere, for discussions presumably on reconciliation, accountability and other outstanding matters.

One would have thought that there would be a gush of enthusiasm from some sections of the Tamil diaspora which had previously shown an interest in being involved in a dialogue with the Sri Lanka Government over a range of issues that concern the Tamil community.

But the few reactions that have been reported from a few Tamil organisations appear lukewarm. Yes, the Non-Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka (NRTSL), a UK-based group, welcomed the President’s announcement saying that “engagement with the diaspora is particularly important at the time when multiple challenges face Sri Lanka”.

However, there was a caveat. The NRTSL is supportive of “open, transparent and sincere engagement of the government of Sri Lanka,” the organisation’s president V. Sivalingam was quoted as saying.

The better-known Global Tamil Forum (GTF) called it a “progressive move” and welcomed it. But its spokesman Suren Surenderan questioned what he called President Rajapaksa’s “sudden change of mind”.

Surendiran said that in June President Rajapaksa was due to meet the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) but that meeting was put off without a new date been fixed.

“When requests are made by democratically elected representatives of Tamil people in Sri Lanka to meet with the President, they are “deferred with flimsy excuses”, {and} now from New York he has declared that he wants to engage with us, Tamil diaspora,” Surendiran said rather dismissively in a statement.

Though the Sri Lanka Tamil diaspora consists of many organisations and groups spread across several continents there has been a studied silence from most of them, a sign that many of them are sceptical about how genuine the gesture is.

In March this year, after the UN Human Rights Council passed a highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksa government proscribed several Tamil diaspora organisations and more than 300 individuals labelling them terrorist or terrorist linked. These included Tamil advocacy organisations such as the British Tamil Forum, Global Tamil Forum, Canadian Tamil Congress, Australian Tamil Congress and the World Tamil Coordinating Committee.

Precisely seven years earlier in March, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government banned 424 persons and 16 diaspora organisations.

The problem for the present administration is that if it is intent on inviting Tamil organisations to participate in talks it would have to lift the existing bans on individuals and groups without which they are unlikely to talk with the government.

As transpired before peace talks at various times between the government and the LTTE, the Tamil groups are most likely to insist on participation as legitimate organisations untainted by bans. That is sure to be one of the key conditions, if not the most important pre-condition.

It is also evident that the Tamil diaspora is not a homogenous entity. It consists of moderate organisations that are ready to resolve the pressing issues within a unitary Sri Lanka, to those at the other end of the spectrum still loyal to the LTTE ideology and demanding a separate state.

If the Government cherry-picks the participants-particularly the ones that are more likely to collaborate with the administration, it would be seen as an attempt to drive a huge wedge in the Tamil diaspora.

That could well lead to the excluded groups strengthening their existing links with political forces in their countries of domicile including politicians in government as one sees in the UK and Canada, for instance, and Tamil councillors in other elected bodies to increase pressure on Sri Lanka externally.

That is why some Tamil commentators already brand this as a “diversionary move” to lessen the international moves against Colombo.

What would be the reactions of powerful sections of the Buddhist monks and the ultranationalist Sinhala Buddhists who strongly supported a Gotabaya presidency?.

And across the Palk Strait there are the 80 million or so Tamils in Tamil Nadu and an Indian Government watching developments with a genuine interest and concern.

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.

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IUCN World Conservation Congress Warns Humanity at ‘Tipping Point’

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Conservation, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Conservation

President Macron and Harrison Ford among speakers at the Congress Opening Ceremony. Credit: IUCN Ecodeo

St Davids, Wales, Oct 4 2021 (IPS) – The world’s most influential conservation congress, meeting for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, has issued its starkest warning to date over the planet’s escalating climate and biodiversity emergencies.


“Humanity has reached a tipping point. Our window of opportunity to respond to these interlinked emergencies and share planetary resources equitably is narrowing quickly,” the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared in its Marseille Manifesto at the conclusion of its World Conservation Congress in the French port city.

“Our existing systems do not work. Economic ‘success’ can no longer come at nature’s expense. We urgently need systemic reform.”

The Congress, held every four years but delayed from 2020 by the pandemic, acts as a kind of global parliament on major conservation issues, bringing together a unique combination of states, governmental agencies, NGOs, Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations and affiliate members. Its resolutions and recommendations do not set policy but have shaped UN treaties and conventions in the past and will help set the agenda for three key upcoming UN summits – food systems security, climate change and biodiversity.

“The decisions taken here in Marseille will drive action to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises in the crucial decade to come,” said Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director-General.

“Collectively, IUCN’s members are sending a powerful message to Glasgow and Kunming: the time for fundamental change is now,” he added, referring to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be hosted by the UK in November, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) to be held in China in two parts, online next month and in person in April-May 2022.

The week-long IUCN Congress, attended in Marseille by nearly 6,000 delegates with over 3,500 more participating online, was opened by French President Emmanuel Macron who declared: “There is no vaccine for a sick planet.”

He urged world leaders to make financial commitments for conservation of nature equivalent to those for the climate, listing such tasks as ending plastic pollution, stopping the deforestation of rainforests by eradicating their raw materials in supply chains, and phasing out pesticides.

Congress participants during an Exhibition event of the Sixth Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. Credit: IUCN Ecodeo

China’s prime minister, Li Keqiang, said in a recorded message that protecting nature and tackling the climate crisis were “global not-traditional security issues”.

While noting that some scientists fear that the climate emergency is “now close to an irreversible tipping point”, the Marseille Manifesto also spoke of “reason to be optimistic”.

“We are perfectly capable of making transformative change and doing it swiftly… To invest in nature is to invest in our collective future.”

Major themes that dominated the IUCN Congress included: the post-2020 biodiversity conservation framework; the role of nature in the global recovery from the pandemic; the climate emergency; and the need to transform the global financial system and direct investments into projects that benefit nature.

Among the 148 resolutions and recommendations voted in Marseille and through pre-event online voting, the Congress called for 80 percent of the Amazon and 30 percent of Earth’s surface—land and sea—to be designated “protected areas” to halt and reverse the loss of wildlife.

Members also voted overwhelmingly to recommend a moratorium on deep-sea mining and reform the International Seabed Authority, an intergovernmental regulatory body.

“The resounding Yes in support for a global freeze on deep seabed mining is a clear signal that there is no social licence to open the deep seafloor to mining,” Jessica Battle, leader of the WWF’s Deep Sea Mining Initiative, said, quoted by AFP news agency.

The emergency motion calling for four-fifths of the Amazon basin to be declared a protected area by 2025 was submitted by COICA, an umbrella group representing more than two million indigenous peoples across nine South American nations. It passed with overwhelming support.

Representatives from COICA and Cuencas Sagradas present their bioregional plan for the Amazon during a press conference. Credit: IUCN Ecodeo

Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, general coordinator of COICA and a leader of the Curripaco people in Venezuela, said the proposal was a “plan for the salvation of indigenous peoples and the planet”.

The Amazon has lost some 10,000 square kilometres every year to deforestation over the past two decades. Brazil is not an IUCN member and thus could not take part in the vote which runs against President Jair Bolsonaro’s agenda.

The five-page Marseille Manifesto makes repeated references to indigenous peoples and local communities, noting “their central role in conservation, as leaders and custodians of biodiversity” and amongst those most vulnerable to the climate and nature emergencies.

“Around the world, those working to defend the environment are under attack,” the document recalled.

Global Witness, a campaign group, reported that at least 227 environmental and land rights activists were killed in 2020, the highest number documented for a second consecutive year. Indigenous peoples accounted for one-third of victims. Colombia had the highest recorded attacks.

The resolution calling for 30 percent of the planet’s land and ocean area to be given protected status by 2030, said selected zones must include “biodiversity hotspots”,  be rigorously monitored and enforced, and recognise the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources. The  ‘30 by 30’ target is meant as a message to the UN biodiversity summit which is tasked with delivering a treaty to protect nature by next May.

Many conservationists are campaigning for a more ambitious target of 50 percent.

However, the 30 by 30 initiative, already formally backed by France, the UK and Costa Rica, is of considerable concern to some indigenous peoples who have been frequently sidelined from environmental efforts and sometimes even removed from their land in the name of conservation.

The IUCN Congress also released its updated IUCN Red List. The Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard, was reclassified from ‘vulnerable’ status to ‘endangered’, while 37 percent of shark and ray species are now reported to be threatened with extinction. Four species of tuna are showing signs of recovery, however.

Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of IUCN’s Head of Red List Unit, said the current rate of species extinctions is running 100 to 1,000 times the ‘normal’ or ‘background’ rate, a warning that Earth is on the cusp of the sixth extinction event. The fifth, known as the Cretaceous mass extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago, killing an estimated 78 percent of species, including the remaining non-avian dinosaurs.

One of the more controversial motions adopted – on “synthetic biology” or genetic engineering – could actually promote the localised extinction of a species. The motion opens the way for more research and experimentation in technology called gene drive. This could be used to fight invasive species, such as rodents, snakes and mosquitos, which have wiped out other species, particularly birds, in island habitats.

It was left to Harrison Ford, a 79-year-old Hollywood actor and activist, to offer hope to the Congress by paying tribute to young environmentalists.

“Reinforcements are on the way,” he said. “They’re sitting in lecture halls now, venturing into the field for the very first time, writing their thesis, they’re leading marches, organising communities, are learning to turn passion into progress and potential into power…In a few years, they will be here.”

Andrea Athanas, senior director of the African Wildlife Foundation, affirmed there was a sense of optimism in the Marseille air, in recognition that solutions are at hand.

“Indigenous systems were lauded for demonstrating harmonious relationships between people and nature. Protected areas in some places have rebounded and are now teeming with wildlife. The finance industry has awoken to the risks businesses run from degraded environments and are calculating those risks into the price of capital.

“Crisis brings an opportunity for change, and the investments in a post COVID recovery present a chance to fundamentally reshape our relationship with nature, putting values for life and for each other at the centre of economic decision-making,” he told IPS.

View the complete Marseille Manifesto here.

 

Scientific Panel’s Scoping Report Instructive for Global Food Systems Transformation

Biodiversity, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Green Economy, Headlines

Biodiversity

A fisherman displays his catch of the day in Dominica. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

DOMINICA, Sep 24 2021 (IPS) – On September 10th, on a sweltering summer afternoon, three fishers drove a van around the residential community of Castle Comfort in Dominica, blowing forcefully into their conch shells – the traditional call that there is fresh fish for sale in the area.


One of the men, Andrew Joseph, urged a customer to double her purchase of Yellowfin Tuna, stating that at five Eastern Caribbean dollars a pound (US$1.85), she was getting the deal of the summer. (In the lean season, that price can double).

“It’s good fish, it’s fresh, it’s cheap,” he told IPS, adding that, “People eat too much meat. This is what is good for the body and the brain.”

Little did he know that he was echoing the words of a scientist who is rallying the world, and the landmark United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) to put greater emphasis on the financial, nutritional and traditional benefits of aquatic foods.

“Foods coming from marine sources, inland sources, food from water, they are superfood, but this is being ignored in the global debate and at the country level, because we have had a focus on land production systems and we have to change that,” Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health at World Fish told IPS.

The nutrition scientist is also the Vice-Chair of Action Track 4, Advancing Equitable Livelihoods, at the UNFSS.

As the landmark summit hopes to deliver urgent change in the way the world thinks about, produces and consumes food, issues like the linkages between aquatic systems and health are emerging.

So are other linkages a scoping report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says the world cannot ignore. The report, approved in June, paves the way for a 3-year assessment of the interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health.

In the case of the UNFSS, it shows how food systems transformation can be achieved if tackled as one part of this network.

“It will assess the state of knowledge, including indigenous and local knowledge, on past, present, and possible future trends in these interlinkages, with a focus on biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people,” IPBES Executive Secretary Dr Anne Larigauderie told IPS.

“The IPBES nexus assessment will contribute to the development of a strengthened knowledge base for policymakers for the simultaneous implementation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Landscape Ecology Professor Ralf Seppelt was one of the scoping experts for the nexus assessment. He says the science is clear on how food systems impact biodiversity and why agroecology must be a pillar of efforts to transform food systems.

“Micronutrients are lacking a lot. Micronutrients are provided by fruits and vegetables, which need pollination. So, the nexus is really strong between agroecological principles and the nutritional value of what we are producing,” he told IPS.

“Wherever we have to increase production, we should do it on agroecological principles. We should consider what farmers say and do, their needs, their access to production goods such as fertilizers and seeds, and it’s equally important to change our diets. It’s not just reducing harvest losses and food waste, but also about moving away from energy-rich, meat-based diets and feeding ourselves in an environmentally friendly way,” he said.

Professor Seppelt is also hoping that the voices of small farmers and indigenous communities are amplified in the global food transformation conversation. “IPBES made an enormous effort to work with indigenous peoples and local communities and include indigenous and local knowledge in its reports. We organized workshops, to collect a diversity of views about nature and its contributions to people, or ecosystem services to make the assessment as relevant as possible to a range of users,” he said.

For Thilsted, any plan to revamp food systems must come with a commitment to weed out inequality. She says from access to inputs and production to consumption and waste, inequality remains a problem.

“This unequal distribution of who wins, who loses, who does well, who does not do too well, who profits and who does not is putting a strain on food and nutrition and it is limiting our progress towards a sustainable development future,” she told IPS.

“COVID-19 has shown the fragility of the system and it is further displacing the vulnerable, for example, women and children who are being more exposed to food and nutrition insecurity.”

The IPBES nexus assessment hopes to better inform policymakers on these key issues.

It is not the first assessment of interlinkages. Earlier this year IPBES and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched a landmark workshop report that focused on tackling the climate and biodiversity crises as one.

Now, the current nexus assessment on interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health will explore options for sustainable approaches to water, climate change, adaptation and mitigation, food and health systems.

IPBES Executive Secretary Dr Anne Larigauderie says it also shows that there is hope for restoring the balance of nature.

“I would like people to remember and know that they are a part of nature, that the solutions for our common future are in nature; that nature can be conserved and restored to allow us, human beings, to simultaneously meet all our development goals. We can do this if we work together, act more based on equity, social and environmental justice, reflect on our values systems, and on our visions of what a good life actually is.”

 

Nurturing a New Generation of Food Leaders

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Food Sustainability

An European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (EIIS) programme focusses on production, distribution, and consumption issues of food systems. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

NAIROBI, KENYA, Sep 22 2021 (IPS) – Food security experts have raised an alarm that with as many as 811 million people the world over or 10 percent of the global population going hungry, the world is off-track to ending hunger and malnutrition.


More so, after a decade of steadily declining, the number of malnourished people grew by 161 million from 2019 to 2020 alone, a spike attributed to complex global challenges such as COVID-19, climate change and conflict, according to the United Nations.

Against this backdrop, the European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (EIIS) launched a three-month, challenge-based and solutions-oriented food sustainability certificate course in May 2021 to actively help countries fix their food systems.

“Our aim is to provide a comprehensive base for a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics of food, giving course participants the tools and insights to perform better at work, shift careers, and become even more conscious and responsible consumers,” says Sveva Ciapparoni, the Food and Sustainability course coordinator.

With a special focus on G20 countries, as they are most representative of the world’s population and economy, the EIIS food sustainability programme uses the Food and Sustainability Index (FSI) to help learners understand the dynamics behind food systems and their inherent power to promote or derail the attainment of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation, the food index collects data from 67 countries worldwide to showcase best practices and highlight key areas for improvement towards the production and consumption of sufficient, sustainable and healthy food.

The EIIS programme breaks away from traditional food courses solely centred around gastronomy, culinary management and hospitality to focus on production, distribution and consumption issues at the very heart of the SDGs.

Marcela Villarreal, the Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indicates that the “course directly addresses several SDGs. These include fighting hunger (SDG 2), promoting the health of both people and planet (SDGs 3, 13, 15), and encouraging conscious and responsible consumption (SDG 12).”

“The food system approach adopted by the course through specific challenges is particularly conducive to understanding the SDG agenda and proposing solid and interconnected solutions,” Villarreal, also one of the foremost experts from the Food and Sustainability course’s faculty, says.

As such, participants, who were part of the May 2021 cohort of learners, had an opportunity to intersect the three critical pillars of any food system, including sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges and food loss and waste, with the three areas where food experts say solutions to the broken food systems lie: innovation, education and policy.

Also unique to the course, the programme is taught through a Challenge Based Learning approach that “allows for the practical application of the concepts learned throughout the modules.

“How to feed 10 billion healthy foods, preserving the health of people and planet is the ambitious challenge tackled by the participants,” says Villarreal.

Participant Anant Saraf confirmed that being taken through online tuition combined with practical workshops enabled them to analyse food systems, understand the complexities of the food systems, and identify the most pressing problems facing specific food systems to provide solutions.

Importantly, Ciapparoni says that the course is an opportunity to interact with topics increasingly crucial to food production, distribution, and consumption in line with the SDGs and the UN’s first-ever food systems summit that kicks off on September 23, 2021.

Held within the UN General Assembly week in New York, the virtual UN Food Systems Summit will set the stage for global food systems transformation.

To do so, the UN will engage citizens from all over the world, including youth, researchers, food producers, indigenous people, civil society, and the private sector, in a discourse to transform how the world produces and consumes food.

As with the EIIS food sustainability course, the UN Food Systems Summit is a golden opportunity to empower people to understand and use the power of food systems to recover from COVID-19 and get back on track to end world hunger and malnutrition.

Ciapparoni indicates that course participants were aware that they would be contributing to the Summit.

The course challenge aligns with the UN Food Systems Summit agenda as it was developed in consultation with Martin Frick, deputy to the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, he added.

Therefore, at the heart of the EIIS course was an urgent need to build a generation of food leaders that can effectively transform food systems for food security, improved nutrition, and affordable healthy diets for all.

Towards this objective, Villarreal says that course participants were “divided into teams based on their backgrounds, diversity being the main criteria and that each team got assigned a G20 country to be analysed, with a specific focus on its food system.”

“After identifying the country’s key challenges, each team proposed possible solutions to improve their assigned country’s food system. The underlying idea is that, by proposing ways in which single countries can improve the sustainability of their food systems, participants will be able to suggest how to promote food sustainability globally – and thus address the course’s main challenge,” Villarreal adds.

Team South Africa, for instance, discussed the country’s rapid urbanisation and unfolding food production and security challenges in light of climate change and complex social, economic, and environmental challenges.

As for Saudi Arabia, the team concluded that the food system faces numerous challenges, as highlighted in the food and sustainability index of 2021 that ranked Saudi Arabia last compared to other G20 countries.

Saudi Arabia has the highest reliance on food imports among the G20 countries. The team aimed to identify how the country could overcome the food production challenges caused by its dry and hot climate.

Team India had the task of identifying how the country, ranked 13th among the world’s extremely water-stressed countries due to inefficient irrigation systems, groundwater depletion, and high production of water-consuming crops, can overcome these challenges.

With regard to the USA, the team analysed how the country, which has the highest food waste per capita globally, can address this problem.

Team Russia sought to fix the country’s faulty food production systems, processing, and transportation.

Team South Korea’s challenge was found in the globalisation of the country’s food system has increased consumption of highly processed foods leading to a food crisis.

Participants navigated through these challenges under the guidance of food and sustainability experts, including Villarreal. By providing solutions to fix broken food systems in specific countries, the EIIS course will have contributed towards practical solutions on how to feed 10 billion people by 2050 healthy food without harming the planet.

 

The UN Food Systems Summit and Some Issues of Concern

Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Oxen have been used to plough in agriculture for at least 3,000 years. They are still used today. Painting from the burial chamber of Sennudjem c, 1200 BC, Egypt. Credit: Trevor Page

LETHBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 21 2021 (IPS) – Why is the UN holding a Food Systems Summit? Two issues that need discussion at the international leadership level are: Long before the Covid crisis was upon us, the number of hungry people in the world was increasing. Why ? What is the cause of this disturbing trend? And, can a country really claim to be food secure, unless it produces or can buy enough food to feed its population and its people can access sufficient quantities to keep themselves fit and healthy? Disquietening questions as extreme weather begins to show the destructive power that climate change will have on the planet and its people.


A whole range of food system issues will be discussed at the summit, among them: production, processing, supply chain, consumption, nutrition, malnutrition, food aid and waste.

Food Production

Food, or the nutrients it contains, is fuel for the body. Agriculture and the production of food in an organized way is one of the earliest human endeavors. It started in the fertile crescent of the Middle East, some 10,000 BCE. While mechanization dominates the way food is produced today in the major food producing countries, animal traction is still important in many parts of the world.

Million dollar combines handle reaping, threshing, gathering and winnowing in a single operation on North American and European cereal fields today. GPS programmed, they are set to become driverless within a decade. Fruit and vegetables grown in vertical farms in cities using aquaponics are already springing up around the world. Aquaculture too can be moved to vertical farms, making fish much cheaper for urban dwellers. Vertical farms will greatly reduce labour costs and transportation requirements. Mechanization hugely reduces the number of people engaged in farming and consequently, the cost. Robotics and digital agriculture are already with us in some parts of the world. But where most people live in the world, traditional manual methods and animal traction are set to continue until the high investment needed for cutting-edge technology becomes doable.

Combines harvesting barley for the 2021 annual Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB) food drive, Alberta, Canada. The grain is auctioned and the proceeds matched 4:1 by the Canadian government and used by CFGB to promote agriculture in developing countries. Credit: Trevor Page

Wrestling with nature

Despite the advances in technology, drought can badly affect a crop. Cereal crops in western Canada and the United States have been seriously affected by drought this year. Climate change presents the greatest challenge yet to agriculture, and to the human species, generally.

Agriculture is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses contributing to climate change. According to FAO, the rearing of livestock accounts for the highest proportion because of the methane produced from enteric fermentation as well as manure left on pastures. Also according to FAO, 44% of GHGs are emitted from Asia, 25% from the Americas, 15% from Africa, 12% from Europe and 4% from Oceania.

Is organic agriculture the answer to healthier food and also the way to go because it’s kinder to the planet? Studies have found that there are higher antioxidant levels in organically grown plant-based foods. There is also evidence that organic food has lower toxic, heavy metal levels and less pesticide residue, for instance organic eggs, meat and dairy products. Organic farms use less energy and have lower GHG emissions. They also reduce the pollution caused by the widespread use of nitrogen fertilizer on industrial farms, with the runoff causing the eutrophication of water bodies. Organic agriculture is based on nourishing the soil with composts, manure and regular rotations, keeping it covered with different crops throughout the year. That sequesters carbon, building healthier soil.

The problem is that organically grown food is more expensive that industrially produced food. On average, it retails around 25% more than food sold in supermarkets. Also, most organic farmers need to supplement their income from an additional occupation in order to make ends meet. So, despite the benefits to human health and to the planet, does organic farming have a future? The answer is a resounding “yes!”, both from producers and consumers. Although globally, only 1.5% of farmland is organic, in 16 countries 10% or more of all agricultural land is organic, and the proportions are growing. The countries with the largest organic share of their total farmland are Liechtenstein at 38.5 %, Samoa at 34.5% and Austria 24.7%, according to IFOAM Organics International. Today, organic food is more of a lifestyle choice, both by the producer and the consumer. But if its growth is an indicator of concern for our health and for that of the planet, and more and more people are willing and able to pay the extra cost involved, then organics can be seen as an indicator of wellbeing and a reduction of inequality, which is a major cause of conflict in the world today.

Healthy root formation on Mozart red potatoes on The Perry Farm in Taber, Canada. Regenerative agriculture is practiced on this farm. Credit: Trevor Page

Although humankind has grown up largely on a diet of just three cereals: wheat, corn and rice, potatoes are actually more nutritious. Furthermore, potatoes can be grown on marginal land and they require only one-third of the water needed to grow the world’s three main cereals. Five years ago, China moved to double its potato production and to add them to the diet of its growing population. Should Africa be following suit?

Conclusion

The Food Systems Summit kicks off in New York on September 23 during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. World leaders will come together to find common ground and form alliances that accelerate our way to realizing the SDGs in this remaining decade of action before 2030 is upon us. Will we succeed in making Zero hunger a reality? If we are serious about this goal, the answer includes rethinking and redesigning our food systems to make them more sustainable.

Trevor Page, resident in Lethbridge, Canada, is a former Emergencies Director of the World Food Programme. He also served with the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, FAO, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR and what is now the UN Department of Political and Peace Building Affairs.