Building global, science-driven consensus on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Systems

As the World is preparing for the United Nations Food Systems Summit there is a growing understanding that this summit is not an end but a beginning of a new system governance of agriculture, food and nutrition, engaging all actors along the food chain.

There is not a food system, there are tens of thousands food systems. Producing and consuming food is mainly location specific and based in culture and tradition. Yet no food system exists in isolation. Farmers and enterprises react to consumer demands from across the globe and consumers react in their turn on the produces offered. Land clearings in a region or water control in watershed area can have regional and even global effects. Collectively the greenhouse emissions from forestry, crop and animal production, as well as from processing, transportation and distribution, including food waste, are major contributors to climate change. Food must be safe, nutritious, healthy, affordable (available) and sustainable produced. Food is central to health and the resilience of societies to cope with sudden shocks such as pandemic.

Restoring trust

Many people recognise the importance of agriculture, food and nutrition, but there is no general consensus on the way ahead. In many industrialised western countries food has become a bone of contention. There are so many areas of discourse; animal welfare, climate change, use of chemicals and genetic techniques. Often there is miscommunication or misinformation, but also differences in opinion. This increasingly leads to confusion, and even doubts about the scientific evidence base. Science seems to become more a supermarket of ideas and facts are construed, no more than an expression of partial interests and values. This results in a lack of trust and disagreement about the best way forward.

Science diplomacy

Science is a learning process and increasingly engages with civil society. Science is truly international and can help policy makers and countries to determine new pathways forward and learn from others. In other words: science diplomacy. Time has come to bridge the gaps between science and policy, to overcome disagreements about facts, interests and values. Roundtables and dialogues are required that connect scientists, governments, civil society (including NGOs and consumer organizations) and private companies, including farmers. Above all creating trust and commitment to tackle food challenges is priority.

Science policy interface

Because food and agriculture are so diverse, bringing the science based lessons is more complicated. The established work in the climate realm such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) could inspire also. It allows a review of science, building consensus on national and international policies and shaping research agendas. Along these same lines we need a concerted and inclusive interface in which the scientific understanding can be verified and shared before translated into policies, legislation and trust, so that all stakeholders are willing to take action. A significant, long-lasting output of the Food Systems Summit would be to create a science-policy interface developing national and international agendas to ultimately provide safe, nutritious, sustainable and affordable food to all. Louise O. Fresco is chair of the Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research and vice chair of the scientific group of the UNFSS