January is a good moment to reflect, and assess priorities for the new year. If you are among those who aspire to make the world a better place through business action 2021 brought overwhelming evidence that ‘food’ and ‘nutrition’ is a great place to start.
‘There is no pathway to achieving the SDGs by 2030 without transforming food systems’ – UN Secretary General Antonia Guterres
It is as if we’ve finally obtained collectively the right glasses with the right prescription to see what is wrong, and what are the necessary pathways for sustainable and healthy food.
Global Summits in 2021
Rome, New York, Glasgow, Tokyo and virtual meetings were the stage for global leaders and experts to articulate today’s key food, nutrition and planetary issues. You may have seen the take outs and attended some of the side events. What has been agreed upon? And what can be pointers for business in 2022? First, a brief overview of the summits:
United Nations Food System Summit – July and September 2021
For the first time ever global leaders met to discuss the holistic topic of ‘food systems’ at the Pre-Summit and Global UN Food System Summit in Rome (July) and New York (September).
The UN FSS Summit was organised in action tracks and informed by the 1500 multi-stakeholder Food System Dialogues (FSD) held since 2018 with over 100,000 global participants. In the run up and during the Summit there was a strong realisation that conserted action is needed to produce and consume food in a healthy and sustainable way. No longer governments can orchestrate the necessary actions within the expertise ‘bubbles’ of nutrition, nor climate action, nor agriculture, nor justice: all actors need to work together.
Going forward, governments are invited now to develop their integrated national food pathways. The UN Scientific Committee called out the need for new global intergovernmental scientific panel for food, like there is for climate change (IPCC).
Conserted action is now organised in integrated ‘coalitions’ with promising cross value chain initiatives better for people and planet, such as the the School Meals Coalition, ‘Healthy diets from sustainable food systems’, ‘Nature-Positive food systems’, Food is never waste, the Good Food Finance initiative and the True value of food coalition.
Farmers, academics, nutritionists, chefs, doctors, citizens and companies – are invited to bring their best solutions. As DSM we have the capability and feel the responsibility, to step up our efforts for sustainable food systems and healthy diets. To demonstrate this, we published a new set quantified impact goals ‘Food System Commitments’ by 2030 that supports good health for people, planet and livelihoods.
COP26 – November 2021
In November, the Global Climate conference COP26 was held in Glasgow, Ireland. ivil society and business communities stood out to demand higher climate action ambitions by nations, pledging for credible metrics and standards such as ISSB, SBTi Net Zero. Business are invited to bring their best solutions and make their companies future-proof with a series of no-regret actions for businesses published by the Science Based Network that oversees global standards.
Also at COP26, Food and agriculture were recognized as a a crucial component to fight and mitigate climate change, as 25%+ of all GHG emissions are coming from this sector (IPCC 2019). GAIN argued that governments should apply more of the food system levers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for instance in the national climate action plans (NCDs).
Governments should apply more of the food system levers to reduce GHG emissions’ – Global Alliance of Improved Nutrition
As DSM we proudly shared again our ‘double digit on-farm emission reduction’ food system commitment, that includes greenhouse gas, phosporous and ammonia reduction, the positive response of the European authority EFSA to approve the use of our feed additive Bovaer that helps to reduce at least 30% of methane emissions in cattle.
Nutrition for Growth (N4G) – December 2021
At the end of 2021, Tokyo was the stage of the Nutrition for Growth Summit. The summit is much needed as malnutrition of all forms is a persisting issue. No less than 471 million, 30% of all women aged 18-49 years suffer from anemia, largely caused by iron deficiencies, which can lead to heart and lung disease and impairs the health of babies. And the number of people with overweight, obesity and diet-related chronic diseases have grown: globally 2.2 billion people are overweight, of which 772 million are obese. 1.2 billion people have high blood pressure, and 539 billion people suffer from diabetes. The ongoing COVID19 pandemic has pushed 155 million more people into extreme poverty. (Global Nutrition Report 2021).
Poor diets and malnutrition remain persistent, negatively impacted by climate change and the ongoing COVID19 pandemic – Global Nutrition Report 2021
At the Summit, 156 stakeholders- governments, donors, civil society and companies across 66 countries met during the plenary N4G meeting and several side events and made 221 new nutrition commitments representing US $27 billion in investments. For instance, The European Union pledged EUR 2,5 billion for better nutrition by 2024, Japan announced to provide nutrition related assistance to over US % 2,8 billion over the next years. But also, again, at the N4G summit it was notably civil society and the private sector that stepped up. Companies have stepped up to demonstrate their willingness to invest in the shared ‘Responsible Business Pledge’.
And DSM brought new Food System Commitments to the table, in this context notably our commitments for Closing the micronutrient gap of 800 million vulnerable people, supporting the livelihoods of 500 smallholder farmers and good workforce nutrition for all DSM employees.
What can companies do?
At the start of 2022 the directions are clear. We have now the good spectacles with the right prescriptions to see what is needed: Food and agriculture practices have to be redesigned to better protect the planet, avoid losses and waste, should provide for healthy diets in a more equal way. This requires collective action in specific value chains, regions, landscape and cultural settings.
My 5 nudges for companies to roll up sleeves in 2022:
(1) Get regenerative agriculture right: We’ll need to move from producing large quantities to higher quality, more diverse foods and agriculture, culturally fit and regenerative by nature. The focus has to be at sustained production, healthy soils, land and water, n other words: net positive agriculture. How does this look like? And how to rightfully account for this? A call to action to companies to bring their best solutions and help defining this.
(2) Apply processing food to benefit people’s and planetary health. Too often, ‘whole foods’ are placed as something opposite ‘processed foods’. Experts have to remind governments that to feed the world in a safe, healthy, taste and sustainable way, we will need various kinds of food processing and packaging (think: pasteurization, cooking, heating, etcetera) to help to protect food safety, ensure good taste and nutrition, and avoid the high food spoilage. Businesses, nutritionists, environmental experts and governments should work together to to utilize processing food to protect people’s health and the planet.
(3) Help consumers to choose sustainable and healthy food. According to a recent Globescan/EAT study consumers worldwide find it hard to find sustainable and healthy food, and accessibility and affordability is a concern. Good food is a pre-requisite for good health. Governments and companies should work together to provide the right science-based information to help consumers make best purchase decisions with labelling, nudging and mroe.
(4) Reduce environmental impact of all forms of protein foods. Proteins of all forms are key for healthy diets and good health. As all protein foods have high footprints and for some new forms the footprints and resources are still unknown this poses a red flag as we aim to stay within 1.5 degrees temperature raise and protect biodiversity. All food producers, suppliers and retailers should put environmental footprint reduction of all forms of proteins first – be it plant or animal proteins. It is needed to protect the planet
(5) Develop the metrics for the True Value of Food and use it wisely. Putting a monetary value on externalities like hidden cost of climate change or nutrition is an interesting exercise and may move the needle, as ‘money talks’. Companies should understand the merits of the true cost and value of food, and team up with governments to make use of these insights, when discussing for instance subventions.
It is clear that food and nutrition are key levers for a better health of people and planet. To make the world a better place all companies involved in food systems are encouraged to keep exploring, developing and applying their new technologies, whilst working with governments and coalitions. More about the proposed 5 priorities in the next weeks.
Jacobine Das Gupta, Director Sustainability DSM – Lead Nutrition