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Food and sustainability

Everyone is invited to send their contribution

The first Stakeholder Workshop concluded that it is crucial to involve representatives of civil society and the general public, so that they can have their say on what strategies are necessary to develop a sustainable food production system able to respond to the challenges of climate change. When deciding how to change the agro-food supply chain, it is essential to involve those people who are experiencing at first hand the contradictions of the current system. As a result, BCFN has been promoting a series of Workshops aiming to bring together leading experts from around the world who can come up with shared projects, outline solutions and stimulate constructive dialogue in light of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In Rome on 22 April 2016 – symbolically the same day as the signing in New York of the agreements reached during COP21 – the first Workshop of the series was held, with the theme of 'Climate at Risk & Food at Risk'. Among the guests were 15 experts representing the spheres of agriculture, academia, investment, NGOs and the agro-food industry, striving to find coherent solutions to the second Sustainable Development Goal (ending hunger, guaranteeing food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture) and the twelfth (guaranteeing sustainable consumption and production models). To complete the picture, it is also crucial to involve representatives of civil society in the debate, and more generally, any person who wants to contribute to the discussion on the topic of sustainable agriculture. This is why today, the BCFN Foundation is launching a “call for action” – a request for participants which, using the results of the day of discussions, will help to open up a public consultation to as many people as possible.

The choice of theme
Why was the theme of climate change and its impact on food production chosen for the first Workshop? The answer is simple: 2015 was the warmest year since 1850, and the drought suffered in the eastern Mediterranean in 2012 was the worst for the last 900 years. If the temperature increases beyond 2°C, food production in areas already suffering from serious geopolitical upheaval, such as Africa and the Middle East, would reduce dramatically.
Changes to the climate are becoming increasingly apparent: the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is at its maximum level for 800 million years. Agriculture alone uses around 70% of the world’s water resources and 30% of its energy resources, and is responsible for 12-30% of harmful emissions. If we do not see a significant change of direction soon, the situation can only get worse. For instance, it is estimated that by 2050, 80% of the human population (9 billion) will live in cities and metropolises, generating an unsustainably concentrated demand for food and water. Consequently, it is clear that we need to act quickly to reduce the contribution that human activity has on climate change, as was established at the recent COP21 meeting in Paris.

The method of discussion
The experts selected by BCFN worked using a collaborative method to identify the key elements of debate and clarify each party’s position. Through plenary sessions and focused working groups, shared opinions emerged on the main issues and some possible solutions to be adopted were formulated in order to increase the agro-food sector’s resilience to climate change and achieve the Sustainable Development Goal by 2030. Therefore, the “call for action” puts forward not only the main topics of debate, but identifies ten “burning issues” and the actions which need to be undertaken to bring about a real paradigm shift.
For instance, one of the key issues to emerge was the need to introduce a range of ethical and social variables when assessing operations in the agro-food sector. It was seen as a key requirement to recover traditional practices and integrate them into the process of applied innovation and research. The participants expressed a common viewpoint on problems such as the loss of water, land and biodiversity, and the importance of involving civil society and tackling the impact of climate change on migration at a political level.

A call for action
In the light of these global issues, the need for a real paradigm shift has become apparent – a new approach to food and agriculture which can be divided into a number of fundamental principles:

1) Assessing the real costs of food and our lifestyles (not just economic costs, but also social, ecological and health-related ones) and including them in business models, thus taking into account the positive and negative aspects of external factors, i.e. of the activity of production or consumption by one party which has either a positive or negative influence on the well-being of another party, where this party does not receive compensation in return (in the event of a negative impact) or does not pay the right price (in the event of a positive impact).

2) Reconciling agriculture and the food system: agricultural production must once again be seen as a fundamental part of the food system which is fully integrated with the value creation chain.

3) Increasing the production of food in urban and suburban areas. This requires the designation of areas for agriculture in cities so as to promote access to food and high-quality nutrition to even the poorest in society and also means preserving the cultural importance of traditional foods.

4) Including agriculture in the strategies for adapting to and mitigating climate change. By adopting the right strategies and technology, agriculture is able to mitigate climate change and protect us from its effects. Furthermore, soils contain more carbon than plants and the atmosphere put together, and this resource must be protected and used as efficiently as possible.

5) Speeding up the transition to fully ecological agriculture (i.e. agriculture than can be both more productive and less demanding on natural resources) and a circular economy which is able to self-regenerate both in terms of energy and emissions of toxic substances into the atmosphere or waste products. It is essential to design sustainable food systems and stop food loss and waste, either by transforming used products in new raw materials and reusing them or by avoiding waste altogether.

The strategies and tools needed to achieve these objectives on a global level will be the subject of the second Stakeholder Workshop, scheduled for this November.

The call for action regards the role of civil society, which was frequently raised during the discussion, in order to give its view on the topics and opinions given by the Forum (as summarised in the Call to Action document). With this in mind, today, BCFN is launching a public consultation and is inviting everybody to provide comments, ideas and feedback, as well as good practices and actions to move towards a sustainable agro-food system in the future, and to indicate studies and reports which may be of interest.

All the relevant material will be taken into consideration by the Panel on Sustainable Agriculture of the 7th BCFN Forum, which will be held on 30th November and Dicember 1st.
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