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Food and sustainability

Promoting food security and health in a climate changing world

In early May 2017, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food hosted its 2nd International Dialogue with over 250 food systems leaders from the local to the global, to gain deeper insights into the connections between climate change and food systems, to craft visions of the food systems we need today and tomorrow, and to chart potential pathways to get there.

Global Alliance member Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) sponsored six of their youth alumni to attend the gathering. Alumnus Pin Jane Chen sat down with Cecilia Rocha, IPES-Food Panelist, Professor, Director of the School of Nutrition and Associate Researcher at the Centre for Studies in Food Security at Ryerson University, to ask pressing questions about where food and agriculture systems can point to positive solutions to climate change. 

Through the International Dialogue and all of its work, the Global Alliance aims to bring together diverse stakeholders from different sectors, geographies, and ideologies to facilitate genuine global dialogue on critical issues related to transitions to sustainable food systems. To that end, we are pleased to make these interviews available to contribute to thinking, discussion, and debate about food systems reform.


Let’s make changes happen: turning imagination into understanding, turning understanding into thinking, and turning thinking into action

Q: Where does your work intersect with sustainable food systems and climate change? Why is it important to get food systems on the climate change agenda? 

Cecilia Rocha (CR): Putting food systems and climate change on the same plate is important because our challenge today is a systemic issue which is a vicious cycle: some of the problems in our food system are compounded by climate change, while at the same time climate change has impacts on the food system. To find possible solutions we need to look at both integrating different perspectives and multidisciplinary approaches. Focusing on food security issues, my colleagues and I have proposed “The Five A’s of Food Security”: availability, accessibility, adequacy, acceptability, agency.1 Personally, I have been engaged in several projects to promote healthy and sustainable food systems, ranging from local, national, to international levels, in Brazil, South Africa, and Vietnam.

Q: Where do you think the greatest opportunities are for transitioning to more sustainable food systems in a climate changing world?

CR: There is no single solution because responses to these problems are context-dependent. In response to the urgent call for solutions under different environments, cultures, and situations, we must first identify general issues that need to be addressed. We can then review existing practices or solutions and discuss what can be applied and replicated to figure out what we can do. Armed with this knowledge we can then evaluate whether the solutions are applicable and finally, take action! 


Q: What is the most important thing younger generations need to understand about how food systems and climate change are interconnected, and what can they do as individuals to support a shift in how we think about food systems?

CR: We all know that the future is in the hands of the youth today. I would like to invite young people to participate in changes. Younger generations should be aware of the interconnections between food systems and climate change, and should realize that actions at different levels are necessary. Moreover, the importance of collective action or cooperation should be advocated. Collective actions have to come through policy; the decisions in the name of society. By participating in creating their own policy, people can take back their right to have a healthy and secure food system. 


Q: What are good practice examples, where you or others are involved in leveraging or transitioning to more sustainable, secure and equitable food systems?

CR: For the past year, I have been leading a project in Northern Vietnam, which I hope will be an example of good practice. My Canadian and Vietnamese colleagues and I are implementing a food systems approach in helping residents in a plan to reduce malnutrition among 15,000 young children. The project also aims to develop a sustainable market for the local crops of women farmers. These crops will be used in the production of fortified weaning products in small food processing plants. These products will be distributed through local clinics and sold in local stores. In addition to meeting immediate needs, the long-term prosperity of the local economy is expected. I will take Vietnamese colleagues to Brazil for a meeting with food and nutrition practitioners and professionals in that country. As a researcher, I try to facilitate interactions and find opportunities for people to know more about the reality in different places in the world and to come out with solutions via experience sharing.

More recently, I have been working on investigating the health impacts of food systems because the impact of food systems on human health is not negligible. With my colleagues at the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), we have identified five key channels of impact2 and compounding factors2 which are crucial for developing strategies and practical interventions. Finally, equity and human rights must remain at the centre of concern. 

For a better tomorrow with a more sustainable and healthier food system, let’s make changes happen: turning imagination into understanding, turning understanding into thinking, and turning thinking into action. 


1Availability: sufficient food for all people at all times. Accessibility: physical and economic access to food for all at all times. Adequacy: access to food that is nutritious and safe, and produced in environmentally sustainable ways. Acceptability: access to culturally acceptable food, which is produced and obtained in ways that do not compromise people's dignity, self-respect or human rights. Agency: the policies and processes that enable the achievement of food security. (Centre for Studies in Food Security http://www.ryerson.ca/foodsecurity/our-approach/)

2Five key channels of impact: occupational hazards, environmental contamination, contaminated foods, unhealthy dietary patterns, insufficient diets. Compounded factors: climate change and environmental degradation, public health and sanitation, poverty and inequality. (Upcoming Report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems – IPES-Food, commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food)

Cecilia Rocha is a Professor from the School of Nutrition and the Centre for Studies in Food Security at Ryerson University and an expert panelist of IPES-Food. She devotes her research to causes and effects of food insecurity, providing insights into possible solutions from social and policy-making perspectives. She is a leading authority on food and nutrition policies in Brazil, including the successful experiments in the municipality of Belo Horizonte


The vision of the BCFN Alumni group is to make the best use of the potential of young people involved with issues of agri-food sustainability around the world. The aim is to create a community of active and committed alumni that contribute to the development of a more sustainable food system, through projects and other activities.


More interviews with experts from the Global Alliance’s 2nd International Dialogue are available here.


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