Food and sustainability

Putting theory into practice

Angelo Riccaboni tells us why it is important to start taking action rather than simply developing a theory of sustainability. Indeed, the time has come to put forward practical proposals to fight the key food paradoxes: this is the target of the 7th BCFN Forum on food and nutrition.

As Rector of the University of Siena, he raised the profile of issues relating to sustainability, and now he has left the leadership of the Tuscan institute behind, returning to his position as a ‘lowly’ Professor, Angelo Riccaboni is focusing his studies entirely on sustainability from the point of view of economics and company management. He is also chairing the Assembly of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN-SDSN), a United Nations initiative founded in 2012 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to promote scientific and technological solutions for environmental sustainability. The BCFN and Angelo Riccaboni share a common endeavour: the study carried out by Economist Intelligence Unit in collaboration with the BCFN, which will be presented at the 7th International Forum on Food and Nutrition in Milan on 1 December, is also intended to shed light on the most effective policies and best practices worldwide to combat the main food paradoxes and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) recently set out by the United Nations.

How important are universities in promoting the concept of sustainability?
Extremely important. There can be no sustainability without innovation, and innovation is created through research which is carried out in universities before it is developed in companies. Consequently, when I was Rector of the University of Siena, I promoted a range of initiatives on the issue and made the university the base for the Mediterranean region of the UN-SDSN. The target is not simply to promote research, but also to implement high-level training on all the elements related to sustainability, because today’s students are tomorrow’s policy makers.

Why was an international network like the UN-SDSN created?
The goal of this UN institution chaired by Jeffrey Sachs is to overcome the obstacle which currently separates the technical experts researching solutions for sustainable development from the policy makers who need to advocate their adoption in practice. This is why an integrated approach was taken which looks at economic, social and environmental aspects and, through the UN, involves international agencies, funding institutions, the private sector and civil society. The organisation of the assembly which I am chairing aims to support leaders from various backgrounds in getting involved in the development of the network, placing everyone on the same level of integrity and decision-making power. The UN-SDSN also has a committee which is in charge of education and developing training courses in sustainability, which for obvious reasons, I am particularly attached to.

What is the role of foundations and other private stakeholders who want to have their say on sustainable development?
I believe that foundations like the BCFN can play an important role in terms of information and communication on topics connected to sustainability among the population. Indeed, they are able to reach the general public, which universities and institutions are only partially able to do. Large international foundations can also invest in research, targeting it towards practical solutions for tangible problems, but for the smaller ones, the main task should be to inform and educate.
We are now well aware of the problems connected to sustainable development. The UN has even drawn up a list of goals to achieve by 2030 .What we need to do now is to move from theory to practice, and start to implement those practical solutions which have proven effective.

The agro-food sector is only one of many links in the chain of global sustainability. How significant is it in the big picture?
I would say that it is extremely significant, because it has a direct effect (we now know that agricultural production has a substantial impact on pollution and global warming) but it also has an indirect effect since it is linked to other sectors such as culture, the development of land and health. I believe that those taking part in the BCFN Forum in Milan on 1 December will be able to see for themselves just how central this sector is when it comes to sustainability and how pivotal it is to many different related issues.

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