Leaders from the world’s largest economies will gather in Hiroshima, Japan, later this month for the G7 Summit. These global convenings increasingly need to grapple with the interconnected crises we face. Whether it’s climate change or conflict in Ukraine, addressing energy and food security, or shaping international cooperation, world leaders must look for levers of change that advance, simultaneously, a multitude of global priorities. Food systems transformation can have positive knock-on effects for the overlapping challenges facing G7 member states and the global community. Indeed, food systems are critical intervention points for building on joint commitments and advancing progress on past promises.
Rethinking how we respond to food security concerns caused by conflict.
The war in Ukraine remains a key priority for the Group of Seven. Earlier this year, G7 leaders deplored how the conflict has led to global economic hardship and a rise in food and fertilizer prices worldwide.
The statement followed a joint commitment last year when G7 leaders promised to “spare no effort to increase global food and nutrition security” and to protect those who are most vulnerable to the food crisis. In response, the G7 Presidency and the World Bank established a Global Alliance for Food Security. By bringing attention to the priorities of governments in the Global South, including agriculture and nutrition, this new body must not only address food security, but more critically, the underlying structural issues in food systems that are at the root of hunger and malnutrition.
In September 2022, the Global Alliance for Food Security announced efforts to support efficient agricultural production and trade. They propose to identify bottlenecks that stymie the distribution of fertilizers and seeds. It is here that we must heed caution and avoid myopic solutions. While easing the movement of fossil fuel-derived fertilizers between countries may stabilize global food and nutritional security in the short-term, it will have negative long-term implications that we simply can no longer afford.
Using fertilizers and artificial agricultural inputs to produce food has proven harmful effects on smallholder farmers, local economies, and the planet. Meaningful progress towards resilient food systems should instead commit to pursuing agroecological approaches and centre the practices of smallholder farmers, women, and Indigenous communities.
More must be done to ensure the conditions for domestic and global food stability are strengthened. G7 leaders would be remiss to not see this as a moment to transform global food systems away from the concentration of commodities in global markets and towards diversified food sovereignty.
As I wrote to mark one-year since the Russia-Ukraine crisis began, creating more resilient food systems starts by unravelling the dependence of food production on fossil fuel intensive fertilizers, bolstering inclusive governance, and regulating global supply chains. This will enable local and regional food systems to flourish. This long-term, systems-level vision should be what frames G7 discussions.
Food systems transformation to achieve decarbonization goals.
Progressing beyond industrial agricultural models also aligns with the responsibility of global leaders to decarbonize their economies. In 2022, G7 leaders pledged to end taxpayer funding for overseas fossil fuel projects and shift to clean energy. That pledge has already exceeded its year-end deadline. It is critical for G7 member states to reiterate and strengthen their commitment to decarbonization when meeting in Japan.
While the 2022 pledge explicitly references halting taxpayer support to overseas oil, gas, and coal projects, policymakers should also consider the ways in which public money is directed towards unsustainable, fossil fuel dependent models of food production and consumption.
Current models of industrial food production threaten decarbonization goals. Food systems contribute to one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions, in large part because of the way land and inputs are used to support inefficient food production. Redirecting public investment from industrial models of food production to ecologically-beneficial forms of farming would be as significant as the commitment to shift to clean energy.
Governments provide a large amount of public support to their food and agriculture sectors—more than US$600 billion each year. However, the majority of agricultural policies were not designed to address the compounding environmental, geopolitical, social, or health- and nutrition-related problems we face today.
A more holistic and integrated approach to using public money and investment can not only help countries reach their climate targets and ensure food and nutritional security, but also support resilient livelihoods and communities. Overall, food systems transformation represents an untapped opportunity for climate action and the chance to advance progress on multiple Sustainable Development Goals.
The need for global leadership has never been more urgent. As wide-ranging as the agenda will be at the G7 summit, food systems transformation presents a broad portfolio of possibilities and potential.
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Photo courtesy of Radoslav Bali, Unsplash