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03 December 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to crisis levels global food systems that already were failing to provide adequate sustenance to 800 million people.  Three billion people on the planet cannot at present afford a healthy diet, while deterioration of agrobiodiversity continues to threaten long-term food security.

Food lies at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations development agenda for the 21st century. The second of the 2030 Agenda’s 17 SDGs is to "End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture." Achieving this goal by the target date of 2030 will require a profound change of the global food and agriculture system.

The South-South Cooperation Forum on Food Security and Agrobiodiversity in Times of COVID-19 and Climate Change, organized from 30 November to 2 December 2020 by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), explored ways to transform the global food system. The Forum was attended by over 440 participants from 35 countries.

The South-South Cooperation Forum heard from eminent experts and leaders in the UN system, Government, regional organizations, NGOs, among others on global transformative experiences and good practices in three thematic areas:

  • Day 1: Poverty alleviation: food and nutrition security
  • Day 2: Agrobiodiversity and smallholder resilience
  • Day 3: Food system transformation

The main aim of the Forum is to formulate and put down the key outputs of the meeting from our thought leaders on the thematic areas of discussion, as a contribution to the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021. This Summit, which will be held in September 2021, aims to launch bold new actions to transform the way the world produces and consumes food, delivering progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The South-South Cooperation Forum featured three keynote addresses and 24 presentations from distinguished international speakers.

In her welcoming remarks, Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in absentia, urged that “we rebuild food systems that respect the environment and strengthen resilience from global shocks and climate change.”  

Dr. Johan Swinnen, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), introduced during the Forum’s opening session new research conducted under the Series 2030 project that shows we can end global hunger sustainably by 2030 if we significantly increase investment in food security from USD 12 billion to USD 26 billion.

Dr. Bernadette P. Resurrección, Associate Professor, Queen’s University Ontario, Canada, spoke on the second day on how the agro-fuels boom in South East Asia has caused friction with indigenous food crops, negatively impacted water quality and encroached on marginalized lands, increasing food insecurity among smallholder farmers. She called for a “center of care” which recognizes the interconnection between people, nature and non-human actors. There is a need to protect the rights of indigenous people who care for the rainforest.

In her keynote address on the closing day, Satu Santala, Director General, Development Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland highlighted further challenges to our current food systems. Forty-eight per cent of the global population are unable to secure nutritious food, while unhealthy consumptions patterns, negative impacts of agriculture on the environment, and lack of inclusiveness and equality plague the global supply chain.

Persons with disabilities comprise 1/7 of the global population, yet face significant obstacles accessing community-based food programmes and contributing their voices in efforts to craft public responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Reforming trade and responsible investment play an important part in transformative food systems, Ms. Santala said.

The South-South Cooperation Forum also sought to build solidarity and integrity for food security and biodiversity conservation in developing countries against the COVID-19 and climate change context. Its interlinked objectives were:

  1. To update and exchange information on challenges and opportunities for immediate joint action on food security and agrobiodiversity in the face of COVID-19 and climate change
  1. To enhance capacity and knowledge sharing for sustainable agriculture and resilience building in the global food system transformation 
  1. To partner and network in linking existing science/community-based research and actions for transformation and adaptation 
  1. To enhance South-South cooperation and joint actions on SDG 2, especially collaboration on Targets 2.3, 2.4 and 2.5 in ending hunger, safeguarding agrobiodiversity, and adapting to climate change
  1. To obtain ideas and comments as a foundation to further formulate and submit an SDG 2 acceleration action on South-South cooperation, as well as develop and submit a report to the United Nations World Food Systems Summit 2021.

“The Summit will only be effective at setting out the pathway to 2030 if we successfully leverage the collective knowledge and experience of the broadest possible cross-section of the population,” said Dr. Agnes Kalibata of Rwanda, UN Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit.

The Agenda of the three-day South-South Cooperation Forum on Food Security and Agrobiodiversity in Times of COVID-19 and Climate Change and further information are available at