Innovation and Global Food Systems — UN Food Systems Summit

I recently attended the UN Food Systems Summit ‘Lever of Change Innovation Public Forum’. The forum asked key experts how innovation could be strengthened to improve global food systems, both in the face of the growing climate crisis and in the response to the fragilities of our food systems as emphasised by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The role of technology in delivering innovation cannot be underplayed. Leesa Shrader, Director of the AgriFin Accelerate Programme at Mercy Corps, shared how AgriFin’s partners aim to provide digital services at scale for farmers. In partnership with Safaricom, for example, AgriFin has been able to provide 1.3 million farmers with access to e-learning resources about good farming and financial practices. This has been of key importance for women farmers, who make up 50% of the users and who often have limited access to the marketplace. I was especially interested in comments made by Joao Campari, Global Leader of Food Practice at WWF International, who spoke about how tech innovation could be used to address the current underperformance by the agricultural sector in addressing climate goals. Drones, for example, can be used to increase ‘nature positive’ production.

The members of the panel emphasised that to successfully rise to these challenges, governments and communities need to adopt a view of innovation that goes beyond technological developments; the scale of change required will also depend upon people-centric solutions, encompassing policy, partnership, and platform building. Helena Leurent, Director General of Consumers International, discussed how innovations surrounding consumer-producer communication, or innovation in consumer protection could ensure the dissemination of accurate climate-impact information.

My key take-away from the panel was how the necessary technological developments might be combined with people-centric ‘systems change’ to yield the greatest results. This point was drawn upon by panel member Hamadi Boga, Principal Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries, who stressed that technological solutions to problems needed to operate within ‘innovation ecosystems’. This much needed change in mindset will enable actors in global food systems to create, implement, and respond to current pressing challenges far more effectively. The Forum ended with a reminder that there are only nine harvests left to meet the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and I look forward to the remainder of the Summit to hear more about the transformations we can all anticipate across the coming decade.