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UN Food Systems Summit

In this article, we discuss the UN Food Systems Summit, which aims to deliver healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems.
© The International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA)
In 2021, a Food Systems Summit has been convened by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres as part of the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals. The Summit aims to deliver action and scale up the ambition for healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems.
The Summit is guided by five Action Tracks that bring in multidisciplinary organisations and experts from different sectors and disciplines, including youth-led organisations and the broader youth. More specifically, the 2nd Action Track on Shift to Sustainable Consumption Patterns works to build consumer demand for sustainably produced food, strengthen local value chains, eliminate wasteful patterns of food consumption, and promote the reuse and recycling of food resources, especially among the most vulnerable.

Opportunities for Youth Engagement

The responsibility of future health professionals doesn’t lie only towards the patients, but it also lies towards the community and the planet which sustains them. Medical students can become agents of change by actively engaging in the global agenda for health, environment, and climate change.
That is why, on a global level, the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) provides the perfect opportunity for stimulating such advocacy efforts by young students by utilizing the diverse spaces the Summit is providing for youth to engage meaningfully across all the policy processes leading up to the Summit. Each of the five action tracks is headed by an expert from intergovernmental organisations and a youth vice chair to integrate their inputs and participate in decision-making practices.
Similarly, on a local level, there are a diversity of means for involvement such as organising an in-person or virtual dialogue to consult various voices of youth and vulnerable groups. Their inputs will be translated into concrete and practical calls to action for governments and policymakers for addressing and prioritising the security and sustainability of food systems ahead of the UNFSS.
To ensure the delivery of powerful and evidence-based inputs by young students and the broader public, capacity building and development are of utmost importance for empowerment and equipping individuals with knowledge, skills, and competencies to lead the change in their communities. This arises from the critical acknowledgment of the fact that capacity building should occur across all individual, organisational and systemic levels, to ensure a positive widespread impact.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought up several opportunities for capacity building, which can be considered one of the key lessons learned about taking advantage of the surrounding circumstances, regardless of how negative they might be. New innovative capacity-building initiatives include online courses, workshops, small working groups, and simulations to challenge participants and widen their understanding particularly in the nexus between health, nutrition, and food sustainability.

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Another relevant approach is to set up webinars with specialists in the field to allow exchange of knowledge and experiences between different members of the community.
Examples of food systems-related capacity building initiatives that were conducted by students, based on the principles mentioned above are:
  • Sharing workshop and webinar opportunities on social media platforms of youth-led networks and organisations i.e. The WHO-WWF-CBD webinar: Protect and Preserve Nature, the Source of Human Health featuring expert discussion on several global health topics including sustainable food systems and the All-Consuming: Building a Healthier Food System for People & Planet webinar by UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.
  • Organising official side events on sustainable food systems and sharing the opportunity of attendance with students and broader youth i.e. The International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA) held a virtual discussion with experts from UNFPA and the WHO PMNCH constituency in an official side event for the United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD54) on Mobilizing Adolescents and Youth for Food Security and Nutrition Agenda in the Post-COVID19 World.

Youth Leading Action

Campaigns are considered a powerful pillar of advocacy. Through campaigns, one can lead a change in the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour of target groups. Therefore, it is crucial that campaigns are created across global, regional, and national levels, but also on local levels, arising from the necessity of following the motto of “Think Global, Act Local”.
It is important to highlight the importance of shaping effective messaging for the campaigns with evidence-based calls to actions for protecting and promoting human health and the planet that sustains – where food systems constitute a fundamental pillar of. This should be followed by setting an idealistic vision of achieving this everywhere in the world, regions, countries, or local cities and communities, followed by setting goals and objectives that can be monitored through success indicators, in addition to identifying and setting our target groups and beneficiaries to ensure that our campaigns are reaching their aim. Involvement of other stakeholders and collaboration between them will allow an increased sense of accountability for the delivery of the change and bring more diversity to the ideas used to implement the campaign. This should be followed by evaluation and impact assessment to allow the campaigning cycle to continue on a more professional and developed level. It is also vital that these campaigns get to be mapped and documented to ensure sustainability.
Campaigns should not be solely used for awareness raising. They can also be used to call for action. This campaigning goal can be of ultimate benefit for the food systems, where one call key stakeholders to get engaged and work together towards achieving healthier, more equitable and sustainable food systems.
As an example, a global survey was conducted in 2020 by the student delegation of the IFMSA for the United Nations Climate Change Conference to explore the attitudes of delegates towards health and dietary change in the climate space. The study helped in gaining knowledge about the understanding and attitudes of 278 participants, including 210 NGOs delegates, 57 party delegates, and 11 UN Agency Delegates, all representing 84 countries about human health, dietary practices including the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet amidst the climate negotiations. The findings were published in the commentary “COVID-19 and the future of food systems at the UNFCCC” in The Lancet Planetary Health, which was shared, together with the survey results and an opportunity for a webinar titled “Voices of Food Systems Live”, as part of IFMSA celebration of the World Food Day in 2020. This happened together with the encouragement of student members to join the #VoicesofFoodSystems campaign by UNFSS.
In conclusion, many factors should be considered to ensure the success and impact of campaigns. These factors are the planning, formulation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the campaigns. They allow to measure the relevance of its results in comparison of the original vision and goals. One should not neglect the importance of choosing the right platform and the right types of campaigns. Using both physical and online platforms to implement different types of campaigns allows better outreach, inclusivity, and high impact.
Besides workshops, campaigns, and other capacity-building initiatives, youth can also get involved in advocacy work through the involvement in creating policy documents on topics relevant to sustainable food systems, that can act as a tool of representing the stance of their organisations on the topic.
Furthermore, youth can be involved in quantitative and qualitative research to ensure that their work is evidence-based and get to work on the gaps in the literature regarding food systems, to establish a strong basis for all relevant work.
Let’s lead the change!
Author: Omnia El Omrani, Mohamed Eissa
© The International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA)
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