Inclusive and sustainable food systems are key to our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

Local and regional governments are playing a crucial role in ensuring the global agendas become a reality. The current situation shows that local public service provision is vital to ensuring that people and the planet are duly protected.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on towns, cities, territories, and their citizens deepening structural inequalities and worsening poverty and has also called into question many of the certainties we had before the pandemic. It has also pushed citizens and government to rethink current models of production and consumption and the way in which our economies are structured. The pandemic has also highlighted the vital role of local and regional governments in mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on health, the importance of maintaining and improving the functioning of urban food systems, food security and nutrition of people.

The #CitiesAreListening experience on Urban Food Systems: Nutrition and the Climate Emergency, hosted by UCLG, UN-Habitat and Metropolis, together with the city of Barcelona, World Capital of Sustainable Food in 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Sustainable Urban Food Centre (CEMAS), included local and regional governments and their partners discussing the effects of the pandemic on urban food systems, as well as the interlinkages of climate change, food and nutrition. Participants highlighted that local and regional governments are key actors in food systems as opposed to mere consumers, guaranteeing they are sustainable and inclusive.

The Secretary General of UCLG, Emilia Saiz, introduced the spirit of the CitiesAreListening, by stating the importance of food systems to the survival of people and the planet and emphasized the need for local and regional governments to be at the decision-making table when it comes to food systems policy. She stressed that “our current patterns are not aimed to feed people and fight hunger and that this is why we believe that local and regional government involvement is critical, so our systems work for our communities. Our hope is that in the roadmap towards the food systems summit, within the framework of the UNGA we will have local and regional governments recognizable”.

These remarks were echoed by Álvaro Porro, Commissioner of Social Economy, Local Development and Food Policy of Barcelona, and Marcela Villarreal, Director of Partnerships Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Álvaro Porro highlighted the important year that is 2021 for the global agendas related to food given the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) and the 7th Forum of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP) mentioning that “cities need to be recognized internationally for their unique role to transform food systems” and especially underlined the importance that they play in climate action. Marcela Villarreal noted the importance of having better food policies that are more inclusive and articulated amongst all levels of governance iterating that “we also need a better articulation between cities and national governments for policies to transform food systems, more resilient.”

Subsequently, before entering into the interactive panel discussions, a specific moment of the session was set to “think outside the box” with the Cooking sections, a duo of spatial practitioners,  Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe, dedicated to explore the systems that organize the world through food. They were introduced by Matteo Luchetti of the Orchestras of Transformation, a curatorial agency founded to bring socially engaged art projects dealing with SDGs, and presented their project “Climavore”, a platform that explores how humans can evolve the way in which they eat to benefit the climate.

The first panel moderated by Amaranta Herrero, Strategic Coordinator of Barcelona’s World Sustainable Food Capital project,  shared experiences on how cities and regions have been contributing to food systems and the importance of food in their policies. During the panel, Cristina Sossan, Advisor Food Policy Office, City of Milan and John Taylor, Chief technical adviser, FAO Bangladesh highlighted the importance of creating a network for cities and actors to share information related to food while Serafin Pazos-Vidal, Head of Brussels Office, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Dalila Harras, Director of the Development Agency, Chefchaouen underlined the intrinsic connection between food systems policies and local policies such as education and climate action. Abd Dayem Sidi Mohamed Nounol, Cooperation Advisor, Nouakchott Region, María Eugenia Torres, Director of Equity and Gender, Azuay Province, and Cesar Carrillo, Director of Rural Economy and Supply of the Secretariat of Economic Development, Bogotá highlighted their local perspectives, each one stressing how COVID-19 brought to light the vulnerability of food systems and how local and regional governments can ensure they are sustainable and resilient.

The second panel moderated by Kostas Stamoulis, Director, Strategic Programme Leader,  Food Security and Nutrition, counted on the presence of representatives and experts from partner organizations ranging from city networks, multilateral development institutions and organizations specialized in food. These actors focused on how partnerships for urban food systems can amplify the actions of local and regional governments and accelerate progress towards the UNFSS.

Kostas Stamoulis introduced the work of the  Global Urban Food Systems Working Group facilitated by FAO and GAIN which purpose is to drive commitments and engagement by urban food systems actors as well as to increase participation and give a voice to local governments in global processes related to food.

During the panel, Grace Githiri, UN-Habitat, Associate Programme Management Officer, Sofie Elise Quist, Project Coordinator - food policy and COP26, Nourish Scotland, and Zachary Tofias, Director, Food and Waste Climate Solutions and Networks, C40 Cities, highlighted the importance of coordinated responses to achieve more inclusive, sustainable urban food policy and to strengthen urban rural linkages. Vicente Domingo, Director, CEMAS stressed the transversal character of food systems policies recalling that they have an important effect on gender equality, on education, on climate action, on resilience and social protection, among others. This last point was also echoed by Maite Rodriguez, Women and Habitat Latin American and Caribbean Network which stressed that a woman’s right to the city includes her right to sustainable and inclusive urban food systems.

Emilia Saiz, UCLG Secretary General, wrapped up the session by recalling that food is not only about government but needs to include governments and that UCLG will continue to work with the UN and its partners to ensure that local and regional governments have a voice in global processes.

Rethinking our food systems is an integral part of our relationship with the planet. The outcomes of the session are set to feed our advocacy towards the UNFSS and, more broadly, become a part of the inputs that will feed the Pact for the Future that our organization was mandated to develop. Through the transformation of our food systems, we will be also transforming our society into one that cares for its planet, and for its people.