By EDF Oceans
By Jose Luis Chicoma and Karly Kelso
Last week, global leaders gathered in Rome for the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) +2 Stocktaking Moment, a follow-up event to evaluate commitments to transforming their food systems and progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) made in 2021. In short, it was a time to gather and take stock of where we are – and where we should go next.
How did it shape up?
In this interview, Jose Luis Chicoma, former Peru Minister of Production, Yale World Fellow and Senior Advisor to EDF Climate-Resilient Food Systems, who was present in Rome, shares personal reflections and his insights, concerns and hopes for the future. Food systems and ocean health go hand in hand, and reflections on aquatic blue food in concert with terrestrial food systems are key.
Where did it all start? Why are you passionate about food systems and aquatic blue foods in particular?
I come from Peru, a megadiverse country with abundant natural resources and two of the most important centers of origin and biodiversity on the planet — the Andes and the Amazon. It’s also blessed with one of the richest oceans in the world. However, growing up through economic and political turmoil meant that food was scarce, and we often had to wait in line for basic necessities like rice, milk or bread. The terrible paradox of abundant natural resources alongside people suffering from starvation and food insecurity deeply affected me. This experience became the driving force to dedicate my life to making our food systems healthier, sustainable and inclusive.
As the former Minister of Production in Peru, I prioritized securing regulatory frameworks for the sustainable fishing of species, including mahi-mahi, octopus, scallops, and crabs, supporting small-scale fisheries and fish farmers. The aim was to promote better nutrition for our citizens while protecting biodiversity and livelihoods.
Jose Luis Chicoma reflects on what needs to happen to create a sustainable food system.
What progress have you seen since the 2021 UNFSS, and where are we falling behind?
Before the 2021 UNFSS, the debate on food systems at the national level was largely absent in many developing countries. That moment brought a significant shift in the food systems debate, encouraging systemic dialogues that consider nutrition, environment, social inclusion and economic growth. However, progress in implementing reforms and transforming food systems has been uneven worldwide and the lack of political will at the global, regional and national levels poses a significant challenge.
Critical issues remain unaddressed, including the dominance of powerful companies controlling food supply chains, limited utilization of local products, which are often healthier and more affordable, slow adoption of agroecology and other sustainable agricultural models and a concerning lack of regulation on agricultural commodities.
What key positive takeaways from the Stocktake? Are you disappointed in any of the outcomes?
I am pleased to witness the positive impact of some food systems coalitions established during the 2021 Summit. One remarkable example is the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition, which focuses on oceans, fisheries and aquaculture, providing a comprehensive and systemic approach to aquatic foods, often overlooked in food systems debates. This integrated and systems approach considers nutrition, sustainability, biodiversity, economic opportunities and social inclusion.
However, we must acknowledge the significant challenges in transforming food systems and generate the necessary political will to address the reforms mentioned earlier. Empowering stakeholders genuinely committed to sustainability and food sovereignty while addressing power asymmetries is crucial for a successful transformation.
What would you like to see at COP28? What will you be pushing for?
In the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work (the formal platform focusing on climate action in agriculture and food security), I would like to see five key outcomes. First, a global commitment to accelerate the transition to agroecology and other sustainable agricultural models, including the required investments and access to finance for smallholder farmers. Second, an adopted systemic approach, connecting sustainable agriculture with healthier diets and livelihood improvement. Third, an acknowledgment that tackling deforestation and biodiversity loss in food supply chains is essential. Fourth, an increase in financing for food systems transformation. And finally, the prioritization of food systems in National Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans are crucial steps.
What are the next steps coming out of the UNFSS Stocktake? What do you hope to see moving forward in global efforts to transform food systems?
Food system transformation requires collaborative efforts, and supporting UNFSS coalitions is a crucial next step. These coalitions focus on areas like agroecology, blue foods and healthy diets, approaching issues systematically to drive global cooperation and enact necessary reforms at the national level.
A compelling example of reforms with significant potential for transformation is school meal programs, which can leverage government purchasing power to achieve multiple goals. They can provide students with healthy diets while protecting local biodiversity and small-scale food producers by purchasing sustainably grown food from small-scale producers. These programs can also contribute to the utilization of local diverse and forgotten crops, the transition to agroecology and sustainable practices in our oceans.
And overall, to make a lasting impact, we must heed the recommendations of the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition to take bold actions at both global and national levels. True change requires unwavering political will to translate recommendations that have already been proposed by independent and scientific commissions into tangible results.
What do you think Food Systems will look like in 10 years or for future generations? What do you see as the big wins for transforming food systems to benefit people and the planet?
The ideal future is one that ensures that healthy diets are accessible and affordable for everyone. Currently, 3.1 billion people cannot afford a nutritious diet. To address this, we must diversify our diets with climate-resilient and nutritious crops – including forgotten crops – and incorporate sustainable aquatic foods. This will enhance the nutritional quality of our food and reduce reliance on just a few crops.
Reducing dependence on imported food products is also crucial to avoid price fluctuations and food crises. By prioritizing locally sourced food through well-designed policies and collective efforts, we can also improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and artisanal fishers, who play a vital role in feeding the majority of people in developing countries.
To inform what we need to do to increase access to healthier, sustainably produced and inclusive diets, the results of the EAT-Lancet Commission 2.0 (the first full scientific review of what a healthy diet within planetary boundary entails) will be key. It will build on the debate surrounding healthy diets and sustainability and will consider essential and integrated aspects like social justice and affordability in its recommendations.
It’s clear that we can’t consider the steps to a sustainable food system for everyone – both people and nature – without ensuring healthy green and blue ecosystems. By considering both agriculture and aquatic food systems together, we can move toward achieving the goals we set out, making sure we have enough food and a healthy planet.