The Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome has lived up to its billing as “an action summit, a people summit, a solution summit”. An unparalleled opportunity to rethink the way our food systems operate, the full Food Systems Summit in September is expected to catalyze significant action and commitments to enable achievement of the SDGs by 2030.

Opening the hybrid Pre-Summit – mixing in person sessions and virtual discussions – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres strikingly identified food systems as contributing to the war against nature:

Our war against nature includes a food system that generates one third of all greenhouse gas emissions.  And the same food system is responsible for up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss.

Yet, there is hope.  Since my initial call for this Summit, you have responded with energy, ideas and a willingness to forge new partnerships.  At this Pre-Summit, we can define the scope of our collective ambition and strengthen our efforts to achieve all 17 SDGs by transforming our food systems.”

Running alongside the main programme in Rome, the Pre-Summit included a host of Affiliated Sessions organised by a multitude of food systems partners.

On the first day UNDP’s Andrew Bovarnick spoke at “Promoting actionable multi-stakeholder collaboration for inclusive and equitable food systems governance at all levels”, an event organised by One Planet Network’s Sustainable Food Systems Programme and the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture.

The session started with on-the-ground reports of multistakeholder experiences from Fundacion Alternativas in La Paz, Bolivia, and Uganda’s National Planning Committee, which Andrew Bovarnick took as excellent examples highlighting the importance and challenges of effective collaborative action. Multi stakeholder collaboration doesn’t just happen – it needs expertise and support to build trust, achieve consensus and find a common vision.

One of the most impressive aspects of the run-up to the Rome meeting, he said, was the National Food Systems Dialogues, with more than 469 dialogues in 138 countries. UNDP has been assisting with the organisation and facilitation of a number of these, and it has become clear that the pre-Summit dialogues are only an initial step in a longer, more sustained food systems transformation journey.

This reinforces Andrew Bovarnick’s experience from 10 years of the Green Commodities Programme, the imperative for collective and targeted efforts to support the continuation of food systems dialogues for the development and implementation of pathways after the summit. One aspect of this support is meeting the need for coordinated matchmaking mechanisms to ensure countries connect with the expertise they need from the right partner for high-quality, long-term facilitation, process support, and capacity building around the ‘HOW’ of change: fostering deeper multi-stakeholder collaboration based on innovation, learning and experimentation. This support on the HOW needs to be sustained and supported over many years in a coordinated manner with dedicated coalitions, not by piecemeal, small interventions.

How do we do this HOW support? UNDP is formulating a Post Summit Initiative, called the Future of Food System Collaboration (FFSC), with UN agencies and other partners. The proposal is that backbone support would continue for convening dialogues and providing facilitation expertise to countries for on-going food systems dialogues & national pathways.

The technological innovation which many speakers at the Pre-Summit called for, and organizational, cultural innovation are a natural combination. The relationship between technical solutions and collaborative systemic change is a virtuous circle: improving multistakeholder collaboration improves adoption of new technical innovations which, as they succeed, improves trust and collaboration.

Other speakers in the One Planet Network/Swiss FOA event echoed UNDP’s support for multistakeholder collaboration. Lee Ann Jackson of OECD said that countries need to take the time to build trust step by step to catalyse transformation, while Tom Arnold, Ireland’s Special Envoy on Food Systems, also emphasized the need for decade-long policies to achieve environmental, economic and cultural sustainability.

A question from the audience asked why indigenous groups of farmers and fishers were not more involved in these processes. Andrew Bovarnick answered that getting everyone “in the room”- no matter what their perceived “power” or “contribution” might be – was essential to effective collaborative action. This was supported by a number of panelists, and

in closing Alwin Kopse, Head of International Affairs & Food Security of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, reinforced the need for inclusive collaborative processes that could cope with different interests and values. Working with a systemic perspective was essential, he said, but most of all this and other sessions had surfaced the fact that Food Systems are a substantive element of the economy and environment which need governance, support and long-term nurture.

The stage is set for further co-creation of the FFSC concept in the lead-up to the full Food Systems Summit in September.

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