Executive Director opening remarks at the Geneva launch of the EAT-Lancet commission report on healthy diets from sustainable food systems (en)

28 mars 2019
ITC Nouvelles
Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the Geneva launch of the EAT-Lancet commission report on healthy diets from sustainable food systems
Palais des Nations - Geneva

Good morning. I am very pleased to be here to participate in the launch of the EAT-Lancet Commission Report on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems.

I want to congratulate you for having stirred a debate. Because you have stirred one! I also want to thank you for this opportunity to debate the findings in this report, adjust them as needed and help craft a response to the challenges you have identified.

I come from a family with generations of farmers. In Spain, like in many other countries around the world, food is not just for production and consumption- food is a way of life. It is part of the culture, the history and the lifestyle. It is part of the community and is at the very core of the DNA of how we live.

I understand the passion behind food. As I equally understand the passion behind health and caring for our global ecosystem.

Because food is also about health. Food is also about sustainability. Food is about revenues and jobs, especially for the small farmers and fisherfolk.

A report like that which you have before you today will provide many solutions but also raise many questions. This is a positive thing. We must have a debate on these issues. A discussion on what we can do as a global community to find that important balance that safeguards the rights and livelihoods of producers and consumers but which ultimately contributes to the global good and to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

I am not here today to validate or discount the scientific findings found in this Report. I am not a scientist.

But I am here to confirm that we have a multi-faceted global challenge that can only be solved with global integrated solutions. And this is what I take from this report, a desire to produce evidence that will help craft integrated answers in line with the UN Sustainable development Goals.

We do have a global health and obesity epidemic. The figures are worrying with more than 800 million people having either insufficient food or consuming an unhealthy diet. We have on the one hand devastating poverty where levels of nutrition are low because of the scarcity of food or very low yields in subsistence farming, and on the other hand we have over production and over consumption of food and food products which are slowly decimating parts of the world, through preventable non-communicable diseases.

We have an issue of stubborn poverty especially affecting rural areas. On the almost 800 million people still living in extreme poverty, 95% of the rural poor live in East Asia, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

We have agriculture representing almost one third of total global emissions.

We see the depletion of our oceans through overfishing with nearly 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted.

Looking at how and what we produce in the food value chain is a critical element if we are to have what the report calls a ‘Great Food Transformation’.

Like in so many areas of our economies, we need to be able to find a better balance. A better balance between the individual: job, revenues, consumption habits, health and our responsibility towards protecting our global public goods.

This is what we in the International Trade Centre have called “Good Trade”: one that is environmentally sustainable, socially responsible while unleashing economic development potential.

Underlying this focus is the commitment to sustainability. This is especially pertinent in the agro-food sector, where a large portion of our work takes place. From ensuring climate-smart agriculture, to reducing waste and improving labour conditions along international value chains, trade is inextricably linked to the sustainability of food systems.

One of our flagship programmes is the Trade for Sustainable Development Programme (T4SD), which works directly with businesses, governments, and trade support institutions to unlock market opportunities in supply chains and show that environmental, social, and economic sustainability can be a real business advantage and not simply a cost.

We aim to show that you can do good while doing business and contribute to achieving the SDGs. We work with producers to better reflect what consumers are increasingly calling for: more transparent value chains and production processes, greater access to healthy and affordable food, and processes that cause as little harm to the environment as possible. By working with producers to build up their capacity to meet standards, to shift to organic farming, or to pay a fair wage, we are also working to ensure that they can also increase their revenues. Let us not forget that many of those cultivating the land or fishing the seas are among the poorest in their countries. The great food transformation must also deliver for them. Consumers are willing to pay premium for organic and sustainable products so we see this as a win-win-win: for the producer, the consumer and for the environment.

The EAT-Lancet Report recognizes the role of trade in sustainable food systems. The ways in which trade policy is created and trade support is implemented can bring about drastically divergent outcomes, not only for the sustainability of food production but also for food security and healthy diets. We must tailor our interventions in order to utilize the comparative advantage of different economies while incentivizing a system that rewards better environmental and social standards.

The way farmers are supported in obtaining a fair revenue for their production matters. This is why WTO disciplines on agricultural support (subsidies) is important.

The way support to fishing is crafted matters. Subsidies to encourage overfishing will end up decimating our oceans. This is why it matters that WTO members adopt a multilateral agreement to end support for overfishing.

But we also believe it is crucial to take global solutions to the local level. This is why we are building a network of T4SD Hubs in countries to provide a customized package of sustainability capacity-building resources on the ground in strategically placed target countries. These Hubs build upon the research, tools, training, and Global Public Goods that encompass ITCs sustainability expertise. Here, a cocoa cooperative in Ghana can draw from international and local experts to adapt new sustainable production practices and access green finance. A Quinoa farmer in Peru can participate in an international Masterclass and enhance her resource sustainability in order to mitigate the impacts from climate change. Meanwhile, a cashew exporter in Cambodia can use ITC’s Sustainability Map online platform to track the environmental and social standard of their suppliers and connect to international markets.

You will notice I have focused mostly on sustainable food systems, as that is more-closely aligned with ITCs value-added. However, these issues around sustainable trade and food systems have a direct effect on healthy diets as well.

More and more, as revealed by the EAT-Lancet report, we see a correlation between resource-intensive agricultural supply chains and negative health impacts. As mentioned in the report, such findings need to be debated inclusively, understood fully, and applied carefully in order to achieve the best possible results based on the local and regional context. Yet, the global impact of unsustainable food systems and diets is becoming apparent and must be addressed as a factor in achieving the SDGs and in the fight against climate change.

While change may be difficult, we cannot simply reinforce that status quo since it has not worked. We need to actively collaborate to improve our current systems for a more sustainable future. Reflecting on action points from the EAT-Lancet Report, this means working together with national governments and businesses to create adapted solutions. These solutions could include public awareness campaigns to encourage healthy and sustainable food choices among consumers while ensuring business success for producers – all producers - as well. They could also include targeted legislation to encourage healthy and sustainable food systems and provide consumers with more information on the environmental impact of their purchases.

Finally, creating positive change requires working together in international fora and events such as this one. The WHO and FAO co-lead the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition programme, aimed at tackling global nutrition targets to realize the SDGs by 2030. ITC is exploring how we can engage more in this programme beyond our current activities in the Sustainable Food Systems area.

I hope that today you will have an active and passionate discussion on elements of the report and that one of your key takeaways will be the value of cooperation, partnership and open dialogue in taking this important issue forward.