Solving the challenges of growing populations and sustainable food production is possible, but it will require collaboration and commitment from governments, businesses, the science community and individuals across the world, who must act now. That was the consensus of government leaders and changemakers who gathered for the Food, Agriculture and Livelihoods Business Forum at Expo 2020 Dubai on 21st February.
The event was co-curated by New Zealand, in partnership with Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Expo 2020 Dubai. It sought to galvanise collective action to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food systems in order to feed 10 billion people by 2050.
With the world’s land and water ecosystems already critically stressed, forum delegates agreed more urgency must be placed on transforming the world’s food and agricultural systems to lessen the industry’s environmental impact and make the global distribution of food more efficient and equitable for all.
New Zealand’s participation was led by New Zealand G2G, a joint venture between New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and drew participation from the UAE, Australia, Bahamas, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Estonia, Ghana, Hungary, India, Morocco, Peru, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, The Netherlands, Trinidad & Tobago, Ukraine, USA, Vietnam, and Zambia.
In her keynote address, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, urged for a major restructuring of the entire food industry, from production to distribution and policy to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production. “The topic being discussed today is pressing in light of the challenges our food systems face. Climate change has put considerable pressure on our resources. This is why we have to put our heads together to accelerate food systems transformation and harness technology and innovation to achieve global food security and sustainability,” she said.
H.E. Almheiri also outlined the climate priorities identified by the newly formed Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate), an initiative launched at COP26 and co-led by the UAE and USA. She added, “AIM for Climate is a vehicle and a catalyst for change. We’re on a mission to accelerate agricultural innovation, bringing together more than 140 government and non-government partners to tackle climate change and global hunger. The transition to sustainable food systems is an urgent task, and we don’t have much time. To expedite innovation, we must invest in the future, which is why AIM for Climate has set a goal to double our investments from $4 billion to $8 billion by COP27 at the end of this year.”
Commenting on New Zealand’s lead curation role in the forum, Hon. Damien O’Connor, Minister of Agriculture and Minister for Trade and Export Growth, New Zealand Government, said: “It was an honour to bring together such impressive collective intellect from so many nations. We know that we must work together to build more positive, resilient and inclusive food systems for all. To be in balance with nature, not against it.
“Food production is one of the most noble human endeavours. It should enable thriving rural communities and rewarding livelihoods. It should generate social and economic prosperity while maintaining and enhancing the integrity of natural resources.
“We have much to learn from each other, especially from Indigenous communities. New Zealand’s future vision for our food production system is based on the Māori concept of Te Taiao; a deep relationship of respect and reciprocity with the natural world. Under a Te Taiao lens, the health of the climate, land, water and living systems comes first. When nature thrives so do our families, communities, and businesses. This is a unifying concept that is relevant to all of us, as experts and leaders with a part to play in shaping food systems to serve current and future generations.
“The takeaway is clear – we must collectively act now, and innovate to sustainably and equitably feed the planet. In doing so we will bring an end to world hunger.”
Hassan Al Hashemi, Vice President of International Relations, Dubai Chamber of Commerce, said: “Achieving food security needs, without distorting trade or causing inefficient land use or overfishing is in the interest of everyone on the planet. Expo 2020 Dubai has provided an ideal platform for government and business leaders to address pressing sustainability issues related to the environment and food security and developing innovative solutions to address them.”
A Time to Act
During a series of panel discussions, Lightning Talks and Fireside Chats, delegates discussed the importance of public-private collaborations in the global agricultural ecosystem, effective use of resources for farmers, modern food safety systems, livestock productivity, and the role of technology in solving challenges to global food systems.
Ministerial leaders and scientific experts from Costa Rica, New Zealand and Zambia agreed the goal of feeding future generations cannot be achieved without public and private partnerships, especially for improving connectivity and accessibility for smallholder farmers to strike a fairer balance of trade between different members of the agricultural value chain. “Feeding the planet is not really a production problem, it is mostly a distribution problem. PPPs can be an instrument not only to feed 10 billion people, but to create a better world through more jobs, more opportunities, less inequality and ultimately more prosperity. Yes, every country and PPP will have its own set of challenges, but with a shared vision and alignment on respective outcomes, together we can achieve a better world for all,” said Pedro Beirute, Head, Trade Promotion Agency, PROCOMER, Costa Rica.
Smallhold farms, less than two hectares in size, represent 84% of the world’s 570 million farms and many smallholder farmers are some of the poorest people in the world. They stand to gain the most from development collaboration, benefiting planet, communities and local economies, according to Dr. Suzie Newman, Head – International Development, Plant and Food Research New Zealand. Citing field work from smallhold horticultural farms in India and Vietnam, Newman said: “What our collaborations have shown us is sustainable and transformative change is possible for smallhold farmers, but there are many moving parts with applied science, collaboration and trust all required. Top tip – it’s all about partnership – there is real strength in working together to overcome the big challenges. Doing so can substantially change lives.”
When it comes to developing modern food safety systems, delegates called for countries with strong trading relationships to use their knowledge to better collaborate on the global challenge of food safety. “Producing and exporting safe food internationally requires a system that operates to global standards. A successful integrated system demands collaboration from both the government and private sector. New Zealand’s regulatory regime is aligned with other countries and international standards organisations, such as Codex and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), to achieve best practice outcomes for public health and food safety. By collaborating and working together to solve food security management concerns, we can develop, maintain and improve food safety systems globally,” said Hon. Dr. Ayesha Verrall, Minister for Food Safety, New Zealand Government.
The forum also shone a spotlight on the importance of digital connectivity, data and Artificial Intelligence for advancing food security. Such digitalization can make value chains more efficient and drive sustainability in production, enabling markets to become more self-sufficient.
One such example was shared by Dr. Mamdouh Alsharari, Deputy Director General – Animal Production General Department, at the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and Sharl Liebergreen, Consultant at New Zealand’s world-leading agribusiness consulting firm AbacusBio. By adopting the science of AbacusBio’s livestock genetics, they have succeeded in improving the long-term productivity of sheep breeders in the Kingdom.
However, technology advancements alone are not enough, and such changes will take time to implement. Feeding future generations within the limits of environmental capacity also means looking at alternative food sources
Volker Kuntzsch, CEO, of Cawthron – New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation said: “With 71 percent of the earth surface covered by ocean, and marine environments being some of the most renewable ecosystems on the planet, we need to look at how we sustainably utilise these areas more effectively to feed 10 billion people.”
New Zealand was selected by Expo 2020 Dubai and Dubai Chamber of Commerce to co-curate the business forum because of its leadership in sustainable food systems, smart applied science and proven track record of producing high value products. New Zealand is recognised globally as one of the most progressive agricultural and aqua cultural nations – its food sector feeds around 40 million global consumers each year, eight times its population.