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The Food System Is Broken: We Need to Involve All Stakeholder Groups in Finding Solutions

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There has been much discussion around the post-2015 development framework and the role of non-state actors in setting new goals and priorities to replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

A prevalent view in parts of the international community is that only governments have a legitimate role to play in setting new targets and establishing global policy frameworks. While non-state actors should express their views, they should not unduly influence the process, due to potential conflicts of interest. Instead they are expected to look, listen and then play an active role in implementing and delivering activities determined by policy decisions taken by governments.

This is the current position for the upcoming Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) to be organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in November in Rome. Over twenty years after the first ICN, it aims to set a new policy framework to address the challenges of global malnutrition and feed directly into the new sustainable development goals. Presently, only government and multilateral organizations will be allowed to attend the meeting, as the only groups with the legitimate right to establish a new policy framework for nutrition.

While there can be a formal separation between policy making and policy setting, in practice this lack of trust between state and non-state actors will severely limit the achievement of a meaningful outcome. This 'closed door' approach to developing strategy was already flagged at the Preparatory Technical meeting held at FAO last year.

Few governments themselves work in this way at the national level, and instead consultation and public inputs are seen as essential to developing sound and effective policy. We need to get beyond objectives and target setting to finding solutions. The ideas, experience and resources of social and economic actors are essential for this.

We should be more ambitious, or we will miss the opportunity to fix the global food system. The fact is that the system is not ready to deal with the multiple challenges it faces from climate change to food deserts. Indeed very little has improved since the last ICN meeting in 1992: We have today about 840 million people who are hungry in the world; 2 billion who lack essential vitamins and minerals; 162 million children under the age of 5 that are stunted; and around 1.4 billion people in the world who are overweight and obese. Underlying these enormous challenges is a food system that is more and more globalized, with value chains and supply chains reaching into every corner of the planet, and a food system that -- despite considerable investment - is not providing affordable and nutritious diets for most of the world's population.

This food system will not self-correct. We need a new consensus involving all stakeholders on how to make the food systems more responsive to human needs, what this would look like, and how it will be managed. This requires the private sector, civil society, governments and multilateral organizations, as well as a workable policy framework negotiated and agreed on not just by governments but all key stakeholders. It is true it will not be a straightforward process, and we have to make sure interests are clear and transparent. But if we are to come up with genuinely deliverable and meaningful solutions to malnutrition and sustainable development targets, the engagement of stakeholders representing all perspectives and areas of expertise is critical.

Let's not be remembered as the generation that failed to adapt the international system to the new global realities, or which put formal niceties above getting the job done. We can certainly agree governments should have the final say on policy. But governments are not able to find solutions on their own, and we need more than targets and standards to do this. We need meaningful action. Let us be remembered instead as the generation that embraced the spirit of partnership, inviting all actors to work together to reach the goal of ending malnutrition in our lifetime.