UNRC Talking Points - National Dialogue on Food Systems in Serbia
03 September 2021
Talking points by Francoise Jacob, UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, at National Dialogue on Food Systems in Serbia.
Dear Minister, dear participants,
Thank you for inviting to talk on behalf of the UN in Serbia.
The Global Food Systems Summit to be convened by UN Secretary General during the UN General assembly end of Sept 2021 will present key opportunities to set out a new direction for the food systems, one that respect planetary boundaries, focuses on healthy diets for all and provide sustainable livelihoods for farmers.
When we were requested by our colleagues in New York if there was any interest from Serbia for a national dialog, we immediately thought this would allow all of us to bring the attention on an issue that is at the foundation of sustainable development, that is not discussed too often in such format, and that covers multiple sectors, starting with agriculture.
It is also timely to discuss these topics in the post COVID context: In Serbia agriculture is a vibrant sector that represents 14% of employment, 7.5% of GDP. It has shown incredible resilience to the COVID crisis: as an example, agricultural exports grew from 6% of exports in 2019 to 7.5% of exports in 2020 (source: SORS). Even so, rural areas in Serbia are still left behind with twice as high a level of poverty than in urban areas, a low level of protection for its workers, and widespread exclusion from opportunities, as was evident during the COVID crisis. The agricultural sector has untapped potential to lift rural areas’ standard of living and retain and attract people and businesses.
Thanks to the team from the ministry of Agriculture, and with support from UN colleagues, the dialogs turned out to be engaged, fruitful, bringing new stakeholders and new perspectives around the table to contribute to the transformation of the food systems.
Today the panels will focus primarily on food safety, sustainable food production, and inclusive value chains. However, Food Systems transformation is a much wider topic that cuts across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, so let me recap a few points that came out from both the national and global dialogs.
1. globally, the food system summit is a people summit, and the team has managed to precisely do that in Serbia: Call for, and hear the voices of small landowners, CSOs, experts, large agri-businesses, on the many issues related to food systems. This brought a different dimension to the usual discussions around agriculture, which are often very technical in content. Inclusivity, multi-stakeholder partnership and ownership were at the core of the debates, reflecting one of the key principles of Agenda 2030, to leave no one behind.
2. My second point relates to the complexity of Food Systems concept. In these dialogs, we have started to map the interconnections between food production, nutrition, healthy lifestyle, economic gains, land management, the divide between the very small producers and the large, export-oriented businesses. We spoke about the environmental impact, pollution and food safety and so much more. As the country plans its national pathway to sustainable food systems, it is clear that we need wider sectoral integration and cooperation, in fact, cross fertilization, between agriculture, health, environment, science and technology, education. In other words, a more holistic approach.
3. My Third point is on the renewed understanding that Food Systems, in their current design, have large, often damaging impacts on nature, loss of bio-diversity, pollution and climate change.
Globally, between 20% and a third of man-made greenhouse gas emissions are generated by food systems. Agriculture is identified as a threat to 24,000 out of 28,000 species at risk of extinction, etc. Extensive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and mono-culture are severely damaging soil and water; the dramatic reduction of the bee and other insect populations is endangering the sustainability and diversity of food production. At the same time, the food system bears the brunt of CC effects, affecting crop yield, changing the patterns of rainfalls, etc. So we clearly need to link the food system agenda with all the enormous efforts that the country has started for a deep transformation of the national economic system in one that delivers for people, planet and prosperity.
4. The dialogs are a starting point, and they build on the strategy of the ministry of agriculture. Many recommendations were shared, and many topics had to be put on the side for further discussion. I will just list a few:
The promotion of Decent livelihoods and diversification of rural livelihood, including addressing multiple gender gaps + creating new opportunities for young people.
The acceleration of Innovation, both in terms of knowledge development and access, which must reach the small farmers, and more marginalised communities, with the private sector. This includes reshaping short value chains, and expanding local, quality food processing opportunities.
Boosting nature-based, nature- positive production and solutions across the food systems activities (mitigating the environment impact) including by a strengthening of the regulatory framework with an emphasis on enforcement to eliminate illegal dumping of waste and illegal logging and inspection services (to curb proliferation of forged and poor-quality goods).
Revisiting the whole area of infrastructure for rural development: financing new and adapted irrigation schemes, with increased water use efficiency, as critical adaptation measures to climate change.
Promoting sustainable consumption, safe food and healthy lifestyle among citizens, this is a soft, but major undertaking that could make a big difference, and must start in schools.
Upscaling efforts around the management of food loss and food waste.
And finally, upscaling green financing and innovative financing schemes for small farmers.
5. The UN will continue to be a partner of the Government of Serbia and the communities, in this part of the Green Transformation towards the realisation of Agenda 2030 and Serbia’s national agenda: we provide a usual blend of support to policy and standard frameworks, through agencies such as FAO, or the UN Economic Commission, or we support direct actions, through UNDP or the UN Environment Agency. Currently the UN is actively supporting food waste initiatives with the private sector, soil and forest management, waste management, preservation of biodiversity and the promotion of good agricultural practices; We are starting a whole new initiative with children around healthy diets, with UNICEF, and expanded our work on both mitigation and adaptation aspects of climate change.
As a conclusion, I would like to mention that today, it is not enough to produce food; we need a new holistic approach and to design food systems that protect the earth and keep the dignity of the human person at the centre; that ensure enough food globally and promote decent work locally;There will be many more debates in the real food economy between health professionals, environmentalists, farmers and the corporate world. In Serbia, these dialogs should continue with all shareholders and the citizens and can set a new pace of engagement.
Let me again thank the Minister, for taking such a committed lead on this initiative.