UN Food Systems Summit: Game changing solutions for dairy

The United Nations Food Systems Summit, which is being convened this September by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, marks a clear point in time when decisions will be taken relating to the future production and consumption of food. With the world nowhere close to delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the target date of 2030, the Summit Secretariat has issued a call for game changing solutions to pick up the pace to delivery of the SDGs.

Work underway

The preparatory work for the Summit has been underway for some time. A large part of that work is being carried out under five different Action Tracks (ATs). Each Action Track is supported by a Chair and a Vice-Chair, a UN Anchoring Agency, and members of the Independent Scientific Group.

The ATs and the workstreams that sit within them are:

  • Action Track 1: Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all
    • Workstreams: (1) Zero hunger, (2) Access to nutritious food, (3) Safe food
  • Action Track 2: Shift to sustainable consumption patterns
    • Workstreams: 1) Food waste, (2) Food Demand, (3) Food environments
  • Action Track 3: Boost nature positive production
    • Workstreams: (1) Protect, (2) Manage, (3) Restore
  • Action Track 4: Advance equitable livelihoods
    • Workstreams: (1) Strengthening agency, (2) Inclusive policies, (3) Multi-dimensional welfare and access
  • Action Track 5: Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stress
    • Workstreams: (1) Economic resilience – Being equitable and inclusive, (2) Social resilience – Producing broad-based benefits for all people, (3) Environmental resilience -Generating positive and regenerative impacts on the natural environment.

 

In January 2021, public surveys were launched for each of the ATs, as a means of generating ideas for ‘game changing’ solutions to address the issues covered by each Action Track. The Leadership Teams for each of the Action Track have been meeting to share ideas and solutions and to shortlist the Game Changers.

Waking up to Our Game Changing Potential

The global dairy sector has been sharing information on the contribution of dairy to healthy and sustainable diets throughout the preparatory stage of the Summit and will continue to do so. In addition, many of IDF’s National Committees and other organizations have been engaged on a local and regional level to ensure that the value of diets that contain dairy foods as well as plant foods is recognized.

The IDF-FAO Dairy Declaration of Rotterdam signed in 2016 could already be described as a game changing solution as it committed the global dairy sector to continuous sustainable improvement while recognizing the considerable contribution dairy makes already to the SDGs. The Dairy Declaration of Rotterdam is unique in its ability to take an integrated approach to the sustainability of dairy systems and is particularly important in playing a role in delivering SDG 1, 2, 3 & 4.

But we can and will strive to do more. The global dairy sector, including IDF, is therefore asking the Summit Secretariat to facilitate game-changing recommendations that maximize the value of animal agriculture to economies, diets, and the environment while creating opportunities for women and youth. It’s important that the role of livestock, and in particular dairy, is not forgotten or underestimated in discussions on sustainable food systems.

Particularly highlighted for dairy in the Summit discussions is the sector’s potential to:

  • Reduce methane emissions – with a focus on science-based animal feed options (track 2 and 3).
  • Reduce the impact on environment – by increasing productivity per animal with the use of animal care, feeding and breeding (track 3)
  • Valorization of eco services provided through dairy production – transformation of non-edible grass, grains and plant waste into nutrient-dense food, energy production with methane bio digestion and manure, soil management and biodiversity support. (track 3).

 

As we look to the future of food systems, there is no doubt that dairy has a strong role to play in helping to address the issues which fall within the remits of Action Tracks 1, 2 and 4. Let’s take just one example, and look at school milk.

School milk programs have been operating around the world very successfully for decades , helping to improve the nutritional status of children – especially the most vulnerable, who rely on school feeding programs. School feeding programs help address broad ranging issues from hunger reduction to helping close the gender divide, from increasing educational potential and human productivity on top of improving nutritional status. In fact, school feeding programs are supported by several stakeholders as a key game changing solution to scale-up within the Summit discussions, as a result of their positive impact in supporting the growth and development of school aged children. The continued inclusion of milk and other dairy products within these programs is important, not just for the sector, but the children who benefit from the foods we provide. We are making a strong, evidenced based case for dairy being part of a school feeding game changer.

There are numerous other game changing solutions for dairy, many of which are already being explored, all of which are center around people: from our farmers at the beginning of the value chain through to our processors adding value and our consumers need for safe, nutritious, sustainable and affordable foods.

From a farming perspective, many of the discussions taking place in preparation for the Summit focus on the need to help farmers make their operations more resilient in adapting to climate change and to addressing biodiversity loss. Farmers are the bedrock of rural life, not only producing food but providing employment for their local communities and looking after the land.

Understandably, there is a lot of discussion around small holder farmers and the dairy sector has been working to try and move the discussion from only smallholders to talking about the majority of farms being family owned, which is inclusive of small holders as well as farms of all sizes.

Another game changing solution submitted for consideration by the UN is the Dairy Nourishes Africa (DNA) initiative. Founded by the Global Dairy Platform (GDP), Dairy Nourishes Africa (DNA), is a 15-20-year, public-private partnership which leverages the collective strength of the global dairy sector and local stakeholders, to help make food systems more resilient, inclusive and environmentally sustainable. With dairy processors as the linchpin for transformation, DNA uses a market system approach to ensure food systems become more resilient, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. This initiative aims to contribute to the achievement of several SDGs and will be particularly helpful in addressing SDG Goal 2: Zero Hunger. The pilot project for DNA is taking place in Tanzania with GDP, Land O’Lakes Venture37, and Bain & Company working in partnership.

A new initiative that certainly has the power to be a game changer for the dairy sector is under development. The initiative is called ‘Net Zero, Pathways to Low-Carbon Dairy’, and it is a globally collaborative, sector-wide effort to make positive progress on green gas emissions.

There is no one size fits all diet or one single way to limit our impacts on the environment and protect our planet. There are multiple choices and actions. Through the Food Systems Summit, our sector will have a valuable opportunity to increase understanding of the significant contribution it makes to food security.

Everybody wants better Food Systems, so let’s go build them together.

Dr Judith Bryans