Introduction to the report on Food Systems and Local Policies as a tool for transforming Food Systems and considerations on sustainability pathways


Italo Rizzi – LINK 2007 Cooperation Network on Food Systems Coordinator

Food Systems are central to social well-being, ecosystem health, food and nutrition security, culture, and landscapes, while also posing crucial challenges in reducing biodiversity loss, water overconsumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and groundwater pollution with serious implications for human health. They are affected by and contribute to climate change.

The crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, as well as many other regional crises, have clearly shown the serious weaknesses of global supply chains, closely linked to energy and fertilizer prices, and have exposed the vulnerability of a system under the sway of financial speculation, originating from a violated nature.

All of this occurs in a system where inequality is growing in many parts of the world. In Europe, about 10% of the population does not have access to an adequate diet, a figure that rises to 15% in Italy, the so-called food poverty, a crisis that is not about global availability but about access to food. These dynamics are not surprising; for years, the number of people suffering from malnutrition, hunger, and obesity-related diseases has been increasing, a result of inequality and food systems that need to be rethought both globally and locally.

The establishment of a working group of the national table on food systems and the drafting of the report on Food Systems and Local Policies as a tool for transforming Food Systems was an occasion for reflection and proposal development by the organizations that promoted it: RPLC, Link2007, Slow Food, and Economy of Francesco. At the heart of the process is a focus on food systems based on rights, which leverages knowledge and technologies that do not marginalize, go beyond mass consumption and waste culture, and do not treat food merely as a commodity or a means of survival but recognize its profound cultural significance and its potential for social mobilization for change. This contribution, finalized in 2022, has incorporated suggestions and enrichments and has been shared during public meetings at Terra Madre, the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, and the same national table on food systems under the coordination of the MAECI, as well as through interventions at CIHEAM and events within the 2023 Sustainable Development Festival.

During the social and solidarity economy forum held in Dakar in May 2023, in which Link2007 participated with interventions in general panels and side events, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture of Senegal indicated that it is necessary to dare not just reform, but transformation. The transformation towards sustainability requires a radical change that necessitates a new “global social contract” supporting “innovations for a more sustainable use of resources” (WBGU 2011, p.51), as well as a “global remodelling of the economy and society towards sustainability.”

While there is broad consensus on the need for changes to achieve a fairer and more sustainable food system, what is lacking is an agreement on how to achieve the desired changes due to barriers to action, complex regulatory environments, potential conflicts of interest, vested interests, cultural determinants, and the prevalence of short-term horizons over long-term ones.

In Europe, the European Green Deal and the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy provide a clear direction on how to redirect our food system, along with the “Rethinking Agriculture” report from the European Environment Agency, which invites us to grasp the challenging dimension that current food systems pose for sustainability in its various dimensions. EuropeAid, the Directorate-General for International Partnerships of the EU (DG-INTPA), has shown support for the agroecological transition towards inclusive, fair, sustainable, and resilient food systems in various dialogues with civil society organizations. However, besides a stronger focus on funding initiatives that pursue this approach, greater policy coherence with DG Trade and DG Agri, which largely support an approach centered on productivity and export orientation even concerning recipes for countries in the Global South, is needed. After a period of stagnation due to the Covid pandemic crisis, the proposal for a legislative framework for sustainable food systems (FSFS) is one of the flagship initiatives of the Farm to Fork strategy and will be adopted by the European Commission by the end of 2023. Its aim is to accelerate and facilitate the transition to sustainable food systems, promote policy coherence at the European and national levels, integrate sustainability into all food policies, and strengthen food system resilience. However, some documents from the European Union indicate significant corporate resistance to the finalization of the FSFS, leveraging the current political context. That is why, in addition to a cohesive response from society, support from national and European institutions capable of promoting the common good is essential.

Italy itself, with its traditions of local food and integrated culture, is developing a growing operational interest in food sovereignty and agroecology, which it had previously supported with few resources compared to conventional agriculture, and it is also preparing to define an ambitious partnership plan with Africa. These initiatives focus on sustainable economic development, the issue of energy transition and country stabilization, including the so-called Mattei Plan, which will probably be presented in October 2023 during the Italy-Africa intergovernmental summit. Italy has great potential and experiences in community food, local food policy practices, and a network of small and medium-sized businesses that implement sustainable production and transformation processes. How much of this potential will be valorized in Italy’s supported pathways, both in bilateral and global frameworks, is yet to be defined. Civil society, which has been involved in sustainable development cooperation and solidarity for decades, can and must play a significant operational role.

One of the most important opportunities to clearly outline these elements is represented by the second forum on sustainable food systems, the so-called UNFSS+2, to be held in Rome in July 2023. The UNFSS has great potential for dialogue and proposal but is also exposed to the risk of prevailing conservative interests favoring a failing trajectory of industrial agriculture and market concentrations. However, in a world where spaces for democratic political dialogue are limited, it is essential to increase sharing spaces and advance reflection and proposals that will fuel dialogue, starting from the National Table on Food Systems and in preparation for the Italy-Africa Conference on Food Systems to be held in 2024. Therefore, the following document and the working group established by actors from academia, civil society, production, cooperation, and international solidarity provide experiences and concrete proposals for transforming food systems. The ability of the Italian System to enhance these proposals in existing spaces for political dialogue will provide an answer to the effectiveness of the increasingly intense dialogue on the migration-development nexus, the creation of decent jobs, and sustainable development, so that these paths towards fair and sustainable food systems are effective and contribute to the sustainability, stability, and harmonious relationship between the peoples and governments of Africa and Europe.

Read the full document HERE.

The article was published HERE