Bringing science, business, visionaries and politics together for sustainable food systems

Bruce Cogill, Programme Leader, Nutrition and Marketing Diversity, reports on developments from EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2014. Bioversity International is a strategic partner at the Forum.

Bruce Cogill, Programme Leader, Nutrition and Marketing Diversity, reports on developments from EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2014. Bioversity International is a strategic partner at the Forum.

Why would 500 industry, academic, philanthropic and research leaders come to share their ideas along with some of the visionaries of the 21st century from President Bill Clinton, Mette-Marit, Crown Princess of Norway, H.R.H. Prince Charles, Johan Rockstrom, Richard Horton, Hans Rosling, Walter Willet, Tim Lang and Jeff Sachs? It is simple. They, along with many others, are concerned that our food and agricultural systems are not sustainable — natural resource depletion, including diversity loss, changing diets, population increases and urbanization are changing what we produce, market and consume. Other challenges like climate change are presenting the world with new and evolving complex problems.    

I attended the first EAT Forum as a guest of the Stordalen Foundation. The EAT Stockholm Forum, initiated by the Norwegian Stordalen Foundation and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, is focusing our thoughts and efforts on what it means to take sustainable eating into the political world, corporate boardrooms, factories, restaurants and the home. To see how science, business and politics can work together for a world that can sustain both ourselves and the planet.

Dr Gunhild Stordalen is leading the meeting and as a scientist, medical doctor and philanthropist, displays an infectious passion for the topic enough to muster an impressive grouping of people. Listening to Johan Rockstrom and many others, including some of the champions from the food industry, it is easy to see how important the issues are and also how much they have reached wide and deep.

The Stordalen Foundation is especially well-positioned to steward this process as it has championed sustainable sourcing. The Clarion Hotel Sign, that is hosting the EAT Forum, had a large ecological foot print mostly from food and beverage.  It was reduced by sustainable sourcing ingredients, cutting food waste, portion size, and the diameter of the dinner plates by 4 cm. What if diners ate more sustainably and consumed smaller portions at their restaurants? Or the catering industry devoted resources to sourcing sustainable ingredients?

This sector alone has significant environmental and health impacts with food consumed in institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons and the military, as well as the increasing number of people who regularly dine out.

EAT Forum 2014. Credit: EAT ForumMany large companies now have a sustainability agenda. Unilever, Mars, Barilla and Nestlé all see a future where sustainable sourcing is not only necessary but also good business. Google has a 'Google Food Initiative' for sustainable sourcing connected to the importance of good food for its employees in over 50 countries.

This is not only a first world problem.  Dyborn Charlie Chibonga, Chief Executive Officer of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi spoke of the consequences of diversity loss, soil degradation and the need to support both the smallholder farmers and the landscape in which they coexist. He described making agriculture and rural life better and the need to attract young people to nurture the food culture and the environment on which it depends. His message was echoed by others from low and middle income countries and from Ron Finley speaking on the food deserts of large cities like Los Angeles where urban inner-city agriculture is changing the food they eat and their lives. 

President Clinton spoke about a world of shared prosperity, dignity and respect including for the smallholder farmer as the custodian of a challenged ecosystem. He spoke of his own transformation in terms of diet and lifestyle. His testimony was both compelling and genuine. Similar points were made by Prof. Walter Willet from Harvard who spoke of the need to move towards a more sustainable plant-based diet.

H.R.H. Prince Charles, a long-time champion for sustainable agriculture, spoke about the need for full cost accounting to stimulate a better business case for sustainable food systems. He set a challenge for: "The urgent need to develop and bring to scale food production systems which benefit not only human health but the health of the wider environment and critical ecosystems on which our futures ultimately depend." He called particular attention to the need to have food systems that "enable biodiversity to thrive." Watch more in the short video above.

The challenge from H.R.H. Prince Charles has already been embraced by the participants. The Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation has established an 'International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems' to develop many of the technical aspects around sustainable food systems. The private sector and others have made commitments to greater openness to developing the need for sustainable food systems. The Panel will be co-chaired by Dr Olivia Yambi, nutritionist and former United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative to Kenya, and Prof. Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Bioversity International is focused on the research and promotion of sustainable food systems including our research project on metrics and the continuing development of approaches to understand and improve food systems, including how to make agricultural landscapes nutrition-sensitive — building diversity into landscapes and food systems to provide multiple sources of nutrients and vital ecosystem services.

We are working closely with strategic partners who work in nutrition, including the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation. As part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, we are also pleased to have been recognized as a strategic partner at EAT Stockholm Forum 2014.

Bruce Cogill

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Photo: EAT Forum 2014. Credit: EAT Forum