Dr. Agnes Kalibata | Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit

The Nexus between Science, Policy and Innovation

Thank you, Dr. Mohamed.

Let me start by acknowledging Your Grace, Archbishop Gallagher, Ladies and Gentlemen – Good afternoon!

Let me also thank you Professor Joachim von Braun, the Scientific Group and the Pontifical Academy of Science (PAS) for organizing this workshop that gives us an opportunity to have a conversation around the work that you all have been doing.

As the Special Envoy, I am extremely grateful to the work of the Scientific Group and PAS, for the time you have taken and the effort you are putting in to ensure the Food Systems Summit has a base in science and really leaves no doubt in peoples’ minds as it comes to fruition. Thank you once again for the support you are all giving us.

Today I chose to talk about the role of science and innovation in ending hunger, and I called my presentation “The Nexus between Science, Policy and Innovation”.

As Dr Qu Dongyu has mentioned, so many years after launching the SDGs, it is very surprising that we are not only behind, but we are actually increasing in hunger. For me, this is a matter that is very dear to my heart, as I work in an environment where dealing with hunger is very critical to the work that we do here on the African continent.

But science has been at the base of us delivering against hunger whether it is in what we do now or did in the past. In the last 50-75 years, we have been able to produce over 300 million tonnes of more food than was done in the past. India produces over 5 times more food than it did before, because it has embraced science and the green revolution.

I just want to underscore that these gains in leaps and bounds would not have been possible if policy makers and politicians did not embrace the work of science. That is when Professor Swaminathan met his Prime Minister and they discussed the value of improved seeds in improving farmers lives, then things started to change. Or when H.E. Meles Zenawi invited Norman Borlaug and they started talking about the value of science in ending the hunger that was happening in Ethiopia and things started happening. But also in my own country of Rwanda, where smallholder farmers, owning parcel of as small as 0.3ha took charge to end hunger in their country, using science. This was done through improved seeds and evidence from scientists like those in PAS and IFPRI that guided on the direction to take, weighed options available and figured out what was required to be done. What this also did was to give policy makers in Rwanda an opportunity to think through what needed to be done and the investments to be put in place.

So it is really important to understand the place we hold for the Food Systems Summit and the work of the Scientific Group and PAS, which is sitting at the nexus between science, and the evidence that the Summit is looking for to be able to design ambitious actions and come through on transitions in our food systems. The work of the Scientific Group will be to ensure we come through on the SDGs, in an ambitious way, because we are still behind. We have less than 10 years and from a farmer’s language, we only have “9 seasons” to go.

I will want to highlight a few things for us to keep in mind as we go towards the Food Systems Pre-Summit in July and Summit in September.

  • This Summit is about “People” – It is about ending hunger, ending malnutrition and the related challenges, promoting health and the future of our planet and what is happening to our planet today. Let us use this moment to really get our voices out there.
  • As “Scientists”, let us make this moment last. This should be the moment we start to make people understand and appreciate the role of science and evidence to inform policy and investments. The UN Secretary General picked you all as scientists to help him define this moment. We should make this last in people’s mind and lead the work of science to drive what is happening in our world.
  • Let us put a lot of emphasis in reimaging our world. Reimagining helps people open up their minds to possibilities, to new ways of doing business and identifying better ways to face the challenges we have, as opposed to talking about trade-offs. When we talk about “trade-offs”, it can shut minds and deny us of opportunities. We therefore need to come from a place where we can help people reimagine their future, the future of our planet and in doing so, we will win a lot more souls and hearts.
  • Let us remember that science has local relevance in designing solutions and making people understand the frameworks that we must use. Let us anchor this in frameworks that will allow people in their local environment to come up with solutions that are critical to their problems.

I would want to conclude by making a reference to reimagining. There is a FOLU report that talks about how reimagining our food systems is a 4.5 trillion-dollar opportunity for businesses and for institutions. There are examples amidst us, for example the People’s Republic of China, where reimagining their institutional arrangements and how to deliver using different mechanisms has delivered a lot for them. I have also seen this in my own work in Rwanda.

I would like us as we conclude to think about how we should have bold conversations. This Summit has been about what we should or should not do and what conversations we are having. As scientists we have a responsibility to ensure that those conversations are true to people and are true to our world.

We look forward to you helping us ensure that we define the boldest ambition on how we can deliver in the next “9 seasons” and also define the necessary transitions in our food systems, irrespective of how uncomfortable that might sound.

Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to be part of this conversation, and I look forward to the conversations you are having as we head to the Pre-Summit and Summit later in the year.