The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) last week endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition (VGFSyN) which aim to support countries to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by utilizing a food systems lens. The endorsement took place during the CFS 47th Session (8-11 February 2021).
The Guidelines represent a unique policy tool to address malnutrition across the entire agri-food value chain in a coherent and holistic manner. They include a wide range of recommendations aimed at reducing policy fragmentation between relevant sectors with a special emphasis on food, agriculture and nutrition, while also addressing social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
The Guidelines will contribute to addressing malnutrition in all its forms including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity. These are problems experienced by every country today. Furthermore, hunger is on the rise with nearly 690 million people chronically undernourished and as many as 130 million more being pushed into hunger because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies and the number of adults who are overweight or obese is continuing to rise putting them at high risk for non-communicable diseases — the number one killer, globally. In addition, more than 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet.
Resulting from a five-year inclusive multi-stakeholder negotiation process, the Guidelines are informed by the scientific input of the CFS High Level Panel of Experts and a Technical Task Team comprised of CFS’s Advisory Group. The Guidelines aim to support the development of coordinated, multi-sectoral national policies, laws, programmes and investment plans to enable safe, healthy and nutritious diets through sustainable food systems, to operationalize the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) Framework for Action in accordance with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Welcoming the endorsement of the Guidelines, Mr Thanawat Tiensin, CFS Chairperson said “With much awaited changes at hand for addressing hunger and malnutrition, a unifying vision is needed. The Guidelines provide this unifying message within and across food systems. They will serve as a significant reference point for countries and others in their efforts to eradicate hunger and all forms of malnutrition by utilizing a food systems approach.”
As a new policy tool, uniquely created by multilateral stakeholders, the guidelines aim at transformation of food systems at all levels. Most practically, they seek to ensure that diets needed for adequate nutrition are accessible, available, affordable, safe and of adequate quality and quantity. Through a comprehensive, systemic, science, and evidence-based approach, the Guidelines intend to create and strengthen sustainable food systems and promote healthy diets by addressing policy fragmentation with unifying aims, principles, and focus areas.
The Guidelines offer the most up-to-date guidance on questions of food security and nutrition for the world. They link efforts on multiple fronts such as food supply chains, food environments, and consumer behavior, all in an effort to generate positive outcomes for sustainable development with regards to more sustainable food systems that enable healthy diets.
Presenting the final draft of the Guidelines, Hans Hoogeveen, Ambassador of Netherlands and Chair of the CFS Open-Ended Working Group on Nutrition that negotiated them, said “the document represents a concrete tool in the hands of governments, UN agencies, civil society, private sector, financial institutions and other actors that can provide guidance on policies and interventions at local and national levels to address malnutrition in all its forms from a holistic food systems perspective.”
Hoogeveen said “The endorsement of these Guidelines today is a testament of the power of multilateralism. I am grateful to all Member Nations and other partners that were involved in this process. We now have a product that we should all use to address hunger and malnutrition in all its forms.”
In his remarks to the CFS 47 plenary, UN Secretary-General António Guterres already pledged the support of the entire UN family in the implementation of the Guidelines. He furthered encouraged all relevant stakeholders to use these Guidelines. The remarks were delivered by the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, Agnes Kalibata.
The Guidelines have been produced during a renewed international attention to food systems and nutrition. In this context, the CFS Voluntary Guidelines are the only policy instrument being negotiated at multilateral level on these matters and will be an important contribution to the UN Food Systems Summit scheduled to take place in September this year.
Similar to other CFS policy products, these guidelines have an unrivalled international legitimacy and authority. They were negotiated and agreed by Member Nations with the inclusive participation of all key actors concerned with food security and nutrition earning broad-based support that is hoped will increase their utility to the largest possible number of stakeholders.
Food systems approach
Food systems shape people’s dietary patterns and nutritional status. They are a complex web of activities involving production, processing, handling, preparation, storage, distribution, marketing, access, purchase, consumption, food loss and waste, as well as the outputs of these activities, including social, economic and environmental outcomes.
The Guidelines highlight the complex and multidimensional interlinkages between sustainable food systems and healthy diets. They further outline a wide range of context-specific policies across multiple sectors that are key to achieving sustainable food systems and improved nutrition for all. To this end, the Guidelines focus on 7 policy areas. They are: Transparent, democratic and accountable governance; Sustainable food supply chains to achieve healthy diets and in the context of climate change – biodiversity loss and environmental degradation; Equal and equitable access to healthy diets through sustainable food systems; Food safety across sustainable food systems; People-centered nutrition knowledge, education and information; Gender equality and women’s empowerment across food systems; and Resilient food systems in humanitarian contexts.
In closing, the CFS Chairperson Tiensin called on the global community to make use of these Guidelines and drew attention to their role in supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025. He noted that the real value of the Guidelines is in their implementation by all CFS Members, stakeholders and partners. “The Guidelines could not have come at a more important time in our work towards Zero Hunger. As CFS is not an implementing organization, we will rely on partners to drive the use of the Guidelines at the national, regional and global levels.”