19 February 2019
SDG Knowledge Weekly: Food, Nutrition and Genetic Resources
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The 17th Session of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is underway in Rome, Italy, from 18-22 February 2019.

This week’s brief explores the genetic resources for food and agriculture, and broader issues relating to food security and nutrition as covered by SDG 2 (zero hunger).

The 17th Session of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) is taking place in Rome, Italy, from 18-22 February 2019. This week’s brief explores the genetic resources for food and agriculture and broader issues relating to food security and nutrition as covered by SDG 2 (zero hunger).

Background documents for CGRFA 17 set the stage for discussion on issues such as: the Commission’s work in raising awareness of genetic resources for food and agriculture’s (GRFA) role in food security, nutrition and achieving the SDGs; distinctive features of GRFA use in different sub-sectors; digital sequence information (DSI) to help conserve genetic resources; and the role of GRFA in mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, among other topics. Daily coverage by IISD Reporting Services is available here.

The Session is also informed by two background papers:

  • Background Study Paper Number 68 titled, ‘Exploratory Fact-Finding Scoping Study on “Digital Sequence Information” on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,’ defines DSI and examines its status in the management of GRFA.
  • Background Study Paper Number 69 titled, ‘Biodiversity for food and agriculture and food security – An exploration of interrelationships,’ explores biodiversity’s contributions to increasing food availability and discusses how increases in global food production are actually associated with a decline in biodiversity for food and agriculture.

There is a false dichotomy between producing food and protecting biodiversity; society does not have to choose between them.

UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Executive Secretary Cristiana Pașca-Palmer flags in an op-ed on Devex that just four crops – wheat, maize, rice and soybean – comprise two-thirds of the world’s food supply. However, she says there is a “false dichotomy” between producing food and protecting biodiversity, and society does not have to choose between these two needs. The article offers examples of how greater genetic diversity can increase yields and improve foods’ nutritional quality.

At the end of the week, the CGRFA will see the launch of the ‘State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture’ (SOW-BFA). This report complements a decade of country-driven assessments on genetic resources for food and agriculture prepared by the CGRFA. It is the first report to look at the “associated biodiversity” providing essential services to agriculture, such as pollination and soil fertility. The report also aims to communicate the knowledge produced by the CGRFA to other processes, including the CBD, where it will feed into the discussions on the post-2020 biodiversity framework, and the SDGs where it will inform progress on target 2.5, which calls for maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species.

On marine genetic resources specifically, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) published a briefing paper on the need for an international legally binding instrument, in order to regulate and ensure biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions (BBNJ). The authors note that these areas constitute a single ecosystem that cannot be divided into maritime zones as laid out by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). A second IIED briefing discusses ecological connectivity between territorial waters and areas beyond national jurisdiction.

On SDG 14 (life below water), FAO released a technical paper to support improved understanding and measurement of aquaculture and fisheries’ contribution to gross domestic product (GDP). Titled, ‘Understanding and Measuring the Contribution of Aquaculture and Fisheries to GDP,’ the paper calls for continued efforts to advance methodologies to measure SDG indicator 14.7.1: sustainable fisheries as a percentage of GDP in small island developing States (SIDS), least developed countries (LDCs) and all countries. Indicator 14.7.1 is currently classified as Tier III, meaning that it requires methodological development before it can be used for measuring progress on the Goals. A more detailed write-up is available on the SDG Knowledge Hub.

FAO, the World Health Organization (WHO) and African Union co-organized the First FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety Conference, held 12-13 February 2019, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Supported by a range of thematic briefings and background papers, the conference addressed ways of achieving SDG 2 by working to reduce foodborne illnesses, invest in safe food systems – particularly in an era of accelerated climate change – and empower consumers to make healthy food choices. A WHO release on the conference is here. A follow-up conference focusing on food safety and trade will take place from 23-24 April in Geneva, Switzerland.

Devex reports that the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) launched a new Agribusiness Capital Fund (ABC Fund) during its Governing Council’s 42nd Session, held from 14-15 February 2019. The ABC Fund aims to de-risk investments of small loans in agriculture value chains in Africa. At the Governing Council, Pope Francis called for “science with conscience” to serve the needs of the poor and help eliminate hunger. Such science includes the use of GIS data and drones in the agriculture sector, which IPS News reports will be the second-largest user of drones in the world in the next five years. An SDG Knowledge Hub guest article on drones for humanitarian and SDG use is featured here.

A joint report by FAO and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) finds that 237 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from chronic undernutrition, in a reversal of gains made in recent years. The report titled, ‘Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition,’ notes that the prevalence of stunting in children under five is falling, but few countries in the region are on track to meet global nutrition targets. It also finds that the number of overweight children under five is rising. The report discusses regional and national policy experiences, including youth employment in agriculture. Subtitled, ‘Addressing the Threat from Climate Variability and Extremes for Food Security and Nutrition,’ the report outlines the impacts of climate change on the continent. An FAO press release is available. Although not connected to the report, a recent post on the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) blog discusses linkages between empowering young people and ending hunger and malnutrition.

At the global level, the 2018 Global Nutrition Report is launching on 20 February 2019, at World Food Programme (WFP) headquarters in Rome, Italy. The report describes malnutrition as “a universal issue holding back development with unacceptable human consequences,” noting that, despite progress in recent years, over 150 million children under five are stunted. The report collates existing data and presents new analyses and recommendations in five areas: the burden of malnutrition; emerging areas in need of focus; diets as a common cause of malnutrition in all its forms; financing of nutrition action; and global commitments. The report has been developed by an Independent Expert Group and a Stakeholder Group comprised of members from governments, donor organizations, civil society, multilateral organizations and the private sector. Development Initiatives serves as the Report Secretariat.

Ahead of CGRFA 17, IIED and the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP) released a report on the linkages between sustainable food systems, resilient communities and climate change. The publication summarizes a forum and learning exchange in July 2018 that highlighted the role of traditional farming systems and crops in adaptation to climate change and biodiversity conservation. It collates learnings and experiences from 50 mountain communities of South, Central and Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and Africa, emphasizing common issues such as youth outmigration and reduced traditional knowledge transmission. An IIED summary further describes the importance of biocultural heritage for global food security.

Tying many of these themes and topics together, in January the EAT-Lancet Commission released a report that links human health and food systems to planetary boundaries and climate change. The study finds that, at global level, current food consumption exceeds human health boundaries for meat (by 288%), tubers and starchy vegetables (by 293%) and added sugars (by 153%). However, it notes that consumption patterns vary widely among regions: meat consumption in North America exceeds the health boundary by 638%, whereas it remains below the boundary in many African countries, and increasing meat intake on the continent could play a role in reducing malnutrition in the region. The report offers five strategies to achieve a broader “food systems transformation,” the details of which are available in a write-up on the SDG Knowledge Hub and an article on Clean Technica.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.

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