19 June 2018: A “food systems” approach to nutrition is critical to achieving the 2030 Agenda, experts highlighted, just as achieving the SDGs under review by the 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is key to guaranteeing the right to adequate food and nutrition.

An Expert Group Meeting (EGM) linking nutrition to the SDGs to be reviewed in depth at the 2018 HLPF took place from 19-20 June 2018, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, organized by the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN).

Noting that 8.2 million people are chronically undernourished, and two billion people are micronutrient deficient, Charlotte Salford, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), reported that IFAD is engaging in “nutrition-sensitive agriculture.” She said nutrition, climate, environment, gender and youth are the crosscutting issues that IFAD is trying to integrate in its current work. Salford also emphasized the important role that indigenous peoples play in protecting ecosystems, and urged policy makers to learn from them.

Mario Arvelo, Chair of the World Committee on Food Security (CFS), via video, called for malnutrition to be at the forefront of SDG implementation. Mentioning that the CFS has sent a “clear message” to the HLPF that access to water and resources remains challenging, he recommended strengthening the links between Rome and New York, and emphasized the importance of the Voluntary Guidelines on Nutrition.

Carla Mucavi, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), recapitulated key messages from the 2017 EGM on SDG 2, as a basis for the discussion on nutrition. She said experts emphasized:

  • the importance of national commitments;
  • the importance of indigenous peoples’ knowledge;
  • the need to transform the current food system; and
  • the need for food systems to support healthy diets.

Noting that the 2017 HLPF Ministerial Declaration echoed the key messages of the EGM on SDG 2, Mucavi underscored the importance of these expert meetings. Stineke Oenema, UNSCN, invited experts to focus on practical actions that can be undertaken despite the complexity of the issues.

The expert participants proceeded to develop key messages on nutrition and the SDGs reviewed by the 2018 HLPF: Goals 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land), in addition to SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals), which is reviewed every year.

On water (SDG 6) and nutrition, they noted that decisions around water use should be driven by the need to achieve sustainable, equitable, and nutritious food systems. In order to reduce stunting and achieve other nutrition-related SDG targets, the experts noted that it is essential to reduce enteric diseases through improved hygiene, elimination of open defecation, and access to safe water. They further said that achieving SDG target 6.4 (on water efficiency and reducing the number of people suffering from water scarcity) is essential to improve nutritional outcomes for women and children, as irrigation can improve agricultural income and production diversity, reducing women’s poverty.

Experts highlighted that a transition to clean and sustainable energy sources is essential for better nutrition outcomes.

On energy (SDG 7) and nutrition, the experts observed that the current predominant use of fossil fuels makes the food system highly unsustainable, as it contributes to high levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which affect climate systems. They highlighted that a transition to clean and sustainable energy sources is essential for better nutrition outcomes. They further highlighted the importance of transition towards food systems that promote the sustainable use of resources and safeguard the environment.

On cities and settlements (SDG 11) and nutrition, participants observed that the dynamics of urbanization and urban life create complex challenges to good nutrition, even as they provide significant opportunities to end malnutrition. They said action to implement SDG 11 should incorporate nutrition, which implies planning for appropriate nutrition-related provisions of accessible infrastructure and services and the creation of inclusive, just, and sustainable nutritious food systems that avoid waste and environmental harm. Policies should also seek to link urban, peri-urban and rural areas, and work to mitigate and adapt to climate change and value regions’ traditions and agrobiodiversity.

On consumption and production (SDG 12) and nutrition, experts called for food systems to transform in order to promote agro-ecological approaches, biodiversity and water management, and to reduce reliance on agrochemicals. They urged implementing agricultural policies and practices that guarantee the rights of small-scale farmers and support sustainable and nutritious diets and livelihoods. They also recommended: regulating the availability of ultra-processed foods in the food supply through policies that include marketing regulations to children as well as incentives and disincentives (i.e. sugar-sweetened beverage tax); public procurement schemes that promote locally sourced foods; and promoting indigenous and local knowledge and appropriate use of innovation.

On biodiversity (SDG 15) and nutrition, participants underscored that agricultural biodiversity: underpins healthy, nutritious and sustainable diets; is a critical element in the response to global malnutrition; and contributes to ecosystem balance, functioning and services. They encouraged Member States to recognize the importance of agricultural biodiversity to SDG 15 as well as other SDGs, such as SDG 2 (zero hunger). They also invited Member States to learn from and support indigenous peoples, pastoralists, forest dwellers, fishers and smallholder farmers, explaining that those groups produce most of the world’s food. They added that they should be involved in relevant policy discussions. The experts further requested Member States to increase the quality and quantity of technical and financial support to agricultural biodiversity and its custodians, on farm and in situ.

As key cross-cutting issues for linking nutrition with the SDGs reviewed by the 2018 HLPF, the experts highlighted: policy coherence; fine-tuning he broad concept of “the private sector” to include microenterprises, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and smallholder farmers in order to address power imbalance between them and large corporations; governments’ obligations to enforce rights-based approaches to food and nutrition; and coordination between various UN organizations and multilateral bodies, programmes and initiatives.

Finally, participants suggested that the 2019 session of the HLPF include one day for discussion of the interlinkages between the SDGs in a comprehensive manner and related innovative approaches for follow-up and review.

The 2018 HLPF will take place from 9-18 July, in New York, US. Among other preparations for the in-depth review of the SDGs, EGMs on SDG 12, 15 and 17 took place in May and June 2018. [EGM on Nutrition] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on SDG 12 EGM] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on SDG 15 EGM] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on SDG 17 EGM] [HLPF 2018 Website] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]