Higgins reminds UN gathering of challenges and responsibilities

Renewed moral sensibility needed ‘that will give us policies ensuring needs of all can be met’

Transforming the world's food systems in less than a decade is central to achieving the 2030 UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) and to ending persisting global hunger, the President Michael D Higgins has said.

In a virtual address to the first UN food systems summit on Thursday, Mr Higgins pointed out inequality, exclusion, hunger and poverty had all deepened since the goals were adopted.

The President said the summit was taking place “in the shadow of a global pandemic; in a world struggling with new rising inequality; a world scarred by unprecedented levels of conflict and instability and facing climate and biodiversity emergencies which threaten our very future on this planet”.

Ending world hunger and ensuring the right to food for all must be placed firmly at the top of the global political agenda, said Mr Higgins – Modern food systems encompass production and supply chains including associated waste; consumption of food, and associated economic, health and environmental outcomes.


The pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated deeply rooted inequalities, he said. “The climate crisis makes future injustices likely. Despite our welcome best efforts, we still seem unable to redress the injustices against women and girls – a full 50 per cent of humanity.”

A renewed moral consciousness is needed "that will give us policies that will ensure the needs of all can be met, and sustainably, including the 45 million children under five years of age currently suffering from wasting", said the President while noting the threat to the people of Afghanistan facing into a harsh winter.

With UN partners, Ireland is leading the development of a food systems transformation support facility that would provide structured support to countries to build their own capacity to develop and implement their national plans to put in place a sustainable food system, he said.

Ireland is responding to that need through its new “stakeholder-led transformative pathway” – Food Vision 2030, he said. “The strategy was developed using a food systems approach which recognises the interconnections between food, health, environment and climate [and] rightfully sets the viability and resilience of our farmers and fishers as one of its primary missions.”

Food Vision had set an ambitious course for Ireland’s agri-food sector to become a “world leader in sustainable food systems” by 2030, he said.

Mr Higgins welcomed the strategy’s strong commitment to protecting and preserving Ireland’s rich natural capital, including soils.

UN calls on governments

UN secretary general António Guterres called on governments to meet the commitments they made to achieve the 17 SDGs, especially as the human right to food remained unfulfilled.

At the summit world leaders announced new commitments to more resilient, inclusive and sustainable food systems after 18 months of dialogues. More than 2,000 solutions have emerged from the process.

“As the pandemic physically pushed us apart, the preparations for this summit brought us together,” said Mr Guterres. “Through national dialogues, governments gathered together businesses, communities and civil society to chart pathways for the future of food systems across 148 countries. Over 100,000 people came together to discuss and debate solutions – many of which are now being shared at this summit.”

Mr Guterres commended the summit for “injecting new life into multilateralism” and for “leading the way to food systems that can drive the global recovery in three fundamental ways: For people. For the planet. And for prosperity.”

He called for “the engagement of the people at the centre of our food systems . . . family farmers, herders, workers, indigenous peoples, women, young people. Let’s learn from each other – and be inspired by one another – as we work together to achieve the SDGs.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme are to jointly lead a UN system-wide co-ordination hub to continue the summit's work.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times