Why We Need To Make Global Dialogues On Food Systems Reflective Of Our Situations- Osinbajo
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AT THE INCEPTION DIALOGUE ON THE UN FOOD SYSTEMS SUMMIT HELD ON TUESDAY, 23RD FEBRUARY, 2021
I am most delighted to be with you this morning for this very crucial dialogue on the Nigeria Food System in collaboration with the United Nations to raise global awareness and shape global commitments towards mobilizing food systems to address hunger, reduce diet-related diseases and strengthen plenary health.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations deserves our commendation for this proactive initiative, especially its importance in urgently achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. I am told that the plan is for each member State to organize three dialogues; Inception, Exploratory and Consolidatory.
The Inception Dialogue, which is this event, is designed to take place at the National level, while the Exploratory Dialogue will be at the State level. The obvious wisdom is to make this process as inclusive and participatory as possible. I am keenly interested in ensuring that this is the case.
The issue of developing a sustainable food system has never been more urgent and more existential. In our case perhaps more so than in many other countries. Why? We are faced with population growth that exceeds growth figures handsomely. Poverty has deepened particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. Malnutrition and unhealthy dietary practices create unique threats to health and productivity for generation after generation.
It is a significant challenge to produce enough food for a rapidly growing population, especially given the changes required in modernization of farming practices, mechanization, and reduction of post-harvest losses. But there are also questions around ensuring environmentally sustainable production practices, creating empowering jobs and livelihoods, and building capacities to ensure sustainable and healthy food systems. These issues require expertise and experience, but also the views of those who will literarily be at the receiving end of these plans. In other words, at these dialogues, we don’t just want to hear the experts, we want to hear those at the receiving end, for whom all these plans are being made — the people of the country across all strata of society.
This brings me to the matter of ensuring that these dialogues are accessible to all, meaning that they do not become one for experts essentially “talking shop.”
In my conversations with my advisers on agriculture and nutrition, I was saying to them how notoriously technical some of the material on food systems and nutrition can be. So, I think our experts have to help us here if we are to convoke a truly National and inclusive dialogue on these important issues.
I think first, even the five tracks/objectives of the dialogues need to be broken down further and more accessible language used. And secondly, we should identify the key issues by presenting simple questions that the average non-technical person can contribute to.
Let me take one issue as an example, what does Sustainable Consumption mean (this is one of the 5 tracks) and what is its relevance in this dialogue?
Environmentally Sustainable Food Consumption (ESFC) has defined by the Oslo Food Conference, as the use of food products “that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations” (Oslo Roundtable on Sustainable Production and Consumption, 1994.)
In other words, the food we produce and eat, how we produce and eat, should be environmentally friendly and not destroy the environment for future generations. That seems simple enough. Aside from the inherent difficulties of recommending dietary changes, which is habit-forming and for most people, there are tough questions about what practices make sense in a high-income country and what will make sense in a developing country.
So, we know for example that a reduction in meat consumption is recommended as environmentally friendly. But in low-income countries such as ours, where there is less than nutritionally acceptable micronutrient consumption, i.e., our people eat less meat for cost reasons, we actually need to make meat products cheaper. There are also issues about how we cook.
Back to this point, in a high-income country, it may make sense to talk about reducing meat products and consumption for environmental purposes, but in a low-income country such as ours, where we find that protein micro-nutrients are in short supply in our diets, obviously, we should be looking at increasing meat products.
For me, some of these issues are nuanced and we need to take a closer look especially at these dialogues so that our conversations are reflective of the issues that concern us as a nation, a people, and as a developing country.
There are also issues about how we cook because the vast majority of our people in the hinterland still use firewood and even in urban areas, people use kerosene which is bad for environmentally sustainable practices, so we must transition to gas and LPG. This sort of transition has its own economic implications, but this is the direction we must go.
These sorts of conversations are important, and in other words, we cannot talk about cooking which, of course, is a fundamental part of our food systems and how food finally ends up on our tables, without talking about the transition to gas and using LPG and other more environmentally friendly fuel sources.
But even as we debate these issues, we must bear in mind that somewhere else, debates are going on about defunding gas projects — about gas not being environmentally friendly enough. We have to take all of these issues into account, especially because we are debating issues in the international community, we are contributing to a global conversation.
It is so important that the nuances of our own society and situation are introduced into this conversation so that the conversation is richer, fairer, and more just for our people.
I think we must also make it clear that this summit is about the entire chain from farm to table and all that is in between, including retailers, food processors, technology providers, and financial institutions. All of these sectors are involved in the chain and they are relevant in this summit and all of their views have to be brought to the table.
All of these show the interrelatedness (we need to demonstrate this) of each part of the chain and how the weak links affect all else, and this will be an important consideration in making this dialogue as accessible and as inclusive as possible.
The Inception Dialogue is the first in the series of dialogues and I must commend the National Convener, Mrs. Olusola Idowu and her team, all the partners, and the UN agencies who have all supported in organizing the series of dialogues. Your work is of great consequence because it affects us all and will determine the shape of the future.
I wish you all very happy and fruitful deliberations and we are all looking forward, excitedly, to the results of these dialogues.
Thank you very much and God bless you.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity
Office of the Vice President
23rd February 2021