Photo by Julian Hanslmaier/ Unsplash
15 Jul 2022 Speech Nature Action

Building sustainable agrifood systems: legislation and governance

Photo by Julian Hanslmaier/ Unsplash
Speech delivered by: Inger Andersen
Event: High-level Roundtable Discussion: Governing Sustainable Agrifood Systems: Strengthening Legislation and Building Capacity to Support Implementation, Compliance and Enforcement

Qu Dongyu, Director-General, FAO

Nosipho Nausca-Jean Ngcaba, Permanent Representative of South Africa to FAO,

Razan Al Mubarak, President, International Union for Conservation of Nature

My thanks for the kind invitation to speak today. Our food systems account for around one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and almost two-thirds of boidviersity loss – through land-use change, through use of pesticides, through agricultural run-off, through emissions such as methane and carbon from transport.

All of these impacts drive the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste – which comes back to haunt food systems by damaging food security and causing risks to producers.

The Ukraine crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic showed further weaknesses in our systems, such as an over-reliance on a small number of crop varieties and long distances to markets. FAO’s State of Food Security and Nutrition said that the number of hungry people in 2021 increased by 150 million since the start of the pandemic. The ripples from the Ukraine conflict are expected to increase this number again.

Something has to change so that food systems contribute to all of the global goals – on everything from slowing climate change to ending poverty –, and that obviously includes goal 6 on water; goal 12 when it comes to responsible management of chemicals and waste as well as food waste reduction; goal 13 on climate; goal 14 on life under water and goal 15 on life on land.

At the moment, most policies and interventions do not reflect a food systems approach or link with environmental outcomes. For example, few Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) refer to food system approaches. Yet a greater focus on land-use change, food loss/waste and sustainable diets in NDCs could provide about 20 per cent of the climate mitigation needed by 2050 to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Friends, the food systems transformation we desperately need must be underpinned by environmental rule of law, including strong environmental legislation.

Food systems need laws and policies that create an enabling environment for sustainable agriculture and sustainable consumption practices.

This means sectoral policies and laws to shift away from harmful practices to systems such as agroecology and agroforestry, sustainable fisheries, regenerative and climate smart agriculture and agriculture that uses less water and reduces chemicals in the environment.

This means promoting green trade: trade rules should promote high-ambition environmental standards, not undermine domestic environmental laws and protections.

This means legislating and following through in supporting sustainable urban food systems; -- especially for the poorest. This is important as 70 per cent of food is consumed by urban habitants.

Crucially, this means sectoral laws to encourage sustainable land tenure.

In Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, over 60 per cent of all working women are in agriculture, but lack secure land rights. Indeed, 76 countries, out of 190 studied limit women’s property rights. Globally. In such a setting, children, youth, women, Indigenous Peoples and local communities have little say in how the land that they farm is managed or know how long they will have access to it.

And with the absence of land rights and property ownership, this greatly inhibits women’s access to financial services, including credit and banking services.  And the absence of credit can often, therefore, inhibit access to agricultural services, machinery and input. Indeed, the absence of land rights therefore, can be a powerful disincentive to improve the land, its slopes, terraces or watershed and thereby optimize the long term sustainability of the land.

So, yes, we do need more policies and laws to transform our food systems.

Currently, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is being debated in the General Assembly. It is my firm belief that a recognition of this right can help those land rights and food system-related laws take root and sprout at the national level.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment was right on target when he said that a “rights-based approach … is an essential catalyst for transformation from unsustainable food systems to a future where everyone enjoys healthy and sustainable food, workers are treated fairly and degraded ecosystems are restored.”

The Human Rights Council has recognized the right to a healthy environment. Many nations have recognized this right. And itdeed, this right was a central point of discussion at the recent Stockholm+50 international meeting and its recognition was reflected in the Chair’s Summary. But universal recognition by the General Assembly would be a powerful catalyst for accelerated action.

Adopting this resolution would help States to respect, protect, and fulfil the right. And it would provide a more predictable and consistent global regulatory environment for businesses.


Over 100 countries committed to national food systems pathways after the Food Systems Summit. This is progress. But many governments still lack the knowledge to design and implement these pathways – through laws, policies and other measures.

This is why UNEP, FAO and UNDP are designing a guide for collaboration across food systems; – a guide I expect will helps governments get moving faster. And it is why UNEP and the One Planet Network Sustainable Food Systems Programme , a multi-stakeholder partnerhip aimed at catalyzing catalyzing more sustainable food consumption and production patterns,will launch a Knowledge Hub to support post-Food Summit goals.

 It is the job of our three agencies to help governments, cities and businesses move faster on transforming food systems. And I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how we can do this job better.

Thank you.