Keynote Speaker

Sonja VermeulenCGIAR Montpellier, France


Sonja Vermeulen is Director of Programs at the CGIAR System Organization, leading on coordination of the delivery, performance and results of the shared CGIAR research portfolio, plus future strategies for effective agricultural research for development.

Dr Vermeulen has previously served as Global Food Lead Scientist at WWF International, Head of Research at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), Director of the Program on Business and Sustainable Development at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and Research Fellow at the University of Zimbabwe.

Her career has bridged academic and applied research, and natural and social sciences, with a strong focus on linking science with public policy and private sector strategies, particularly in Africa and Asia. She has led the design and implementation of research programs on climate change, agriculture, land use, food security, bioenergy, forestry, conservation, land governance and business practice.

Dr Vermeulen is also an Associate Fellow at the Hoffmann Centre for Sustainable Resource Economy at Chatham House, and was a Commissioner on the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems. She holds a BA and MA in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Tropical Resource Ecology from the University of Zimbabwe and a PhD in Population Biology from Imperial College London.

Talk title: Healthy diets, healthy planet, healthy work: a stool that needs three legs


  • Recent influential global reports and discourse have been successful in linking dietary health to planetary health – in the public imagination and, increasingly, in business strategies and public policy.
  • The third leg of the stool – ‘healthy work’, meaning decent jobs, living incomes, sustainable livelihoods, equality of opportunity – needs equal attention, and full integration into our aspirations for food systems.
  • Agriculture and food make up the biggest sector of employment all around the world – so achieving positive change for food system workers and self-employed can have impacts far beyond the sector.
  • A focus on decent jobs, living incomes, sustainable livelihoods and equality of opportunity can help food systems in a number of inter-related ways:
    • Reinforcing a drive towards healthy diets and healthy environments for everyone, not just for more privileged people.
    • Putting the pressure on raising buying power rather than on reducing food prices, which often goes hand in hand with externalising costs.
    • Harnessing the links among incomes, education and empowerment, particularly for women.
  • Some of the better examples among large-scale public sector responses to the COVID-19 pandemic – including social safety nets and conditional bail-out programmes – are starting points for strategies to put the food system on a firmer three-legged footing.

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