Session Topics and Descriptions

O1. How to assess future food security: on foresight, forecasting, projecting, predicting and exploring the future

Given the environmental and health impacts of current food systems, feeding 9.8 billion people by 2050 sustainably and nutritiously will require food systems to transform at an unprecedented speed and scale. This will require taking actions today, which implies making choices. Different development pathways will lead to the challenge of future food security to different degrees. Foresight methods including projecting, predicting and exploring the future through scenario development offer valuable tools for considering alternative pathways towards improved food security, and assessing their positive and negative possible consequences. A diversity of methodologies may combine quantitative and qualitative research, allowing to bring in stakeholder views as well. Exercises can be conducted at a range of spatial and temporal levels – from local to global, and from near-term to long-term – and taking various perspectives as point of departure. These can include global, national and local contexts of food security, and sector-based approaches (e.g. primary production, food processing technologies, or consumption patterns). The outcomes of the exercise, in particular the identification of possible pathways, depend on the selected methods. They highlight the importance of identifying relevant drivers of change and variables considered to change over time. This session covers the variety of methods in anticipating and assessing future food security, and aims at enriching current methods through their cross-fertilization.

O2. Transitions to post-carbon food systems in a post-carbon economy

Modern food systems are highly dependent on fossil fuels. This dependence results in high greenhouse gas emissions from food systems, as well as high vulnerability to external shocks, such as resources scarcity or price volatility of fuels. In a context of diminishing fossil fuel supply and a growing global consensus on the need to transition towards a post-carbon economy, which steps do food systems need to take to contribute towards this transition? How can a post-carbon food system feed more than nine billion people? Contributions should present both theoretical and empirical examples of food systems transformations that contribute to reduced fossil fuel dependence and envision different food futures in a post-carbon economy. Contributions are welcomed about technical, economic and political aspects to promote the transition.

O3. Analysing impacts of COVID-19

Session 1. Direct and indirect impacts of sanitary crises on food systems: adaptation and resilience

The current COVID-19 sanitary situation is causing severe disruptions in agricultural and food markets because of restrictions to overall economic activity and disorganization of value chains and markets, and reduction in food demand. The COVID-19 pandemic has an impact on the pillars of food security, specially access and stability, and it is also has impacts on agriculture, through disruptions of value chains, both upstream (inputs) and downstream (collect and marketing), income shifts for agricultural and rural households, health, availability and productivity of workers and possibly women empowerment. All stakeholders in food systems are being affected with various intensity, depending on the resilient nature of their activity, while public policies have been severely challenged to prevent the development of a major food crisis.

This session presents a series of four talks and a panel discussion on direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on agricultural and food systems. The presentations illustrate impacts, vulnerabilities and opportunities for action, taking actual examples from a variety of world regions. A particular focus concerns the potential of existing agricultural and food systems to adapt to pandemics, as well as the role international governance of food security can play in tackling the increasing vulnerability of food systems to sanitary crises and similar global shocks. The aim of the session is to stimulate the discussion towards faster and more effective country and sector assessments of pandemics, taking COVID-19 as a case study. The perspective of COVID-19 as an opportunity to transform existing food systems towards more resilience is addressed in COVID-19 Session 2.

Session 2: Transformation of food systems responding to COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis caused widespread disruption of food systems, affecting production (and thus food availability) due to restrictions to labour mobility, and because of fast-changing regulations putting pressure on supply chains. Agricultural and food systems have however adapted quickly, and there has been transformations to respond to the new circumstances, including the changing needs of consumers, and the more stringent requirements to operate in fragile but essential markets. This session presents a series of four talks and a panel discussion on opportunities arising from the COVID-19 crisis and present concrete examples from different parts of the world of what agriculture and food systems have learnt, adapted and responded to these lessons. The aim of the session is to stimulate the discussion towards creativity and innovation amid challenging circumstances for producers and consumers and to reflect on whether COVID-19 is or not an opportunity to transform our food systems.

O4. Development, impact and ethics of novel and data-driven technologies in food systems

This theme welcomes presentations that show cutting edge advances in the development and use of technology to produce and conserve nutritious food and encourage healthy consumption. These technologies include the use of smart sensors for plants and animals, robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and artificial intelligence to improve food quality during crop production (e.g. high throughput phenotyping platforms), harvest (vertical farms, urban agriculture, precision ag), post-harvest processing (preserving food quality and reducing food waste) and marketing practices, including information to the consumer. They include data-driven technologies based on census and surveys amongst farmers and consumers, and advanced understanding of the gut biome of humans. The ambition of the theme is to move beyond the development of the technologies, and consider their impacts in the broadest sense, including the ethical aspects of their use.

O5. Influencing food consumption and demand considering the food environment

Healthy diets are at the crossroad between food security and nutrition outcomes in terms of both deficiencies and excess. Preferences, social value, availability and affordability of healthy foods, time and knowledge to prepare them are among the main drivers of food consumption at the consumer level. However, the food environment heavily influences consumer choices that eventually lead to better diets. Food environment includes the physical, economic, political and socio-cultural context within which consumers engage with the food system to acquire, prepare and consume food. It can positively or negatively shape consumer food habits through the availability of healthy/unhealthy foods, their prices, marketing and labeling. Conversely, a strong demand for healthier and more sustainable foods can stimulate innovation in food production and processing to provide those foods through resource-efficient and resilient value chains. This theme will focus on analyses of the drivers of dietary behaviour from a food environment perspective and explore pathways aiming at shaping the consumer demand for healthy and sustainable foods.

O6. Food security and the Sustainable Development Goals: synergies, tensions and trade-offs

Sustainable Development Goal 2 - Zero Hunger- is one of the 17 SDGs. It aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Though the 17 SDGs together are required for holistic sustainable development, many of them could result in some unintended, negative consequences or some missed synergies with other SDGs when implemented in isolation. For example, several of the targets of SDG 2 have potential for both tradeoffs and synergies with the impact on ecosystems (SDG 15) and water (SDG 6). Others, such as increasing income through doubling agricultural production are often considered synergies with improved human nutrition but evidence does not always support this assumption. As a consequence, action towards SDG2 may be considered to leverage the whole Agenda 2030 under certain conditions. Achieving Zero Hunger and its sub goals of food security, increased nutrition and sustainable agriculture, thus needs systems thinking and implementation. This conference theme addresses examples of the types of tradeoffs and synergies that are likely to occur and how to handle these to guide a holistic implementation of the SDGs.

O7. Food security and policy, governance, institutions and trade

The deep transformations of food systems that are required to address the whole set of SDGs, and, in particular, to improve food security, requires (re-)design and orchestration. With food security being a priority goal, the design of specific institutional arrangements to shape both collective and public action to overcome the sectoral approaches to food security from the last decades is key. Coordination across sectors and among stakeholders to provide the global orientation and facilitation is required, since food security is not just a matter of supply and demand, but also one of human rights. These issues raise numerous questions. How to build upon initiatives to design suitable governance arrangements and policies that promote food environments conducive for food security? How to better articulate food security governance and global economic governance arrangements and, in particular, how to organise trade to improve food security? How to ensure consistency through the alignment of local, national and international institutional arrangements and regulatory frameworks and the promotion of intersectoral approaches? How to strengthen accountability and to enforce the right to adequate food for all? The proposals should either enlighten such questions or open avenues for the involvement of scientific communities in food systems and security governance.

O8. Stability and dynamics of availability, access and utilisation

The widely cited FAO definition of food security states that people (i.e. a population, household or individual) must have access to sufficient food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food because of shocks (e.g. an economic or political crisis, or an extreme weather event), cyclical events (e.g. seasonal food insecurity), or stresses (e.g. changes in demographics, climate or natural resource degradation). Many factors can therefore undermine food security, especially when they occur simultaneously. For instance, the increase in hunger over the last couple of years is attributed by FAO to the coincidence of conflict and climate change-induced weather shocks. The concept of stability therefore refers to all other three components of food security (availability, access and utilization). At the same time, ‘stability’ can be undesirable if a given food security situation is sub-optimal. In some cases, the food system needs to be dynamic to address sub-optimal performances. How do we better manage the dynamic aspects of food systems to ensure stable food security? How does ‘stability’ interact with ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’?

O9. Access: affordability, allocation and preference of food

As centrally noted in the definition stemming from the 1996 FAO World Food Summit, food security is fundamentally an issue of access to food. For most, food affordability is then a key element, integrating the price of food with the amount of disposable income to spend on it. If prices rise faster than incomes, food insecurity can increase. Similarly, physical access may be difficult in some places. Allocation in society is a further issue and can take a range of forms due to varied reasons. For instance, in some cultures, men eat before women; aid agencies and emergency relief organisations need to decide priorities for who receives food and when; and food can be used as a political ‘weapon’ to influence or even subjugate sections of society. Preference is the third important element of Access. Preferences can be determined by cultural and religious contexts, taste and appearance, convenience and cooking skill, health and ethical concerns, and also marketing and retail strategies. Although safe and nutritionally satisfactory, having to eat food we do not prefer can have psychological impact, undermining overall wellbeing. To what extent should preference be taking into account in food security debates? How does access interfere with other food security dimensions to realize the SDGs?

O10. Circularity in food systems at local, regional or global levels

Most of today’s production and food systems are linear in the sense that they aim to maximize or optimize production of a single commodity, such as maize, eggs or meat, per unit of input, without paying sufficient attention to side effects. Similarly, consumption patterns are often analysed from the perspective of footprints of the various individual products. Such linear analyses, however, do not adequately consider the complex and many interactions that may occur within food systems, between different commodities (e.g. plants and animals), main and by-products, production and consumption, rural areas and cities, and consumption and waste. As a consequence in linear systems resources are often wasted or used inefficiently. Circularity aims at reducing resource consumption and emissions to the environment by re-establishing loops between different materials and substances in the system at different levels. This has important implications for the use of by-products (e.g. residues, manure, excreta, waste) that come with main products for the soil management, renewable energy or as livestock or industrial feedstock; the closing of nutrient cycles; and the role of animals in circular systems in upgrading low-opportunity by-products or grass to valuable human food. This theme addresses contributions with a strong systems perspective, emphasizing different levels at which circularity can be enhanced, and may comprise both theoretical and experimental or empirical examples.

O11. Utilisation: nutritional value, social value and safety of food

Food utilisation is often only taken to mean the physiological nutritional value of food. While diets need to be nutritionally balanced and sufficient in quantity, foods also need to be safe: free from toxins and other contaminants, and from pathogens and parasites. While many ultra-processed foods satisfy these conditions, excess consumption of such ‘empty calories’ can also be termed ‘unsafe’, contributing as it does to overweight and obesity, and concomitant diet-related diseases. Food consumption should be sufficient in variety, quality and quantity to avoid poor physical and mental health outcomes associated with hunger, stunting, wasting and obesity. Finally, the social functions of food are often overlooked in food security debates. These are often deeply embedded in cultural norms, and contribute to notions of social- and self-identity, kinship and family. Food often serves real or symbolic function in religious or social ceremony; lack of the right types of food for such functions undermines the social function. How should trade-offs between nutritional value, social value and food safety be evaluated and addressed? How do these three elements connect with other dimensions of food security and impact the desirable transitions of food systems?

O12. Availability: production, distribution and exchange of food

Food availability is one of the four major components of food security and refers to the physical existence of food for consumers. At the global level, food availability implies sufficient overall food production. At the national, regional and local level however, this component is much more sophisticated and includes a combination of domestic food production, intra- and international trade and commercial food imports and exports (including food aid), international, national and local transport and storage capacity and logistics, and food stocks. Many questions arise in this context. How can the ‘yield gap’ be narrowed in situations with low productivity? How much potential is left to increase production of high productivity lands and seas without jeopardizing future generations’ food security? What are novel or alternative ways of producing protein and other foods? How can current trade agreements and flows be optimized in order to enhance food security? What is the optimum balance between food aid and agricultural/fisheries development in the poor, and economically and politically unstable regions? What is the state of current national logistics and food stocks, and how will they evolve over time?

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