Sandro Dernini: accelerating progress on the SDGs
Less than ten years away from the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we are still far from securing food for all, especially when it comes to healthy, sustainably produced food. We spoke with Dr. Sandro Dernini, Head of the SFS-MED Platform Coordination Desk, an initiative launched by the UN One Planet Network Sustainable Food Systems Programme.
The Sustainable Food Systems in the Mediterranean Platform (SFS-MED) was promoted by the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). Its goal is ambitious: accelerating progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Mediterranean region by promoting sustainable food systems and providing food security and nutrition to current and future generations.
According to Dr. Dernini, the Mediterranean region is facing environmental, economic and social challenges that affect food security, nutrition and sustainability, and thus the livelihoods of all Mediterranean people.
Question: What changes will be adopted in the Mediterranean to meet the SDGs as soon as possible?
Answer: It is paramount to safeguard the position of farmers and fishers in the value chain, to promote “green” and “blue” growth, as well as circular economy, and to encourage sustainable food production and consumption, ensuring affordable and healthy food for all.
For that reason, a regional vision is needed to valorize the existing knowledge, experience and skills of institutions across the Mediterranean and to create the bases for greater coherence in dealing with multiple and interdependent challenges facing Mediterranean people. To develop more sustainable food systems, new forms of collaborative and innovative multi-stakeholder strategies, transdisciplinary exchanges and knowledge-sharing are required between the shores of the Mediterranean.
Q: Transforming our food systems is a complex process. What are the main challenges we have to face?
A: One of the main challenges the food system transformation faces is a very limited understanding not only of the performance of food systems but also of the trade-offs between the different objectives to be achieved through food system transformations.
As food systems are highly complex, featuring interconnected and interdependent components and embracing various challenges and issues, the challenges involved with building truly sustainable food systems are multidimensional and interrelated, and thus a holistic systemic approach is required: examining food systems as a whole rather than in separate pieces, valuing outcomes over processes, and embracing a variety of voices instead of individual perspectives.
Therefore, a context specific integrated holistic approach for the Mediterranean will allow to better understand food systems, and to address all elements across them, rather than their separate pieces, by taking into account their impacts and trade-offs to be assessed.
Q: What is expected from SFS-MED Platform and what is its strategy?
A: The SFS-MED Platform aims to foster a better understanding of the interconnections between individual SDGs and how the multidimensionality of the sustainability of food systems will strengthen the science-policy nexus, as well as South-South cooperation initiatives.
Therefore, the SFS-MED Platform offers the unique opportunity to bring together different mandates for mobilizing stronger partnerships towards more resilient sustainable food systems in the Mediterranean. It is foreseen to respond to regional and national needs, priorities, and circumstances, by taking into account the multi-dimensional nature of food systems, as well as their diversity in developed and developing countries.
In order to be adapted to these multiple specificities, the SFS-MED Platform is foreseen also to take into account the variety of priorities and levels of development, as well as the direct and indirect drivers and impacts of food systems. As food systems differ greatly both across and within regional and national circumstances, most of which have different priorities, there are unique challenges for a multistakeholder platform on sustainable food systems in the Mediterranean region.
The proposed holistic approach of the SFS-MED Platform is expected to encompass activities that will impact food systems positively at every stage, from production, processing, distributing, marketing to consumption of food – whether in highly modern systems or in local markets in developing countries.
Q: What are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and why is the platform targeting this region?
A: The cultural-historical importance of the Mediterranean as a region is unquestioned, as it has been the cradle of the Western civilization, acknowledged by its long-standing history. Culturally diverse countries are still found united within the Mediterranean diet heritage, acknowledged in 2010 by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of Humankind, without this distorting their identity.
In recent years, the interest for the Mediterranean diet has started to be recognized also as a sustainable diet model, with multiple benefits, connecting the nutritional well-being of the individual and the community to the sustainability of natural resources, and reaffirming the notion that the health of humans cannot be isolated from the health of ecosystems.
This diet has multiple sustainable benefits, with country-specific variations. As described in the Med Diet 4.0 framework some of its benefits are:
- It contributes to prevent chronic diseases and reduces public health costs
- It causes low environmental impacts and promotes richness in biodiversity, reducing the pressure on natural resources and mitigation of climate change
- It encourages high positive local economic returns, sustainable territorial development, reduction of rural poverty, and high performance in reduction of food waste and loss
- It has established a high social and cultural value of food, growth of mutual respect, identity recovery, social inclusion, and consumer empowerment.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the flaws in our food systems. What should we do better?
A: Today it is clear that COVID-19 already has a global impact on the world economy, environment, culture and health and more sustainable food systems will be vital for all populations of the world. Increasing water scarcity, land and marine resource degradation, climate change and nutrition transition, together with youth and women unemployment, demographic shifts towards increased urbanization, vulnerability of rural livelihoods, conflicts and migration require urgent action, while considering the widely differing cultural dimensions across the region. For these reasons, we need to accelerate sustainable development in the Mediterranean region.
To develop more sustainable food systems, new forms of innovative, interregional multi-stakeholder strategies and transdisciplinary knowledge sharing are required between the Northern and the Southern shores of the Mediterranean region, where there is, also due to COVID-19 a stronger need of more scientific research and data for impact assessment, as well as capacity building and innovation, both technological, institutional, and social.
Q: Once we get through this bad patch, do you think consumers will be more aware of the importance of eating a nutritious and healthy diet?
A: I prefer to underline the importance of eating by following a sustainable diet model such as the Mediterranean Diet, and not just looking for the health property of each individual food. People eat food not nutrients! It is important to keep in mind by to foster long-term food consumption changes among different target populations with focus on lifestyle habits based on core Mediterranean Diet principles.