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Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

CGIAR Science Forum 2018 - Some Reflections

Sustainable Development Goals – the Forum generated much discussion on the SDGs, linkages across them, the need to impact on more than one SDG, how to measure this impact, and how to use the SDGs across the CGIAR research. There was value in this discussion yet a need to step back from the SDGs themselves and recognize that they are a framework to ensure that we do not forget the complexity of the research the CGIAR carries out and that effecting change can have unforeseen consequences that may need to be managed. We, the community of researchers on food systems, need to be careful not to be too introspective and focus our efforts on what we can manage and improve.

Food system or agriculture – some of the discussion illustrated that some people remain unconvinced that the world is moving rapidly towards an era of complex food systems in order to feed growing urban populations. There is a need within this to recognize that the rural poor continue to struggle to feed themselves, and undernutrition in many areas is a mix of chronic and acute. The solutions to these issues are not just technical, there needs to be an understanding of the social and economic context in which they occur. The emerging problems relate to populations of people who are overweight, and in some case micronutrient deficient. These people tend to be in urban areas and are an indication that the food system, which agriculture is only a part, is sick. These growing urban populations and their food systems need our research, we need to broaden our focus out from the technical, social and economic research of agriculture, and also research in depth the associated input and output value chains – the food system. The research has to focus on generating healthy food systems that provide a quality of food that minimizes the impacts of all aspects of malnutrition – over, under and micro-nutrition deficiency.

Clarity from complexity – Food systems are complex and research to improve them in order to contribute to the SDGs adds further complexity. The area of food systems is back on the agenda as challenges to feed growing populations emerge and as the food system absorbs more land, water and air. Achieving a balance between human nutritional needs and planetary health is the greatest challenge facing us for generations. This requires us, as researchers, to recognize that the food system is both the basis of our health and the health of the planet – the food system is the “health” system. And our research must create clarity from the complexity in order to help decision makers improve the food/health system.

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