At the first "Food Day" of a biodiversity COP, speakers noted that pressures of food systems on the natural world have grown over the decades and adaptation solutions are needed to equitably respond to this challenge
Rio Conventions Pavilion: Food Day
The second day of the Rio Conventions Pavilion was Food Day, a theme that was repeatedly applauded by participants for its inaugural focus at this COP, in addition to the most recent COPs of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Throughout the day, many highlighted that the “30 by 30” commitment for countries to set aside 30% of Earth’s land and seas for nature by 2030 will not be enough unless management of the other 70% is fundamentally transformed.
Transforming Food Systems to Reverse Biodiversity Loss: Building nexus between biodiversity-climate-land-food systems
The opening session included remarks by Marco Lambertini, Director General, World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), and Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).
Lambertini emphasized how this session is central to the Rio Conventions, noting pressure of food systems on the natural world has grown over the decades and adaptation solutions are needed to respond to this challenge.
Semedo pointed out how diminishing genetic diversity of crops severely compromises our capacity to adapt to changing ecological conditions and capacity to deal with emerging pathogens, among other problems.
Government representatives from Canada and Germany outlined how their countries are pursuing holistic food policies, which acknowledge that food systems are multi-faceted and demand engagement of a broad set of stakeholders and policymakers.
Speakers from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), CGIAR/Alliance, and the Bezos Earth Fund cautioned that consideration of food systems should not get lost in global negotiations and, moreover, how stronger, more evident linkages must be made across the continuum of food systems looking at production, consumption, fiscal policies, health, culture, and gender dimensions.
Pavan Sukhdev, Founder and CEO, GIST Advisory, and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, reiterated panelists’ views on the power of linkages and the need to avoid isolating food systems in a separate policy domain. He noted that we have created a complex world of different problems; therefore, we must embrace complexities and not expect a simple solution to food systems.
Increasing the Ambition of Restoration in the Global Biodiversity Framework: The role of grasslands, savannahs and rangelands
In opening presentations, Nigel Dudley, Equilibrium Research, conveyed that grass-dominated ecosystems cover 54% of global land, store 25-35% of terrestrial carbon, mostly underground, and harbor great biodiversity and vital functions for adaptation and resilience. He stressed three priorities for the CBD: to protect what is left, avoid perverse incentives, and align with the climate and land conventions to better integrate this important biome.
Monica Kobayashi, CBD, said while soil carbon as a measure of soil health links the three Rio Conventions, knowledge gaps persist. She warned, “if we lose soil biodiversity, we lose the basis of the food web.”
In the ensuing panel discussion, representatives from the UNCCD, WWF, CGIAR, and the Bezos Earth Fund highlighted the need to prioritize prevention, since it takes decades for soil biodiversity to recover. Lamenting the large share of grasslands, savannah, and rangelands, which “not working for people or planet,” panelists called for improving management, stressing that higher productivity takes pressure off of other areas. They emphasized that cooperation with rangers and pastoralists is paramount and solutions must work technically and financially for those on the ground. Panelists pointed to work underway to develop a pipeline of investment projects, preloading a “rangeland push” in 2026, the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists.
Protecting Land, Protecting Food: Indigenous and local women as stewards of land and food sovereignty
Speakers in this session detailed the disproportionate ways that Indigenous women landowners are disadvantaged by discriminatory practices and laws that result in tenure insecurity.
Griselda Alvarado Picado, CoopeSoliDar, provided examples from Costa Rica where small-scale artisanal communities have mobilized themselves to regain land rights.
Nadine Azzu, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), underlined how land rights for women should be a rallying point across the Rio Conventions. She acknowledged that the challenge is great, so the response must be commensurate but will yield higher returns in investment.
Milka Chepkorir, ICCA Consortium, explained how the profitability of food sales benefits men disproportionately and said it is time to think of food as a right for all and not as a commodity.
Marlene Elias, CGIAR/Alliance, responded to the interventions of panelists stating that her organization sees these challenges in the regions where it works, but, at the same time, context specificity is needed in solutions.
Transforming Aquatic and Terrestrial Food Systems Together in the GBF and Beyond
This session sought to shift the focus towards a food system approach that fully includes fisheries.
Monique Barreto Galvao, Fish Forever VP Brazil, presented on small-scale fisheries and blue food, highlighting that food security is the key priority for small-scale fisherfolk.
Mariann Bassey, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), Nigeria, lamented the absence of farmers’ and fishers’ voices on the panel, and the strong representation of philantrocapitalists and agrobusiness throughout Food Day.
Georgina Catacora-Vargas, Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology, highlighted the multifunctionality of agroecological approaches and called for a changing the productive system to be nature positive.
Tom Grasso, EDF, called for better connecting water governance and food system issues, and pointed to the UN 2023 Water Conference.
Jane Rioux, IFAD, discussed her organization’s support to small-scale farmers, fishers, and local communities, including through agroecological approaches in three quarters of its investments.
From Targets to Action: How to implement food-related targets of the post-2020 GBF
During this session, panelists discussed how to foster biodiversity within agricultural practices. Joao Campari, WWF, explored how the intensive production of a narrow band of foods is driving environmental degradation. He posited how COP 15 can deliver an ambitious GBF, including measurable specific targets for food systems from farm to fork.
Addressing the loss of agro-biodiversity and resulting risk caused by the current food system’s concentration on very few species and the genetic erosion within those, the ensuing panel discussion focused on solutions, including: in-situ and ex-situ conservation of seeds; nature protection to conserve crop wild relatives; farmer-led seed systems and community seed banks; local action, including short supply chains and local markets; and policies to realize the potential of neglected species with high nutritional and cultural value.
Power of the Consumer: Scaling demand side actions to spur a radical transformation of our food system
During this session, panelists examined how consumer behavior, policies, and public and private sector actors must work together to shift dietary habits, market mechanisms, and sourcing plans to support a healthy planet and protect biodiversity.
Some solutions proposed to achieve this included introducing science-based nutritional labels for greater consumer awareness, innovation in production and sourcing removing complete onus of the consumer to change global dietary behavior, and closing the gap between food consumption patterns in the Global North and Global South.
Power of Finance: Aligning agricultural subsidies with nature and biodiversity goals
In this session, panelists emphasized the negative impacts that agricultural subsidies impose on nature. One panelist observed how in Rwanda, a large part of the population lives on less than USD 5 a day but in Canada, cattle receive subsidies of USD 10 a day. Another panelist reaffirmed this inequity by pointing out how, in the US, 10% of farms receive 78% of agricultural subsidies.
Panelists encouraged the collection of more data on small-holder farmers to demonstrate how investment in them is critical, urgent, and doable to close the gap and ensure no one is left behind.
Power of Business: From Ambition to Action – Scaling nature-positive food systems by 2030
During this session, business leaders, policymakers, and experts elaborated on practical solutions. Speakers noted how the food system is to nature what fossil fuels are to climate, with the major difference being that agri-food businesses rely on nature for their products. They explained that the sector is increasingly realizing its vulnerability, but is also actively managing this risk as a business opportunity.
Speakers agreed on the need for a step change in accountability across nature and climate, a change in advocacy, and stepping up support to farmers for a shift to nature-positive farming to enable scaled-up transformation. Many highlighted that engaging pre-competitively in cooperation was even more powerful than individual leadership to drive solutions, innovation, and learning.
Solutions that were highlighted included, among others: new products and business models; mainstreaming regenerative agriculture; providing toolboxes, decision support and engagement platforms for farmers; and third party verification to ensure accountability. All panelists emphasized the urgency of action. “We can’t procrastinate for perfection” said one, adding that we must start now for the impact we need.
The Earth Negotiations Bulletin is covering the Rio Conventions Pavilion at COP 15 events from 13-18 December.
Organizer: Rio Conventions Pavilion
Contact: David Ainsworth | email@example.com