It’s no secret that our planet is in crisis. Each UN Climate Change Conference (COP) commences against the background of increasingly dire warnings, and this year’s will be no exception. In 2021, almost everyone on earth has felt the effects of the changing climate, be it with floods, drought, extreme heat and cold, wildfires or intense storms. It’s also no secret that something as essential to our lives as the systems that produce the food we eat are a huge driver of the problem. Industrial agriculture is the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions, accelerating climate change while driving consumption of unhealthy and unsustainable foods.

We can change this story. The food system can be a tool to heal the planet. When we farm, produce and eat in ways that respect the earth, we can actually reverse the effects of climate change, and make strides to improve human health and wellbeing, too.

Let me share what this can look like, courtesy of the remarkable innovators who make up the Food Systems Game Changers LabFor months leading up to the UN Food Systems Summit, over 850 problem-solvers from 127 countries worked together in groups to develop plans for sustainable solutions to specific food systems challenges. They tackled complex topics at the intersection of food systems and climate, health, and economic prosperity, and developed inspiring, actionable ideas to re-imagine the way food impacts people and planet.

Here are a few that offer exciting solutions for our climate future in particular:

Innovating at the Ag-Energy Nexus

One cohort, made up of innovative teams from 7 countries, has developed a unique co-operative model to develop, scale, and fund carbon capture projects throughout the developing world to capture and store carbon emissions that warm the planet. The solution provides small-holder farmers with the tools to adapt greener and more sustainable technologies while reducing greenhouse emissions and bridging gaps in poverty and malnutrition. The group envisions centers that offer a packaged set of solutions, including off-grid renewable productive-use technologies, education systems to improve technology utilization, and land that can be rented by small-holder farmers. Through this integrated, innovative model, on-site farmers have access to technologies like cold-storage that reduce food waste, which accounts for 6-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gases.

Building Resilient Local Food Systems

Recognizing the inherent inequality and siloed nature of our food systems, another collective of global innovators from 17 countries is fostering a new mindset of a nation united in the food system value chain – where local resilient food systems thrive via “Biodistricts.” A Biodistrict Center of Excellence serves as an international support body that facilitates the creation and connection of local biodistricts to develop a resilient and regenerative global network. Through this network, local economies gain access to the know-how and resources needed to grow nutritious and culturally-rich food through regenerative practices that sequester carbon instead of emitting it. At the same time, individuals and retail buyers benefit from decentralized production, processing, distribution and consumption of indigenous, nutritious and sustainably grown food.

Enabling Affordable and Accessible Nutrition

To improve access to affordable nutrition, another cohort of global innovators from 15 countries employs solutions oriented around three high-impact levers. The first is an open-source knowledge platform and policy guide that localizes True Cost Accounting, helping communities account for all the ways food systems impact health, the environment, biodiversity, livelihoods, and much more to guide decision-making and reduce the hidden costs of our food system to planetary and human health and well-being. Next, a Food Systems Transformation Network allows the exchange of technical expertise to create more resilient food systems. Finally, an impact investing fund complements a global malnutrition offset program, which draws upon the success of the carbon credit model, to guide sustainable finance.

Moving forward, these solution cohorts, along with the other 21 in the Game Changers Lab, will be paired with governments and institutions positioned to bring their ideas to scale and build lasting partnerships for the future of food systems.  This unique approach recognizes that the complexities of our food systems require coordination from many change-makers with innovative ideas but a common goal. By assessing and combining their ideas, each cohort utilized a systems approach to address the issue at hand and meet the needs of real-world partners. The result is a variety of solutions that democratize the voices in our food systems, mobilize innovation, and provide a path forward.

I’m thrilled about their potential, because these broad agendas recognize that there is no one solution to the challenges facing our food systems. They represent the holistic, inclusive, and dynamic thinking we need to make lasting change for the future of our food, our health, and our planet. And for the food system to play its part in curbing climate change, collaborative innovation is no longer an option. It’s the only pathway forward.

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