CoSAI joins UN public forum to make finance work for sustainable food systems

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As CoSAI deepens its ongoing contribution to the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), Commission Chair Dr Ruben Echeverria had the opportunity to present our emerging evidence at the UNFSS Finance Lever Public Forum.

The Finance Lever is vital to the UNFSS agenda because food systems everywhere are challenged by financial incentives that point in the wrong direction. Too often, dated models of public and private finance lock in resource extraction, ecological destruction and exploitation. The Finance Lever is drawing blueprints for a different financial architecture that will support the overall vision of better food systems coming together within the UNFSS.

The Finance Lever Public Forum brought together a larger public to consider and contribute to the question of what such a financial architecture will need to do, and to offer up promising solutions to be replicated and scaled.

Assembling data and perspectives on investment

During the virtual event, Echeverria presented preliminary results from two major studies that CoSAI is preparing for publication. Both provide important pieces of the puzzle that the Finance Lever is assembling. The first of these is the Innovation Investment Study, a baseline review of recent investments in agricultural innovation and how relevant they are to sustainable agriculture intensification in the Global South. The second, the Investment Gap Study, builds on this understanding to estimate how large of an investment gap needs to be filled to achieve global goals and climate trajectories.

This evidence is showing that somewhere between USD 50 and 70 billion is spent each year on innovation for sustainable agriculture intensification, but that only 7% of this investment has explicit environmental outcomes, and only half of that has clear social objectives. The investment gap is identified at about USD 15 billion, with the investment spread across R&D, water resource management and technical support for climate change. If the gap is filled, we can make significant progress on SDG2 by ending hunger at a 5% level in all but Sub-Saharan Africa, where it would fall to 11.6%, and make significant progress on the Paris Agreement climate trajectories. 

Echeverria’s contribution was part of the Public Forum’s broad offering of on-the-ground perspectives. Together with country representatives and entrepreneurs who are leading sustainable business models, CoSAI made an argument for why finance is needed and how it can provide levers for sustainable change in food systems.

In his closing remarks, Dr Johan Swinnen, the Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) emphasised that big changes are needed, with finance being a critical component. He referenced the importance of country engagement, reflecting the outcomes of CoSAI’s Innovation Investment Study, which identifies the significant investment in innovation by national governments. Swinnen also emphasised the importance of enabling the right financial instruments to contribute and the importance of metrics for accountability. As CoSAI evidence continues to emerge we plan to contribute further to the evidence to support the most effective instruments for investment to deliver impact, and develop metrics suitable for public and private investment, as we guidepost better investment in innovation in our future food systems.

Finance leads the way

The UNFSS is based on the idea that with the right financing and incentives, the world’s food systems can support healthy people, a healthy planet and healthy economies. Right now that just isn’t happening – but the potential is more apparent than ever. A reformed financial framework can provide the levers and enabling environment for investment to go where it is needed, whether the investment is public or private, and whether it enables research on emerging technologies or the delivery of transformative change at massive scale.

For CoSAI and other participants, the Finance Lever Public Forum was a chance to identify opportunities for filling some of the largest gaps and working together on some of the brightest solutions. It also allowed CoSAI to share its perspective on what can be done, and what needs to be done, to finance the future our food systems need.