WorldFish’s Shakuntala Thilsted joins experts to lead UN Food Systems Summit

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WorldFish’s Program Leader for Value Chains and Nutrition Shakuntala Thilsted was appointed a top role at the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.  

Thilsted was named Vice-chair of the summit's Advancing Equitable Livelihoods Action Track by the Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit Agnes Kalibata. The role will see Thilsted responsible for guiding the global event's direction related to building sustainable, inclusive and nutritious food systems and value chains that support both people and planet. 

“The international summit is our chance to mobilize a global movement to positively transform our food production, distribution, consumption and waste. Equitable livelihoods depend on fair, fruitful and nutritious food systems that hold sustainability and resilience at their heart.” 

“Our goal, therefore, is to take a holistic approach to food system transformation. Solutions must move beyond land-based crops and livestock to food below water. The potential of diverse and nutritious aquatic foods is ripe for the picking, offering a path to produce sufficient food supply without increasing carbon emissions while reducing ecosystem stress and habitat loss,” she said. 

The impacts of Thilsted’s decades-long work on nutrition and value chains are as diverse as they are far-reaching. Her research and landmark innovations on nutrition-sensitive approaches put human-nutrition as a principle objective when managing food systems. Thilsted’s influential work has led to increased supply and access to diverse aquatic-based foods, healthier diets and inclusive value chains empowering and benefiting millions of vulnerable people, particularly women and children in the first 1000 days of life, in countries across Asia and Africa.

Thilsted was announced among other experts across the fields of food, agriculture, health and climate change who have committed to advance solutions to make food systems more resilient and inclusive through the UN summit. Five key action tracks were defined including, (1) ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all, (2) shifting to sustainable consumption patterns, (3) boosting nature-positive production at scale, (4) advancing equitable livelihoods and (5) building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses. 

“The action tracks will draw on the expertise of actors from across the world’s food systems – both inside and outside of the UN system,” Special Envoy Kalibata said highlighting the fresh approach. 

“Together they will ensure that priority areas for action will not sit in silos. They will explore how key cross-cutting levers of change such as governance, finance, data, indigenous knowledge, human rights and law, innovation, and the empowerment of women and young people can be mobilized to meet the summit’s objectives,” she explained. 

While Thilsted’s appointment ensures aquatic food systems and the communities they serve will be represented at the summit, it also makes certain WorldFish and the CGIAR research commitments are acknowledged in planning for the summit, said WorldFish Director General Gareth Johnstone.

“The appointment promises the One CGIAR research mission to end hunger through science to transform food, land and water systems in a climate crisis will play a role in shaping the summit’s strategic direction,” said Johnstone, who is the current Convener of the Directors General at the CGIAR General Assembly of the Centers. 

“Shakuntala’s critical insights have shed much-needed light on important global south perspectives and the experiences of millions of marginalized people living in extreme poverty in the developed world, all of which will greatly benefit the summit’s objective to push for food systems transformation,” he added.

As a key contribution to the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, the objectives of the Food Systems Summit are to generate momentum, expand the knowledge and share experience and approaches worldwide to help countries and stakeholders unleash the benefits of food systems for all people. The summit will also offer a catalytic moment for global public mobilization and actionable commitments to invest in diverse ways to make food systems inclusive, climate-adapted and resilient, and support sustainable peace. 

For more information on the UN Food System Summit and leadership appointments read here. 

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Matthew O'Leary