Blog: The Road Between the UN Food Systems Summit and COP26

Thursday, September 23rd marked the first day of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) which convened government leaders, producers, civil society, and private sector leaders focused on transforming food systems towards a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient future. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and USAID Administrator Samantha Power were in attendance and announced significant investments, amounting to $10 billion, to “use the power of ingenuity to improve food systems” at home and abroad. You can find the summary and fact sheet here and here, respectively.

There are many positive and transformational aspects of the US’s announcement, given the increased funding for food security, nutrition, and investments in women and children across the food system. However, there are also a couple of questions that should be addressed before COP26 to ensure the US is most effectively using its funds and influence to target the most pressing food system challenges globally.

Let’s start with some of the positives:

  • Though similar to recent funding levels, $5 billion will be allocated over 5 years to Feed the Future, the US government’s food security initiative, to expand the number of countries served which had been scaled back in recent years. The initiative works with countries to reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition and has reduced stunting in young children in Africa in the past.
  • The Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) aims to increase investment in climate-smart agriculture and food innovation. This initiative recognizes the need for food system technologies to reduce climate emissions. The number of countries joining the initiative recently tripled, indicating more countries are ready to bolster investment in climate-focused agricultural R&D and adopt more innovative practices.
  • The global coalition named “Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation” aims to increase productivity growth while also integrating social, economic, and environmental metrics. This holistic approach recognizes raising productivity is key for economic growth and adapting to climate change, but focusing solely on productivity can have unintended consequences if siloed from efforts such as those focused on improving nutrition.
  • The US is also calling on the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, a multilateral financing vehicle with $1.7 billion dollars to help the poorest countries, to integrate climate considerations when providing aid.

Notably absent from the announcement was any commitment to increase support of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world’s largest publicly funded agricultural research network. Like Feed the Future’s Innovation Labs, CGIAR is focused on agricultural innovation that delivers improved food security, nutrition, and poverty, but is more expansive in its research and capacity, and employs about 8,000 scientists and staff at its 15 independent research centers.

The lack of new funding commitments to CGIAR is surprising given their track record and historic achievements over the past 50 years. While CGIAR's research is mainly focused on improving the lives of the poorest and reducing pressure on natural resources, its research has also benefited US farmers. The US Agency for Development, which funds CGIAR on the behalf of the US, found that the wheat varieties developed at one of CGIAR’s research centers became widely adopted by American farmers, and provided the US with $140 to $180 million in annual financial benefits over three decades, representing a benefit-to-cost ratio of 32:1 (or 40:1).

Though the United States has been the largest supporter of CGIAR in terms of total funding, its funding levels have declined dramatically recently. USAID funding for CGIAR was $52.6 million in 2021 — nearly a third of the average US contribution from 2012-2016. CGIAR aims to double funding to $2 billion annually, in part to better enhance farmers’ climate resilience and mitigation efforts. Without the US defining and ramping up its funding commitment to CGIAR, and encouraging other countries to do the same, it is unlikely the organization will meet its goal, especially after total funding has declined by nearly a third from its historical peak in 2014.

In the leadup to COP26, a key question around how the investments associated with AIM4C will be disbursed will hopefully be answered.

Will the investments be funneled through CGIAR or other existing institutions, or will other investment vehicles be created to guide the disbursal of funding? A potential avenue for funding is the African Development Bank’s newly announced Facility for Food and Nutrition. The Facility’s objective is to raise $1 billion USD to deliver agricultural technologies to 40 million African farmers.

We will continue to monitor countries’ policies towards boosting agricultural innovation to tackle climate change and food security as commitments crystallize in the run-up to COP26.