Global food systems at a crossroads: Urgent need for action

Global food systems produces one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions

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Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises and Special Envoy for Business and Philanthropy.
Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises and Special Envoy for Business and Philanthropy.

Published: Thu 16 May 2024, 10:00 AM

The World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI) hosted the Food Innovation Conference 2024 in Dubai, under the theme ‘Reimagining Future Food Systems’. This high-level event convened global experts from across business, academia, government and civil society to deepen cooperation and scale technology solutions to transform food systems globally.

The closing session featured keynote speeches by Dr. Amna Al Dahak, UAE Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises and Special Envoy for Business and Philanthropy.

Other prominent speakers at the conference included Dr Abdulkareem Al Olama, CEO, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, Khadim Al Derai, managing director and co-founder, Al Dahra Holding, Ibrahim Al Zu’bi, group chief sustainability officer at ADNOC Group, and Jane Nelson, director of corporate responsibility at Harvard Kennedy School.

The event stressed the fundamental shift that must take place in the way food is produced and consumed to address interrelated challenges such as food insecurity, biodiversity loss and carbon emissions.

During his keynote speech, Jafar, who also chaired the COP28 Business & Philanthropy Climate Forum, emphasised the importance of harnessing the combined power of business and philanthropy, stating, "If we are to truly transform our food systems, we need to supercharge our commitment to collaboration across borders and across disciplines and sectors. As a businessperson who also believes in the power of strategic philanthropy, I am optimistic that we are entering a new era of multi-stakeholder cooperation where artificial walls between government, business and philanthropy are coming down."

With widespread malnutrition of two billion people globally, food systems today also contribute heavily to environmental challenges. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), current food production methods are responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, 80 per cent of deforestation, and consume over 70 per cent of the world's freshwater. Additionally, global food consumption is projected to rise by at least 50 per cent by 2050.

Jafar’s address highlighted that technology and innovation are powerful enablers and catalysts of change, commenting: "With $25 trillion in private markets, we know that business is uniquely equipped to channel vast amounts of private capital and expertise, global networks, and cutting edge technology. For example, the impact that robotics and AI will have on our food systems is immense. From smarter farming, better food processing and safety, smoother supply chain management the private sector will be on the leading edge of this transformation."

At COP28, the World Economic Forum announced the First Movers Coalition for Food, where the UAE and 20 leading food companies joined forces to create a combined procurement commitment for sustainably produced food, worth up to $20 billion by 2030. During the same UN climate conference, the World Economic Forum and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Global Initiatives launched the Food Innovation Hubs initiative to leverage the exponential potential of technology in responding to the food systems and climate needs in the country and globally.

Jafar concluded, "In the UAE, this ‘whole of society approach’ is authentically being championed. In the same way that complex challenges such as food security, water scarcity, climate change and public health cannot be viewed in isolation, we genuinely believe that the solutions to these challenges will not be spawned in isolation either. We need to work together, while continuing to play to our individual strengths, in order to work at the speed and scale necessary to deliver a better world for generations to come."

The two-day conference encouraged knowledge exchange and capacity building, facilitated partnership opportunities, showcased country-led innovation ecosystem models and explored the latest global frontiers in food systems innovations.

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