October 2, 2015

The potential for action on reducing food insecurity and improving global access to proper food and nutrition has never been better. This summer, Expo Milano 2015 directed the world’s attention to the global food system with the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Momentum toward improving the food system is also reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals that were formally adopted by  the UN General Assembly on September 25.

That same day, experts on food security gathered at Columbia’s Italian Academy to discuss challenges and potential solutions for achieving food security in a globalizing economy. The event was co-sponsored by the European Institute, the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, and the Center for American Studies in Rome, and moderated by SIPA’s Glenn Denning, a professor of professional practice at SIPA who directs the MPA in Development Practice program and is also a senior policy advisor to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) at the Earth Institute.

Participants discussed the right to food and proper nutrition given the constraints and opportunities of globalization.

As Denning explained, agricultural innovation has allowed humanity to manipulate nature and feed most of the planet, but the resulting food system is fragile and vulnerable to climate and economic shocks. Among the challenges of ensuring proper food for all are addressing the global obesity epidemic, feeding a growing population, and achieving a global equilibrium of resource use so that all people have the opportunity to realize their potential.

The Sustainable Development Goals, Denning said, offer one path towards ensuring sustainability in the global food system. The Milan Charter, which builds upon the issues highlighted at this summer’s Expo Milano 2015, is another forum for attracting global attention and commitment to positive change in the food system.

Minister Maurizio Martina, Italy’s minister of agricultural, food, and forestry policies and the  government coordinator for Expo Milano 2015, elaborated on Denning’s remarks on the importance of ensuring a sustainable global food system. He discussed the role of Expo Milano 2015 in creating a platform for dialogue to engage the civil society, government and private sector.

Opening and facilitating this dialogue allows all citizens to be engaged in creating positive change around food consumption, waste and security, Martina said. The Milan Charter not only brings an awakening of consciousness on issues of hunger and food insecurity, but issues a challenge to the international community to address these problems and measure progress on improving our global food system.

The issue of food security is not just a matter of feeding the 800 million hungry people on the planet—what Minister Martina described “an army of suffering people”—but also an issue of conflict prevention and mitigation.

Livia Pomodoro, president of the Milan Center for Food Law and Policy, echoed Martina and Denning’s call to alleviate the suffering of those who don’t have adequate access to proper food by emphasizing the need to respect the right to food. As Pomodoro explained, the right to food is not always respected because many countries are not signatories to a treaty protecting this right. Like Denning and Martina, Pomodoro echoed the need for a global commitment to ending hunger by respecting and protecting the right to food.

In concluding remarks, Denning said that improving the global food system provides an opportunity to protect peoples’ need for dignity and prosperity while responding to changes in our global food system.

 “Globalization is not a value, it is a process,” he said, and with our current commitments, there is great promise for leveraging international cooperation and commitments to ensure food security for all.

— Deena Cowans MPA-DP ’16

Pictured: Glenn Denning (photograph by Barbara Alper)