Charting the Course for Innovations in Food Systems

Charting the Course for Innovations in Food Systems

Charting the Course for Innovations in Food Systems

As part of NYC Climate Week, experts, policymakers, educators and students gathered for a day-long discussion of a wide spectrum of food-systems issues, and ways to create a more resilient future. The INNOV-EAT meeting included interdisciplinary presentations, discussions and interactive games.

In opening remarks, Columbia Climate School Interim Dean Jeffrey Shaman offered a sobering reminder that global food systems are presently under threat. Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet, he told the room. “Food systems transformation provides a clear entry point to addressing some of these challenges,” he said.

Dhanush Dinesh, the founder of the nonprofit Clim-Eat, asked the audience to think back to not only the successes in their professional lives, but also the failures that preceded them. Who in the room has learned from a significant setback, he inquired? Who is willing to talk about it openly? Nearly every attendee stood up. Embracing failure and discussing it honestly will be necessary to create lasting solutions, Dinesh said. To effect change on a global scale, we will need to acknowledge that access to food exists as a system, he added.

“Everything we do in the Anthropocene is inducing more climate variability and climate change, which is having a big impact on food,” said Jessica Fanzo, professor of climate and director of the Food for Humanity Initiative at Columbia University’s Climate School.

Long-term climate projections show declining food yields, as well as impacts on the nutritional value of some foods, especially in parts of the world already vulnerable to economic instability, said Fanzo.

With 10 percent of the world’s population currently undernourished, and more fires, floods, heat waves and other extreme events occurring, many more people will be at risk for food and water insecurity in the near-future—an issue that has to be addressed on a system-wide level, said Fanzo.

“How do we hold ourselves to account to make a difference?” she asked. “Our governments are not doing enough. We all need to play a part. We need to make big, bold changes.”

True to its name, the event continued with “Innovation Showdown,” an interactive game show hosted by Andy Jarvis, the director of Future of Food at the Bezos Earth Fund. Contestants pitched novel products and technologies with the potential to revolutionize the food industry. (After a close competition, Jarvis revealed that participants were all Columbia University students who had just a short time to research the most promising proposals within three domains: plant nutrition, sustainable livestock and next-generation crops.)

With two more sessions in the afternoon focusing on scaling up innovations and the future of food systems, INNOV-EAT concluded with a keynote by Geeta Sethi, advisor and global lead for food systems at the World Bank.

“The sheer amount of activities and energy focused on food systems this week here in New York and at Columbia’s Climate School shows the interest to scale up evidence-based solutions in a very urgent way,” said Jessica Fanzo.


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