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Portugal: Mainstreaming Food Systems in The Presidency of The European Council

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Viewpoint by Paulo Caruso Dias de Lima

The writer is a Liaison Officer at the FAO Brussels Office.

BRUSSELS (IDN) – As announced two weeks ago, the Portuguese Presidency of the European Council, in the first half of next year, is set to position its priorities to promote a fair, green and digital recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19. This is in keeping with regional and global trends towards transforming the ways in which we produce and consume food. – PORTUGUESE

At the same time, food systems will be at the centre of the international scene in 2021, particularly as a main theme of the UN Summit to be held back-to-back with the General Assembly in September.

As remarked by Secretary-General António Guterres, “It is unacceptable that hunger is increasing at a time when the world is wasting more than 1 billion tons of food every year. It is time to change the way we produce and consume, including to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In parallel, the exponential growth of obesity and overweight rates affect all regions of the planet, among men and women, rich and poor, the younger and the older.”

This proposed paradigm shift on food systems transformation involves emblematic issues, such as the strengthening of family farming, which is responsible for 80 per cent of all food produced globally; the adoption of restrictive measures on the consumption of unhealthy foods, and the enhancement of territorial agricultural systems, with reinforcement to local development.

In the three aforementioned areas, Portugal has proven to be an active player by engaging other nations – especially members of the Community Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) – on a constructive agenda. These areas are an integral part of the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which is deeply involved in the food systems debate planned for next year.

Family farming

Since 2014, with the United Nations International Year for Family Farming, Portugal has been a leading voice on the theme on the global stage. With the approval of the UN Decade for Family Farming (2019-2028), the country quickly began participating as a member of the Group of Friends, a select group of nations that drives the family farming agenda at the international level and played a prominent role in coordinating efforts to implement the Guidelines for support and promotion of Family Farming in the CPLP Member States, in 2016.

Two years later, Portugal pushed for the negotiations for the Lisbon Charter for the Strengthening of Family Farming, a commitment from the Portuguese-speaking countries that links public authorities and other CPLP partners in the development of family farming policies.

Through the Lisbon Charter, the CPLP countries committed to stimulating the sustainable implementation of those policies while recognizing the contribution of “rural communities as producers of healthy food, as promoting cultural, social expressions and public goods that must be protected through specific policies and taking into account the singularities of each territory.”

As a result of this, last year, Portugal also helped to coordinate, within the scope of the CPLP, the creation of the CPLP Technical Centre for Sustainable Family Agriculture, in São Tomé and Príncipe. The institution seeks to promote knowledge exchanges between technicians, teachers from agricultural schools, and small producers from Portuguese-speaking countries.

Internally, in 2019, Portugal was also a pioneer in approving the Family Farming Statute, which listed the principles for the promotion of public policies in favour of family farming in the national territory.

Fighting obesity

In Portugal, the combination of unhealthy diets and the increase in sedentary lifestyles has inspired a public health struggle against childhood obesity. The consequences of this situation have implications for reaching the broader targets related to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 2030, the cut-off year for meeting the sustainable development agenda.

As known, childhood obesity is a complex public health problem – caused by multiple factors, including socioeconomic status and cultural issues. In the midst of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized the intervention of the Portuguese government in the implementation of taxes on sugary drinks, whose excessive intake is admittedly one of the main causes of this problem.

According to the WHO Committee for the Monitoring of Childhood Obesity in Portugal, between 2008 and 2016, the number of overweight children in the country dropped from 37.9 per cent to 30.7 per cent and in obese children from 15.3 per cent to 11.7 per cent.

This achievement is an important step forward. At the same time, WHO recognizes that taxation is usually an effective way to stimulate behaviour change and, also, a public policy which aims at one of the crucial points in the food chain: the consumption side.

This type of intervention is the focus of one of the five action tracks of the UN Food Systems Summit, Number 2, which aims to “build consumer demand for sustainably produced food, strengthen local value chains, improve nutrition, and promote the reuse and recycling of food resources (…) and facilitate a transition in diets towards more nutritious foods”.

In addition, Portugal is also developing its National Strategy of Food Security and Nutrition, which not only encompasses policies to promote healthy eating but also responds to the country’s commitments towards the accomplishment of the Agenda 2030.

From local to global development

Transforming food systems requires not only the involvement of national governments. Regions and cities, in general, often take the lead with positive trends by successfully implementing public policies at the local level and showing how they might be adopted on a wider scale.

This is also seen in actions led by non-governmental organizations and cooperatives, such as Fruta Feia, a Portuguese initiative aimed at raising consumer awareness to reduce food waste by encouraging the purchase of fruits and vegetables outside of standards considered normal and yet fit for consumption.

Born in 2013 in the neighbourhood of Intendente in Lisbon, the project has been implemented in counties such as Lisbon, Porto, Almada, Amadora, Cascais, Gaia and Matosinhos. In 2015, the initiative became a project co-financed by the European Union’s LIFE program for its replication on a continental scale – FLAW4LIFE – and that this year became the first project in history to win the LIFE Award in two categories: Environment and the Citizen’s Prize (the most voted by the public).

In addition, Portugal is one of the few European countries to have a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) recognized by FAO, which is located in the Barroso Agro-Sylvo-Pastoral Region. The GIAHS combines agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage. Ultimately, it sustainably provides various goods and services, food, and livelihoods for millions of family farmers.

In addition to the UN Food Systems Summit, other key events will take place next year, such as COP26 for Climate in Glasgow, as well as the 7th session of the World Committee on Food Security (CFS), which is likely to endorse the Voluntary Guidelines for Food Systems and Nutrition.

In this context, Portugal, with its activity and engagement in issues related to food systems, has more than solid credentials to coordinate the European position in the most diverse segments and amidst so important consultations on the theme to take place in 2021. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 December 2020]

Photo: Barroso Agro-sylvo-pastoral System. Credit: Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

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