Chapter 3

Overview of the Pre-Summit

Over the past 18 months, the UN Food Systems Summit has brought together all UN Member States and constituencies around the world – including thousands of youth, food producers, Indigenous Peoples, civil society, researchers, private sector, and the UN system – to bring about tangible, positive changes to the world’s food systems.

This included the hosting of the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit, which was held from the 26 – 28th July 2021, at the FAO in Rome and on-line attendance.  More than 100 countries came together over the course of three-days to discuss how they will transform their national food systems to drive progress against the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The official pre-summit programme featured sessions dedicated to four decisive “levers of change”, including women’s empowerment, and human rights.

Speakers tackled issues involving the need for greater recognition of land tenure rights, the right of Indigenous Peoples, the links between humanitarian and development sectors, and gender-responsive food systems.

The event bought together thousands of attendees.  All of whom played a role in the discussions on implementing change for more sustainable, equitable, resilient, and nutritious food systems through interactive engagement and dialogues, with the sole focus of finding new ideas and evidence-based solutions.

After an intensive three days of discussions, the UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed made the following statement during her closing remarks:

“Anything we do must always include those at the center of our food systems: smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples and especially women and youth. Just as food brings us together as cultures and communities, it can bring us together around solutions. But what is clear is there is no one-size fits all solution. Our diversity is our strength and reflects the complexity of our world.”

In the words of H.E. Miriam Al-Mheiri, Minister of State for Food and Water Security, United Arab Emirates – “The last three days have shown that we are all committed and willing to share knowledge, communicate and accelerate our efforts to transform our food systems to more sustainable ones.  The national dialogues have proven to be an essential tool in our accelerated efforts, and I can only encourage to continue doing these.  As a national convenor for the UAE, I hereby say that you have the UAE’s full support in this global effort to transform our food systems.  We are committed and we are here to help.”

During her closing remarks Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary General’s Special envoy to the 2021 Food Systems Summit, and a driving force behind the dialogues, announced that 145 countries are now engaged in dialogues on how they can come through in a food systems way on their SDG, and over 2500 different game changing ideas across 5 major areas the food systems have emerged from the ground up.

“I am extremely happy that we have come to this moment with so many ideas and so many opportunities to be able to change our food systems”, Agnes said.  “I hope each of us starts looking at how we can deliver.”

Statistics – Pre-Summit in Numbers


  • 500 delegates from 108 countries attended in person, including 62 Ministers
  • More than 20,000 attendees joined virtually, from 19 countries


Insights and notable quotes

During the three-day pre-summit, high level talks bought together diverse actors from around the world.  The event delivered the latest evidence base and scientific approaches from around the world; strengthened coalitions of action; and mobilized new financing and partnerships.  In line with the goal to accelerate efforts to transform food systems, discussion topics included, amongst others:

  • Achieving Zero Hunger – Nutritiously and Sustainably
  • Better finance, better food – How to scale finance for sustainable food systems
  • Human Rights – A unified framework for food systems transformation
  • Private Sector priorities, youth priorities and SME priorities
  • Indigenous Peoples Food systems: Game changing solutions for the world

H.E. Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade of Finland provided the opening remarks for the session entitled School Meals Coalition: Nutrition, Health and Education for Every Child, and highlighted the fact that Finland has been providing school meals already for more than 70 years. These programmes have been one of the pillars of the education success story and the development of the country in general. As a founding member and champion of the Coalition he called countries to urgently restore access to these programmes and to join the Coalition to accelerate action until 2030.

The main outcome of Mobilizing Trillions: Financing for Impact, Leveraging the Pivotal Role of Public Development Banks (PDB) session, was a Call for Action. IFAD, AFD and CDP called on Member States and governments, private sector organizations, academia and research institutions, civil society and national, regional and international, including Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), to join a Coalition of Action to unlock the Power of Public Development Banks (PDB) to mobilize green and inclusive investments that can transform food systems at scale across the world.

Youth also played a part in the discussions.  During the Transforming Food Systems together – Youth actions for our present and future, Lana Weidgenant, Action Track Vice Chair, UN Food Systems Summit 2021 shared a key priority of youth which is safe and healthy food for everyone, everywhere. She outlined youth commitments and demanded policy actions from the Government which includes mandates for transparent and accurate labelling that reflects the true nutrition content and environmental impact of food so youth can make more informed consumption choices.

Notable quotes:

Opening the event via video message on 26 July 2021, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the current food system is part of a “war on nature,” as it generates up to one third of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is responsible for up to 80% of biodiversity loss.  The same food system is responsible for up to 80% of bio diversity loss.  “Yet, there is hope.  Since my initial call for this summit, you (the member states and other entities) have responded with energy, ideas, and a willingness to forge new partnerships,” he said.

The UN Secretary-General finished off by thanking all players for making the event both a people summit and a solution summit.

Considering the parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and global hunger crisis, Prime Minister Draghi called on delegates  to commit to ending hunger for 811 million people amidst a changing climate.  He went on to say, “We need more funding from government and development banks to reduce the risk for investors and the agricultural sector, and improve access to credit, especially for the smaller farmers.”

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the occasion of the UN Food Systems Summit Pre-Summit

HRH Prince of Wales raised the alarm on the impact of failed food systems on our health and planet. “It gives me hope that the pressure for change is now being met by a substantial, determined global response,” he said. “But that response, and its practical implementation on the ground, must be expedited as the window of opportunity left to us is rapidly closing. The security and capacity of our planet’s entire life-support systems are banking on it, and if we all work with that primary responsibility to the fore, not only will we benefit nature, we will benefit people and the planet too.”

In a message to the Secretary General, delivered by Paul Gallagher, Pope Francis said this important meeting “highlights how one of our greatest challenges today is to overcome hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition in the era of COVID-19.”

The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame stated that “Agriculture and agri-business, especially in Africa, will drive our attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is especially true as we work to make up for the time lost to the Covid-19 pandemic. Each country and region must chart its own pathway to transformation, but this is also a global challenge that we must address together.”President Kagame also said (that) “For Africa, the central goal is to halt our continent’s over-reliance on food imports, end malnutrition, and create millions of new jobs in the food economy. In doing so, we will strike the right balance between people and planet.”

Additional highlights

Andrea Bocelli performed a special televised event

The event took place at the Circus Maximus and included the participation of Andrea Bocelli and some national and international institutional figures.   The Italian tenor performed live at the end of the first day of the UN FSS Pre Summit. 

“Good Food for All” Competition

Over 2000 applications from 135 countries were received for the Best Small Businesses of the “Good Food for All” competition held in conjunction with the UN Food Systems Summit.  The 50 winners were announced during the Pre-summit, highlighting the role that small businesses play in the continued drive for sustainable food systems.  The initiatives were inspiring and impactful.  

The prize money of US$100,000 was shared amongst the winners, that come from a total of 42 countries, including from Europe & Central Asia (10); Africa & Middle East (13); East Asia & Pacific (10); South Asia (8); and North and Latin America (9).

Two of the winners were Agrojusto (Agrofiar), who have developed a software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud platform of technology that facilitates direct food marketing, linking efficiently, intelligently and fairly, to all the players in the food production and supply chain, and YouKuai Group, which was founded in 2019, aims to create a holistic plant-based food and beverage ecosystem in China and to reshape the global plant-based cuisine landscape, starting with Chinese consumers both locally and regionally.