SFS 2019, Costa Rica: How to provide sustainable food for people and the planet?

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

A street market in Bolivia. © GettyImages/gonzalo martinez
A street market in Bolivia. © GettyImages/gonzalo martinez
Food security and nutrition experts from around the world gathered in Costa Rica this week for the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) conference. FoodNavigator-LATAM brings you the highlights.

Organized by the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme, a multi-stakeholder partnership that aims to catalyze sustainable food and farming and hosted by Costa Rica's Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the conference runs from 5–7 February.

Speakers from across the stakeholder spectrum, including Bioversity International, Nestlé, World Resources Institute, Rainforest Alliance, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Costa Rican government are speaking at the event and leading workshops.

With five focus themes - sustainable diets; sustainability throughout the food value chains; reducing food loss and waste; local, national and regional multi-stakeholder platforms; and resilient, inclusive and diverse food production systems -, the workshops will seek to propose solutions to some of the biggest challenges the food industry faces.

The event continues today (7 February). To watch the livestream, click here​ ​and to see highlights from the previous days, scroll down.


Adoniram Sanches, FAO Representative in Costa Rica said sustainable production and consumption of food are “transformative axes​” and an opportunity to achieve the UN’s SDGs.

Patrick Caron, chair of the United Nations’ high-level panel of experts (HLPE) on food security and nutrition opened the session yesterday. He said:  “The food system is not broken, it is just not necessarily going where we want it to go and of course, it is not changing fast enough in relation to the risk.”

According to Caron, this inaction is not due to laziness, procrastination or a lack of will of funding. Rather, he said it is due to a lack of data, the cost, and risk of change, conflicts of interest and asymmetry of power or the incapacity to discuss and agree.

“This is exactly why the HLPE was created – [to overcome] our incapacity to discuss and agree.”

The twentieth century has gone through an incredible transformation – we have multiplied by 2.5 the production of calories in 40 years while the population doubled. [...] That’s fantastic. But at what cost? We are opening our eyes and seeing it is not sustainable.

“We need radical transformations to continue to contribute to people’s right to adequate food but also to realize the other SDGs.

According to Caron, solutions also need to be context-specific.

We can’t talk about Costa Rica in the same way as Nigeria, Afghanistan or Germany. There is huge diversity so there is no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all solution and I would strongly oppose scaling up.

Speaking on his own behalf, Caron added: “I strongly believe in local initiatives and innovation. They are essential to building up and strengthening social capital and inclusive territory resistance – but it’s not by multiplying these that we will change the world. We have to act at different levels from micro to macro.”

The HLP’s most recently published report​ from June 2018 highlights the importance of fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships, he added.

On the first evening, a dinner was organized by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Hivos, WWF and the Foundation for Costa Rican Gastronomy (FUCOGA).

© Hivos

Re-evaluating and promoting local cuisine is one way to halt and mitigate malnutrition and obesity​,” said Myrtille Danse, LATAM director for social sustainability non-profit organization Hivos. “Empowering local communities through the access to sustainable and culturally accepted food, transforms into food and nutrition security.”

However, the panel noted that ‘gastronomy’ had a wider meaning, referring not only to high-end restaurants but also to local ingredients and traditional dishes served by street-food vendors or school canteens, for instance.


hivos 2
© Hivos


Attendees watched the award-nominated short film A Turn for the Better, ​which explores food sovereignty and disappearing biodiversity in Bolivia from the perspective of three women, using cañahua, a traditional, nutritious grain as an example.

We need to rescue the knowledge about local foods to ensure that people have more diverse and healthy diets,” ​say the filmmakers.

A Turn for the Better from Hivos on Vimeo.


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