UN Food Systems Summit

23 September 2021

© Cristina Mittermeier/sealegacy


Global food systems are unsustainable. Rising demand for food and fiber is heightened by the challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change. Agricultural expansion – both commercial and small-scale – is by far the single largest driver of deforestation worldwide, accounting for 60 percent of all tropical deforestation.

Energy and natural resources put towards food that goes to waste account for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Water insecurity presents another global challenge – agriculture is responsible for around 70 percent of water use, while 80 percent of people worldwide don’t have enough water.   In addition, climate change is increasingly impacting the resilience of smallholder farmers around the world, resulting in increased poverty within rural communities and a spike in climate migration.

Over the past 20 years, sustainability efforts have failed to transform agricultural production to deliver more positive outcomes for people, nature and our climate. The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit presents an important opportunity to capitalize on multinational momentum to build better, more resilient and sustainable food systems. The contribution of companies is needed now more than ever to deliver on our global biodiversity goals and truly shift to nature positive economies.

Our Solutions

Next generation corporate commitments that are positive for nature, people and business.

For more than 30 years, Conservation International has worked to bring all stakeholders to the table — local and Indigenous communities, small scale producers, governments and the private sector — to conserve the nature humanity depends on. 

To help transform food and land use systems at the commodity production level, we partner with businesses to make commitments, investments and business decisions that incentivize sustainable production and support the farmers, ranchers, herders and fishers who are critical partners in this transition. 

Conservation International also works with the private sector to set science-based goals that align with planetary boundaries. By supporting companies' efforts to identify high value and high risk raw materials — and calculate the volume used for their business — we can estimate the land area required to produce those raw materials. This helps companies “right-size" the level of commitment and investment needed to achieve a positive environmental impact. 


© Heng Wang


In 2020, Conservation International worked with Walmart to establish a commitment to protect, restore or improve management of 50 million acres ( 20.2 million hectares) of land and 1 million square miles (2.6 million square kilometers) of ocean. This complements Walmart’s commitment to achieve zero emissions in their operations by 2040 and reduce supply chain emissions by 1 billion metric tons by 2030.

© Starbucks

Sustainable Coffee Challenge

Conservation International convenes an alliance of more than 163 partners in the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, an industry-wide effort to drive action on sustainable sourcing, resilient supply, farmer and worker well-being, and forests and climate. In December 2020, the partners in the Challenge pledged to support a set of 2050 goals and intermediary 2025 targets. This includes a joint commitment to remove 1.5 gigatons of carbon by 2050, restore 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of tree cover and protect 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of forest.

© Dean Fikar

Regenerative Agriculture

Conservation International and Kering established the Regenerative Fund for Nature. Over the next five years, this €5 million fund will support promising and innovative regenerative agriculture projects on 1 million hectares (2.4 million acres) around the world. Projects will increase the capacity of soils to sequester carbon, hold water and improve other elements of soil functionality while protecting, restoring and enhancing biodiversity, and supporting the livelihoods of farmers.

Conservation International also works to help companies translate their commitments and investments into action in the most important landscapes for production, nature, and climate. Recognizing that no company or commodity sector can transform food and land use systems on their own, we support place-based efforts to align the interests of all stakeholders – government, companies, civil society, local communities and producers – to demonstrate the potential for collective action to support government initiatives, strengthen forest conservation and management, create incentives for sustainable producers, and improve livelihoods for smallholders and local people.

© CI/photo by Tory Read

Coalition for Sustainable Livelihoods

In 2018, Conservation International and partners from government, private sector and civil society launched the Coalition for Sustainable Livelihoods (CSL) in North Sumatra and Aceh. CSL seeks to align landscape and supply chain efforts with existing national and regional platforms and policies. We do this by sharing lessons learned, leveraging funding and finance streams to support landscape interventions, and supporting development and facilitation of district initiatives.

CSL aims to create a critically needed pathway to scale sustainable production of crops — including coffee, oil palm, cocoa, and others — while also generating lasting social, economic and environmental impacts. This improves access for smallholder producers to markets seeking sustainable products and helps generate additional investments — ultimately creating sustainable commodity value chains as well as business and livelihood opportunities for the people of North Sumatra and Aceh.

Blue Foods

Small-scale fisheries employ more than 90 percent of the world’s fishers and are essential for food security, and fighting poverty.

Conservation International holds decades of experience working in coastal fisheries in more than 15 countries across Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas. Our Coastal Fisheries Program implements rights-based coastal fisheries reform through our Coastal Fisheries Improvement Project (CFIP) model. The new model focuses on driving social and economic improvements for coastal fisheries, alongside environmental, by combining local market incentives, governance reform, and community capacity building to simultaneously enhance human wellbeing (i.e. food and livelihood security) and environmental sustainability outcomes.  

To advocate for and lead a global vision for sustainable freshwater fisheries, Conservation International and partners established the Inland Fisheries Alliance, bringing together organizations and experts to elevate inland fisheries within global development and conservation agendas. Since 2008, we have worked with local fishing communities and government authorities in Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia, creating  a Fisheries and Families Resilience Building Model that incorporates floodplain restoration, fish reserves, alternative livelihoods, microfinance and strengthening local governance – with the goal of scaling this model to other high biodiversity basins like the Amazon and Lake Victoria.

Aquaculture Bali
© Matt Oldfield


Freshwater and marine aquaculture is an important and growing part of food systems around the world. However, over half of mangroves have been lost in the past 40 years, often due to shrimp farming. Conservation International is working with shrimp farmers, supply chain companies and governments to ensure the industry grows sustainably. In shrimp-farming regions of Indonesia and Ecuador, we are working with farmers to responsibly intensify shrimp production on a portion of their lands while also restoring nearby mangrove forests.

Africa has one of the fastest growing aquaculture sectors — with the potential to improve food security and livelihoods, if done sustainably. Conservation International Ventures – our impact investing arm – has made a loan to the fastest growing aquaculture company in East Africa, Victory Farms, for sustainable tilapia production on Lake Victoria. In addition, we are working with aquaculture stakeholders in Kenya to develop a novel data management platform to facilitate sustainable, nutrition-sensitive growth of the aquaculture sector across the country.

Learn more about our work in Inland fisheries and aquaculture

Human Rights

Conservation International is calling attention to human rights abuses taking place at sea and in the processing of seafood around the world. In 2016, Conservation International joined human rights and environmental organizations, along with industry leaders, to co-create the Monterey Framework for Social Responsibility, which is built from a comprehensive set of existing law, policy and guidance frameworks to support three principles of socially responsible seafood. Those are to protect human rights, dignity and access to resources; to ensure equality and equitable opportunity to benefits; and to maintain and improve food and livelihood security. This protocol now has over two dozen commitments from major seafood businesses.

Conservation International and other organizations, governments, companies and researchers have taken the principles of the Monterey Framework and developed a human rights due diligence approach to identify at-risk areas in seafood supply chains, aligned with the UN guiding principles on conducting human rights due diligence. To further this approach, Conservation International developed a social responsibility assessment tool, which can be used to identify risks and design a responsive action plan to improve fishers’ welfare and well-being.

Pacific Tuna

More than four million people, and the economies of several Pacific Island nations, face severe risks from the impacts of climate change on fisheries. Robust modeling done by Conservation International, along with scientists and experts from 21 institutions, demonstrates that if ocean warming continues at current rates, the tuna catch in the combined waters of the 10 Pacific Island states, from Palau in the west to Kiribati in the east, is expected to decline by an average of 20 percent by 2050. This could be devastating for the governments and people who depend on tuna revenue to support livelihoods and vital programs in key sectors, such as education and health.

Conservation International and partners are taking action to make tuna a cornerstone of national food systems by empowering coastal communities to catch more tuna efficiently and safely; ensure the supply of tuna for urban communities; and support Pacific Island countries whose tuna resources are affected by climate change to retain the right to manage the historical levels of tuna caught in their waters.


Our Experts

© M. Axelsson/Azote
© Conservation International

Bambi Semroc
Senior Vice President

© Nicholas Karlin

John Buchanan
Vice President, Sustainable Production


© Sydney Straschnov

Robin Abell

Freshwater Lead


© Logan Mock-Bunting

Jack Kittinger
Vice President, Blue Production Program

© Conservation International

Dane Klinger
Director, Aquaculture