Towards a healthy and sustainable food systems in the Baltic region

For the first time ever, the Nordic Food Policy Lab of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic Council of Ministers Baltic offices, the WHO Regional Office for Europe, Riga Stradins University joined forces in Riga and at the end of February 2019 organized a seminar ‘Towards healthy and sustainable food systems in the Baltic region’ with the goal to discuss data needs, available policy options and the role of transformation partners and stakeholders in the Baltic region.

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases are the biggest health challenge facing all countries in the European Region. The high prevalence of NCDs has large financial implications (e.g. cost of care; productivity; absenteeism) and challenges economic development in many countries, as well as the quality of life of its citizens. According to the Global Burden of Disease study, the main risk factors for NCDs in the region are attributable to diet, such as low consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as excessive consumption of sugar, sodium and saturated and trans fats. At the same time, current dietary patterns also influence the health of our planet. Food production is responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and is a driver of biodiversity loss and freshwater depletion. Feeding the world sustainably and promoting good nutrition and health under a changing climate is one of the main global challenges of our time. 

The workshop included a broad array of movers and shakers representing civil society, research organizations, ministries of health, food/agriculture, environment and education, intergovernmental organisations, Nordic embassies and funding agencies.

During the seminar “Towards healthy and sustainable food systems in the Baltic region”, participants took stock of the various perspectives and initiatives on sustainable and healthy diets in the Baltic region. Presentations of good cases, system mapping sessions, a seasonal dinner prepared some of Latvia’s top chefs and a trip to the Riga Central market, one of Europe’s largest marketplaces, were all a part a thought-provoking and interactive programme.

The 3-day meeting drew inspiration from projects and organizations that have been breaking down the silos and pushing the boundaries of just how the formulation of a regional diet could bring us closer to a more desirable and harmonized future. 

A step-by-step process of preliminary system mapping (i.e.the conceptual representation of elements, relationships and interconnections in a system and how changes in one area might affect others) was the common thread throughout the entire programme. Participants worked together in diverse groups to discuss the forces at play in the transition to more sustainable and healthy diets in the Baltic region. 

During the event each country’s priorities and needs were surveyed, the project priorities and activities were refined, and a food systems mapping exercise performed to capture the range of actors and sectors that need to be involved.  

By the end of the three days, three areas where the group collective felt that they had the urgency and agency to act became clear:

*Defining and developing criteria for sustainable and healthy Baltic diets in order to generate a tangible future roadmap

*Coordinating existing data across the region that is useful to understand the current state of the Baltic food system and its components, and harvesting useful data that can help policy-makers to develop better and more targeted solutions

*Creating an independent Baltic future food “lab” to put new and innovative ideas to the test, and to scale up what already works in order to create more buy-in within the region

You are welcome to join the Nordic Food Policy Lab’s LinkedIn community, where you can follow the conversations about this workshop and discuss how food policy can be a force for change.

For further information:

Nordic Council of Ministers Latvia Office: Maija Kāle

Riga Stradins University: Gunta Lazdane

Nordic Council of Ministers Secretariat: Marie Persson / Afton Halloran