The Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (GDPRD) organized a virtual round table in December 2021 that explored the actions donors can take to assist countries in their national pathways for food systems transformation. The event, which followed Chatham House rules, provided an open discussion space on the opportunities and challenges for donors in helping to catalyse food systems change.
The conversation started looking at the outcomes of the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) and the main messages it conveyed. There was agreement on eight core principles:
- The UNFSS built momentum within the international community on the urgent nature of food systems transformation. There is a need to capitalize on it now and not lose the opportunity it has offered.
- Countries need support now in taking forward their priorities to improve food systems transformation.
- Better alignment on donor goals, plans, and actions will improve resource leverage and offer better results.
- Within countries, the Summit brought different themes and sectors together (nutrition, resilience, livelihoods, climate, and environment). It is important that both the community and countries do not revert back to working in siloes.
- Donors may not have the best availability of data and evidence. Instead of waiting for such data to be available, donors must take chances and risks and take action.
- Everyone should invest in a better policy-evidence interface, to improve consensus among stakeholders.
- Food systems need to be understood in a systemic manner. The Summit offered an opportunity to step out of the traditional idea of “development assistance” and change it into the broader idea of “developmentcooperation”, where priorities are set by countries and donors accompany food systems transformation pathways.
- Accountability must be strengthened at all levels, particularly for the UNFSS outcomes.
Bringing stakeholders together
The round table discussion highlighted the valuable role of the UNFSS in bringing together stakeholders from different sectors, ministries, and countries to cooperate on food systems transformation challenges. Continuation of this interconnected coordination can be supported and facilitated by donors. By building on existing resources, rather than creating new initiatives, donors can catalyse action and bridge gaps between national pathways, agri-food policies, existing projects, and global programmes.
The work of food systems transformation is extremely context-specific, with no one-size-fits-all solutions. All participants in the roundtable emphasized the critical importance of national pathways. There was consensus that donor coordination should go beyond global hubs with focus on strong harmonization at national and subnational levels. This point was also made regarding coalitions, that need to be country- and context-specific, to maximize their effectiveness. Donors can support countries in need of support, to plan, develop, and act on their transformation pathways.
Food systems interconnectivity
The interconnected nature of food systems was highlighted as an opportunity for the global community to come together and catalyse overarching transformative change. Participants spoke about how food systems are intimately connected with nutrition, livelihoods and economies, and environmental sustainability, which should all be considered. These systems do not operate in isolation, so donors must always weigh multiple outcomes, trade-offs, feedback loops, and synergies with each food system project. There was an emphasis on climate change being a central factor in donor efforts and coordination.
The potential of alignment
To trigger a systemic change, the potential of leveraging efforts through country-level donor alignment was brought up by many. Alignment and system change were highlighted as central to addressing the root causes of food systems-related challenges. This could be strengthened by donors alignment, which would facilitate communication and goal sharing. With strong coordination, even small amounts of donor funding can unlock great resources at the national level.
National government support
An important message from participants was the need for donors to support the work of national governments in partner countries. Multi-stakeholder and cross-ministerial engagement can promote more effective food systems transformation, as governments can be the convening entities that bring different sectors together. However, participants in the panel discussion noted the necessity to consider the political situation at subnational and country-levels and be pragmatic in communicating with local governments.
The round table provided clear messages about how donors can support the development of detailed national pathways to guide action, and how donors can help maintain the momentum and the direction of the UNFSS.
Participants suggested some new roles for the GDPRD, including the creation and dissemination of up-to-date material on progress of national pathways and global coalitions to avoid overlaps and enhance collaboration. The GDPRD can also be instrumental in connecting donors with UN country teams. For a successful food systems transformation, donor coordination must be aligned with national governments to reach the aims of the national pathways.