The Secretariat spoke with both co-chairs ahead of this week’s Senior Managers’ Meeting and the High-Level Food Systems event.
Policy Officer, Sustainable Agri-Food systems and Fisheries, European Commission
Conrad Rein, European Commission, shares his thoughts on why donors play a key role in food systems transformation, his experience with the GDPRD, and his ideas on how the GDPRD can realize its full potential to help partners work together.
Food systems cannot be transformed without effective action from donors. Why do you think donors are the most important actors in the current and future food systems architecture?
Donors clearly have the resources and ambitions to drive the food systems agenda. As we know, the agrifood sector represents the world’s largest economic sector and is very much linked to poverty. An increased population and the associated doubling of food production that is forecast for 2050 make it absolutely necessary to act now in a responsible and coordinated manner.
How do you see the role of donors changing as we re-examine the way they support food systems transformation ahead of and following the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS)?
What I have seen especially with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that more exchanges are happening. These are more targeted and substantial exchanges. The challenges ahead are very daunting, so clearly, we need to act and step up the game. Donors have recognised this need to step up our actions and work together. The Platform can play a key role – that’s what we are trying to do with the events next week and with the Declaration of Intent, which will signal the intent of donors following the Food Systems Summit.
What are your thoughts on how this new donor coordination can make a dent in helping to achieve the SDGs, in particular SDGs 1 and 2?
First of all, we need to recognize that the SDGs affect everybody, everybody on this planet without any boundaries. And they are interlinked. As I said before, we need to step up the action, which can only be done through coordination. There is a clear potential here if we coordinate to align our programming and associated financing to achieve greater effectiveness. The actual impact of this coordination can be much better at the end of the day. There is a lot of potential. We first need to fully embrace the fact that we are all in this together and again, our action needs to be stepped up.
In your view, what are the challenges to donor coordination as an effective global response? Based on your experience with EC initiatives (such as the Farm-to-Fork strategy), what would you say are the challenges to donor coordination that we should keep in mind as we implement the food systems transformation together with our members?
The Farm to Fork Strategy can really provide inspiration, not only within the EU, which is its main target, but also around the globe. Because this Strategy highlights the needs, and actually the ways to shift to a fair, healthy, environmentally friendly food system. The idea is to move away from the traditional, sectoral way that we have been developing our policies, and to look at our policies in a rather integrated manner, from the source of food to the human body, and covering all the sectors and multiple actors. It is actually this paradigm shift that will be key. It is not easy to achieve but it is essential.
What can be done to increase the catalytic potential of donor funding and activity?
I would say, regular and targeted exchanges. In my view, it is ideally the main goal to come to some level of alignment of programming. Of course, we are clearly not there yet but this should be the main goal. Again, we are all in this together and this is where we should be heading.
When I got involved in the Platform, I really saw the importance of regular and targeted exchanges. We may not be aware of what is happening and what other donors are doing. This kind of coordination is very important and is a true added-value of the Platform. And by working together and speaking with one voice we are much stronger.
It is clear no one can do this alone in helping to support national and global food systems. What lessons from the European Commission (EC) could you share in the conversation on improving donor coordination at the Platform?
I am coordinating several meetings a year with the EU’s Member States. Before COVID-19, there were two physical meetings a year. Last year, we moved to a virtual mode and we had four meetings in addition to frequent written exchanges. This is where we have discussions with our Member States to exchange information, discuss various policies, potential new initiatives, as well as reporting of our programmes. The idea is really to help align our programming and financing.
Colleagues often ask me to describe the GDPRD. My simple explanation is that the Platform is the global equivalent to these aforementioned meetings coordinated by the EU. Through these gatherings we also engage with like-minded partners such as the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland. As they have an informal character, they enable its participants to speak freely, stimulating enriching debates. The GDPRD is similar in many ways, but at a global level.
What is really needed is constant follow up and this can be done now with the Secretariat fully operational. The Secretariat is the “flight deck” of the GDPRD, pushing its agenda, reaching out to its members and stimulating debates in a proactive manner. I feel that the Platform is in very good hands at IFAD, so I see us on the right track.
As you have experience as a co-chair for the Platform, what could you share about your vision for its way forward in the context of the new Strategic Framework and priorities? Any lessons learnt that could shed light on the road ahead as well as concrete advice as the Platform heads into the UNFSS and its follow up?
I will focus on the Food Systems Summit and this is clearly where we need to have our foot in the door. That is what we are aiming for next week with our two events, the Declaration of Intent, and the upcoming AGA in 2022, our Platform’s Annual General Assembly. We need to make our voices heard, we need to do so through social media and outreach, and through our presence at the actual Summit, even if it is in virtual mode, and in its follow-up. Tristan and I as co-chairs are happy to support the Secretariat in any way we can, to ensure visibility and for members to be engaged. By being engaged, I mean we can arrange meetings and conferences such as inviting speakers from, for example, think tanks like IFPRI to share their academic know-how. Making this information accessible to all including bilateral donors is key to facilitating coordination.
The GDPRD has also reached out to new potential members. Ideally, the key is to have as many donors as possible united within the Platform – not only as an increased membership, but to have donors really committed and sitting at the table to discuss the issues together in a coordinated way. And at the end of the day there should ideally be a joint approach that is having an impact on the ground.
In conclusion, what are three key takeaways on donor coordination for the readers of this blog?
The Platform clearly has a future and there is a reason for the Platform. We are all in this together, the needs are there, we need this coordination and, overall, the coordination needs to be stepped up. I am very much looking forward to the next years of the Platform. The Secretariat is extremely active and I am very pleased with how the Secretariat has evolved.
Thank you, Conrad, for your time and for sharing your ideas, experience and vision.