Why partnerships and national pathways are key to transforming food systems in times of crisis: Wilma shares her insight on why development partnerships at country levels are even more essential in times of crisis to achieve a viable and sustainable food system.

Wilma van Esch

Head, Food Security Division
The Netherlands – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

Wilma van Esch is the Head of Food Security at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. She has extensive experience in agriculture and development, having worked for both the ministry and the United Nations, in multiple positions and across many countries such as Ghana, India, Tanzania, and Kenya.

Secretariat: After an important year of focus on food systems, where do we stand as donors in the road ahead? What are some of the short and long-term actions to sustain the momentum?

Wilma: The United Nations Food Systems Summit (FSS) was a very good process as well as being essential for food systems thinking. I was amazed by the energy, the discussions with different stakeholders, and the coalitions formed.

National pathways are now the most important way forward to sustain the momentum. Food systems transformation should be driven by local organizations, governments, private sector and civil society. We, as development partners, can support these pathways if the pathways are a result of an inclusive process and with a clear plan.

In the longer term, it is clear we need a more evidence-based approach and to base our policies on the latest scientific insights. The different coalitions formed can create a lot of know-how.

Secretariat: How does the ongoing debate on food systems transformation fit into our current global crises of conflict and rising food prices?

Wilma: It’s very sad what is happening at the moment, with the Ukraine conflict and rising food prices causing distress for many people. This interconnectedness only highlights our dependency on each other and the importance of food system thinking. I hope the FSS outcomes will help us work together even more, to create more resilient and sustainable food systems we can jointly support and avoid further aggravating the food crisis.

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Wilma van Esch | The Netherlands, GDPRD Board Member. This video is a recording of the interview, conducted by the Secretariat of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development in March 2022.

Secretariat: What do you think donors can do to coordinate their efforts during these unprecedented times?

Wilma: It concerns all development partners, not only donors. It is about multi-stakeholders in inclusive dialogues and action with government, civil society, private sector and knowledge institutes, to figure out how to combine forces and decide the best way forward.

During these unprecedented times, we need to scale up programmes which deliver good results and we need to support them jointly. We need multilateral organizations like IFAD and the World Bank with crisis response programmes. Organizations like CGIAR on international research are also examples of how we, as donors, can support and facilitate research to benefit food systems transformation and poverty reduction. Coalitions formed under the national pathways like the Zero Hunger Coalition are also great assets.

I worked at the embassy during the budget support programme with sectoral working groups on agriculture, rural development and natural resources. Government and partners were working together. It was about alignment and harmonization, so it’s a bit disappointing to see how we have moved back towards working on individual projects. Having said that, I know from many countries and from our embassies that many donors still work together at the country level, but we could do better.

The COVID crisis and the situation in Ukraine clearly shows why reaching the SDG on improvement of food security is even more important than ever. We need to work on SDG2 together for a viable and sustainable food system worldwide.

Secretariat: How do you think the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development should facilitate donor coordination in the current context?

Wilma: What we are already doing helps, with our Platform meetings and discussions on worldwide challenges, sharing our different responses and how our governments are reacting. This helps inform our policies and programmes. One idea is to look at what Platform partners are doing on a regional level and explore ways we can work together. A monthly meeting in the regions could be useful.

Secretariat: What are the priorities of the Government of the Netherlands on food security? And further, how have these priorities been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? And finally, what is the outlook for the coming year in view of the current crises?

Wilma: In the Netherlands, we are focusing on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2. We have two pillars within SDG2 – Zero Hunger and sustainable production aimed at resilience. We agreed with Parliament on three results indicators by 2030 and on targets of 32 million people to be food secure by our support, 8 million smallholders with increased production and income, and 8 million hectares of sustainable, ecologically cultivated farmland.

We work mostly in Africa – the Sahel, the Horn and the Great Lakes – and also in the Middle East and North Africa. We see the role of women in agriculture and food systems as crucial, both as producers and consumers. In our policies and programmes, we look specifically at how to reach out to women.

Like all donors, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our programmes in our partner countries. The expected outputs of some programmes have been delayed but we assume targets can still be reached.

The COVID crisis and the situation in Ukraine clearly shows why reaching the SDG on improvement of food security is even more important than ever. We need to work on SDG2 together for a viable and sustainable food system worldwide.

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Wilma van Esch

Head, Food Security Division The Netherlands – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Board member of the GDPRD for The Netherlands.