Short interviews by the Platform Secretariat during the 2022 Annual General Assembly in Rome, Italy.
Five experts talk about national pathways for food systems transformation, the current global food crisis response, and what they want small-scale farmers and the younger generation to know.

Agnes Kalibata

President, AGRA, United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit.

Other AGA2022 Interviews:

Agnes Kalibata is the President, AGRA, and United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit. Agnes was a panellist during the first session of the AGA2022.

How do you see the future of food systems transformation and why are national pathways and coordination even more important now?

Agnes: When the United Nations Secretary General launched the UN Food Systems Summit (FSS), we knew we had challenges that had to be dealt with from a systems perspective. We just didn’t know how quickly those challenges would pile up. For example, we are losing biodiversity faster than it can regenerate, we are contributing to climate change, up to 30%, NDCs are impacting health – one in every three people have diet-related diseases. All this means that we are falling short of SDGs. National Pathways are an opportunity for countries to commit anew with a good sense of what is at stake and was brought out through the Food Systems Summit. To deliver on such a complex set of issues, coordination is necessary at the country level. Coordination is also important regionally and globally given the connectedness and complexity of our food systems.

The true cost of food, which came out in the FSS, has highlighted it’s extremely important we understand food has externalities that the environment and people’s health are paying for.

How does the current global crisis change the debate on food security?

Agnes: The current crisis brings out one thing very clearly. The magnified impact or cumulative impact of a succession or simultaneous events. The most important challenge of many rural communities, especially in Africa, is dealing with climate change. The Ukraine /Russia crisis is really exacerbating a problem that was already existing. Globally, many communities that depend on food systems – especially the production sector – are struggling to survive and produce. The crisis also builds on significant vulnerability due to COVID19 -making countries’ abilities to focus and fund food security a difficult challenge.

It’s really important that we understand the centrality of climate change to rural communities and how much it undermines their ability to access food. For these communities, the biggest message is, this is the time to strengthen the resilience that already exists amongst us including regeneration capacity, community social safety nets, diversified food and income sources.

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“This is the time to strengthen the resilience that already exists amongst us including regeneration capacity, community social safety nets, diversified food and income sources.”

What would you like small-scale farmers and the younger generation to know that would give them hope for tomorrow?

Agnes: We know in these times of crisis, young people offering solutions to smallholder farmers using digital tools have thrived. Small and medium enterprises that have the ability to use digital tools to provide services and take food to communities have thrived. The food system gives us an opportunity to look at the whole value chain. It gives us an opportunity to bring in other sectors that impact the whole area around agriculture. It broadens opportunities for jobs, to engage and produce more, and be able to tap into the knowledge that we have, whether it is in science or in the communities we live in. We need to feed the world.

Smallholder farmers have been part of feeding the world for the longest time. This is not the time to give up on this. We need to work with all the innovations we have, and the FSS demonstrated there are many innovations in our midst. We need to get them to the communities that need them most including smallholder farmers and youth especially in rural areas. The younger generation needs to have productive, meaningful lives. Let’s give them the technologies and opportunity to be part of growing our world.

What would you like the donor community to get out of the Annual General Assembly going on right now? And especially from your perspective as the head of AGRA.

Agnes: For the longest time, we have been talking about how transforming the agricultural sector is critical to transforming rural communities. That’s what IFAD does, that’s what an institution like AGRA does, focusing on giving choices to rural communities so they are able to transform. Understanding the system, institutional and market failures that together or individually hold farmers back and finding and tailoring solutions and innovations to the identified challenges and gaps. These challenges are too big or too complex for the communities/societies and even governments where they happen. It is important that donor support gets deployed to work at systematically removing these barriers. It is only through this support from donors that marginal communities get to be more included and that farmers get access to some of the technologies to improve yields and raise productivity that can help deal with food security and poverty reduction.

AGRA has focused a lot in giving farmers choices around improved technologies especially in the seed sector to increase productivity and resilience, in supporting governments, institutions and SMEs to strengthen capacities and deliver services to farmers and in strengthening systems critical to delivering services.
For me, this crisis is about finding areas in which to double down to support those who are more vulnerable. Farmers are going to have to be climate resilient, to be better.

We know a few ways of accessing technologies. The opportunity here is the smallholder farmers who are feeding us, they need to move forward with us and not be excluded. Let’s deliver, many for one, for every dollar, let’s deliver multiple opportunities for these farmers and they will be able to feed us.

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This video is a recording of the interview, conducted by the Secretariat of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development during the Annual General Assembly in Rome, 15 June 2022.

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