Martin Bwalya spoke with Jim Woodhill about the UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) and the catalytic role of finance in transforming food systems. Martin provided insights on how the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) worked to coordinate a common position for African countries towards the Summit. On the role of donors, he reiterated the importance for donors to think about how to invest in processes and capabilities at the local and national level. This is key to achieve better project and policy coordination as increased financial resources will not mean much unless we also get the process right.

Martin Bwalya

Ag Director, Knowledge Management and Programme Evaluation (KMPE), Africa Union Development Agency, (AUDA-NEPAD).

Jim Woodhill

Honorary Research Associate at Oxford University, Environmental Change Institute.

Martin Bwalya is Ag Director, Knowledge Management and Programme Evaluation (KMPE) at the Africa Union Development Agency, (AUDA-NEPAD).

Jim: The UN FSS is highlighting the fundamental transformation needed in food systems to provide healthier diets and be more inclusive and resilient. Donors have a critical role in supporting this transformation but they, perhaps, need to reorient the way they work.

What are the three most important things donors should focus on, to optimize the role that they can play?

Martin: When the UN FSS was announced in 2020, the African Union took up the initiative to help member states convene and organize national dialogues. Initial responses from the member states were very slow; they wanted to know more about what the Summit meant for them and what value it brought in addition to other pre-existing initiatives. Since then, we have noticed that the countries keener on challenging the UN FSS process now have a deeper engagement and commitment to achieving its outcomes.

Donors should use the UN FSS as an opportunity to examine existing implementation issues rather than create new frameworks. This will reveal what is holding back food systems actors at different levels from acting on issues that are well known.

In this regard, one critical issue has been capacity development at the sub-national level. In Africa, the biggest gains in sustainable and systemic food systems transformation lie at the sub-national level. It is at this level that constituencies traditionally viewed as being disadvantaged by a broken food system, can now become active collaborators in bringing about change.

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Martin Bwalya on investing in local and national-level capabilities for a better food system.

This video is a recording of the interview, conducted by Jim Woodhill from the Secretariat of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development in September 2021 in the lead up to the UN FSS.

Jim: What sort of investments are necessary to meet the capacity needs at the local level? What policy environment is needed to underpin these investments, and how can donors support these two elements in partnership with national governments?

Martin: Investments in areas such as market development or enhancing access to technology for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are incentivized through policy interventions. These interventions might even take the form of short-term policies to catalyse growth in given economic segments.

Jim: Is the achievement of SDG 2 just about addressing the funding shortfall as highlighted in the CERES 2030 report, or is it also about doing things in a smarter way?

Martin: There are a number of things that needs to be done. They should, however, embrace decentralized government systems.

First, the active engagement of people should be at the forefront of implementation. It is at this level that a food systems approach is already taking shape, as implementers at this level cannot avoid the connections, synergies, complementarities and trade-offs across different sectors.

Second, laying down practical inclusive systems. This means including the right people at the right point in the policy-making equation. Particularly the constituencies that will be involved in implementation need to be involved at every stage. Broader inclusion also improves accountability in policy choices and investment, leading to improved service delivery and value-for-money.

Food systems transformation at the local level may not necessarily fit with traditional donor funding mechanisms. There needs to be an appreciation for the value of medium to long-term investments in improving the capability to deliver systems change. In addition, well-articulated blended public-private solutions should be considered.

It is not only about the volume of funding. It is also about the type of funding instruments used.

Jim: What are the funding mechanisms or modalities you would like to see changed? What is it that donors could fundamentally be doing differently to help this vision of a much more effective local food systems capacity?

Martin: Donor organizations face different pressures from their governments and taxpayers. With a medium to long-term investment strategy, donors would be able to present much better results on their return on investment to their taxpayers.

The question however, is how to do this? One way could be through channelling more funding into sub-national systems to strengthen capabilities in planning, resource allocation and accountability.

“First, the active engagement of people should be at the forefront of implementation. It is at this level that a food systems approach is already taking shape, as implementers at this level cannot avoid the connections, synergies, complementarities and trade-offs across different sectors.”

Jim: What sort of activities and coordination is needed at the national, regional or global level to increase effectiveness at the local level?

Martin: In countries with stronger sub-national governments, national governments tend to become more responsive and effective in service provision.

There are key skill sets needed at the national level, for instance, in planning or in monitoring and evaluation for governments to be responsive enough to deliver the changes needed for a food systems transformation.

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.

Jim: How can donors better coordinate at the national level to support the sub-national level?

Martin: Donors need to find neutral platforms that go beyond the current silos around, for instance, agriculture or environment where the main objective is to negotiate the different interests across sectors. This will bring out the connections, synergies and trade-offs involved.

Thank you, Martin, for your time and for sharing your ideas, experience and vision.

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Maurizio Navarra

Secretariat Coordinator

IFAD