Secretariat: With the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the development community is increasingly focused on emergencies and short-term assistance. As donors, how do we not lose sight of a longer-term lens? How do we continue work to increase the resilience of rural populations so they can better buffer future crises, and at the same time, make sure emergencies are better dealt with?
Sebastian: We are very much in a food crisis exacerbated by the Russian war on Ukraine, a climate and biodiversity crises, with conflicts in many parts of the world that influence food security and nutrition. In such a context, we have to both continue and accelerate our long-term transformation work on agrifood systems. This is about making people and markets resilient, improving incomes for rural populations, and ecological sustainability.
At the same time, we have to tackle the immediate fallout of the crisis. Of course, these are conflicting targets. You could deal with the immediate crisis but actually make the situation worse in the long-term, exacerbating future crises. We have seen these food systems crises come and go every few years. If anything, they have gotten worse.
It is easier said than done when it comes to making individual choices such as ensuring people don't starve, increasing local production sustainably, and making sure fertiliser is where it's needed so that there will be a next harvest. We also need alternatives to fossil fertilisers in order to break this dependency on imports.
This is very tricky. It needs to be broken down into individual aspects but at the same time, take the right pathways and show how it can be done differently in the future. That doesn't make the job any easier.
Secretariat: What do you think needs to change in how donors look at food systems, in particular considering the financing for development assistance? Everyone says, "we need a paradigm shift", but in your opinion, what does this actually mean and what needs to be done to achieve this?
Sebastian: Food systems are multidimensional and cater to different purposes, such as providing income and food, and conserving biodiversity. They need to both prevent and adapt to climate change. The shift is really from seeing this as a system that produces food to one that is part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 2 is not independent from the others and we need that holistic view.
With the UNFCCC COP 27 in Egypt, we are, for the first time, tackling the nexus between food systems, agriculture and climate. At the UNCCD COP in Abidjan, we connected resilience, soils and land to food systems. We need this cross-silo nexus thinking to effect that change.
The complaint has long been we need more agricultural finance but looking at the whole agricultural system, there is plenty of finance including subsidies for various things in agriculture and food systems. Countries, including the European Union and developing countries that provide these subsidies, need to create pathways to set incentives within agricultural food systems, to improve sustainability and create that nexus thinking.
The food system not only contributes to but is also a victim of climate change. We need to move away from that perspective and ensure agricultural food systems contribute to the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.