With a wide variety of keynote presentations, a high-level forum panel discussion and plenary sessions on themes Evidence, Synergies, Trade-offs and Governance, participants obtained new insights on the transformation pathways of food systems. The conference centered around SDG 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) in combination with SDG 17 (create partnerships), because only through partnerships can we achieve such a multifaceted and complex goal as ending hunger. The conference saw a strong commitment by a high number of the Global Donor Platform’s members, namely the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and African Development Bank (AfDB) and partners such as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) and CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation).
During the conference, presentations, workshops and dialogues were grouped in parallel sessions on three topics: (1) Evidence, (2) Synergies and trade-offs, and (3) Governance. With up to 10 sessions per topic, the conference offered a comprehensive view on pressing issues, current research and projects thus providing the ground for inspiring discussions.
Thinking solely about cash crops was yesterday. Now is the time to put nutrition in the foreground. Even though good nutrition is directly linked with SDG2, it affects the progress on other SDGs as well. Linear modelling, e.g. in value chains, has its role, however there is a need to shift linear thinking into the circular world, as we see the limitations of linear modelling. We must seize opportunities and concrete cases for action to change food systems. Constraints are the abundance of data and too many databases as well as the fact that we are still using too many conventional techniques.
In his kick-off during the high-level forum, Akinwumbi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), framed the global challenge. “Africa can absolutely fed itself. You cannot eat potential, you need to unlock it”, he said quoting Norman Borlaug and appealed to strengthening partnerships between the public and the private sector: “Addressing infrastructure gaps is critical for development in Africa. There is a role for both the public and private sector in that.” Governments should be made accountable to address infrastructure gaps and financing gaps. On the other hand, citizens need to be able to hold their governments accountable, too. Adesina envisioned an African continent that can and feed itself in 10 years’ time. “Stunted children today mean stunted economies tomorrow”, he described the challenge. Agriculture should be seen as a business whose aim it is to increase wealth. He pointed out that the biggest constraint is not the lack of financing, but to get the money into projects. AfDB showcased its investment of 24 million US Dollars in the Feed for Africa programme as part of its focus on delivering on food security, thereby working in partnerships and with farmers themselves. “We promote the youth with the aim to enable youth programs and create 25 million jobs over the next 10 years. We also promote women’s access to land, finance and markets with 3 billion US Dollars”, he said.
We have a good idea of what needs to happen and what kind of changes have to be done, however we face the problem of turning ideas into reality and make them work. Today we have a much broader understanding of food systems. They include all types of landscapes, e.g. forest and wetlands, but they need to include natural resources as well. We have begun to look at development with a more local focus than before. However, scientific research and policy-making do not always pull together. Scientific research must be better connected to reality on the ground.
The advocacy for a stronger role of the private sector was seconded by Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. “To reach the SDGs private sector investment is needed”, however governments are needed to continue to play a role in shaping the correct policy framework.
The view on fruitful partnerships was endorsed by Erthatin Cousin, former president of the World Food Programme and distinguished lecturer at Stanford University: “There is no difference between smallholder’s need to make profit and the multinationals’ wish to make a profit. Understanding, respecting and working together with the private sector is key for fast and sustainable development.
Speakers emphasized the need to understand the interactions among the different SDGs not only in order to unlock their potential at multiple scales, but to ensure progress in some areas must not be made on the expense of others.
According to Lawrence Haddad, 2018 World Prize Laureate and Executive Director of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), “no one can have monopoly on food solutions, we have to work together and form a multi-stakeholder dialogue.” The focus must be on nourishing the world, not feeding it. As food systems shape diet quality, it is crucial to build demand for nutritious foods, make them both better available and affordable and create an enabling environment for business in the food sector.
The afternoon program on the second conference day put the focus on “Transformative Pathways”. A very well attended “Foresight4Food” session, in collaboration with IFPRI, was devoted to examining the science and politics of exploring the future for anticipatory governance.
Moving towards a good governance concept is taking shape. States have multiple roles to play in the context of food systems. They take in an either regulatory or brokerage role, and they are crucial for creating an environment of change. There are many blueprints out and there is support for an international panel for food security. In addition to the states’ commitment, it is necessary to expand the responsibility of the private sector. The north-south bipolar world view is still strong at the expense of the south to south trade component. In addition, it will be important to view food security and nutrition from the perspective of consumption and consumers.
Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute, claimed that foresight modelling has a role to play not only in measuring options including the exploration of technological frontiers, which could also be controversial, but also in better setting strategic and geographic investment priorities. “Foresight can shift policy making”, affirmed Paul van der Logt from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Policy makers see that change is happening so quickly that Foresight analysis can support governments to better predict trends and include more foresight analysis in programs. The problems we are facing are huge; the more specific foresight analysis can be the more useful it will be for policy-makers”, he said. He compared the foresight analysis for food security to scientific modelling on climate change. Having models for the developments in food security, similar to those for climate change, it will ease policy-making and awareness raising”, he said.
Theme Transformational Change
The conference’s distinguished speakers and thematic break-out sessions have all reinforced the fact that ending hunger and malnutrition is a complex and multi-faceted goal, which can only be solved in partnership. Actions must take place on multiple levels and be context sensitive. Dialogue as well as controversial discussion are key for building and maintaining strong partnerships.
To achieve SDG2 we must promote innovation in agriculture– which also means attracting youth and fresh ideas to agriculture – and engage in influencing government policy. The SDG2 Zero Hunger Conference has shown us that there are many positive examples to be shared.
Another session that stroke a significant chord centered around the role of data and ICT for impact. Speakers like Benjamin Addom and Chipo Msengezi of CTA emphasized that open data is powerful in helping to close the world’s digital divide. “By having more information about yields we can better influence policy and open data can be used to increased food security. If we can access weather data combined with other data such as land data we can create actionable information that farmers can use adequately”, they concluded. It helps make smallholders more bankable, leading to more financial inclusion, efficient resource usage, the adoption of climate-smart measures and index-based insurance. As far as personal data is concerned, it is crucial build trust for the collection and ownership of data, especially when working with local organizations, like farmer associations. If people are agents of their own evidence generation, rather than simply subjects, then evidence has greater potential to be transformative in addition to informative. In continuation of this thought, open data also may help work against misperceptions and the lack of differentiation that Africa is often prone to – an observation that has been shared by some speakers.