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5 actions to promote equity and inclusion in our food systems

Photo: Unsplash / Nilotpal Kalita

The state of our food systems calls for innovative solutions and urgent action. Our food has to work for our health and the planet, increasing well-being and prosperity for all. Youth and indigenous populations will play a key role in this transformation, but they need to be given space, agency, rights and resources.

The UN Secretary-General will convene a Food Systems Summit (FSS) in 2021 to bring people together to generate new strategies and bold action to transform the world’s food systems, and to raise awareness of food systems’ important role for sustainable development. As part of the preparations for the Summit, all UN Member States have been invited to organize national dialogues to provide insight and identify potential areas for development. In Sweden, a series of dialogues is held to highlight different perspectives and focus areas. SIANI supports the series of dialogues with convening and facilitation in partnership with the Government Offices of Sweden and Sida.

The first Swedish global dialogue took place on March 29, and gathered a broad stakeholder representation to discuss global challenges and feasible solutions for equitable and inclusive food systems. The dialogue emphasized the importance of recognizing the perspectives of indigenous peoples and youth. Here are five takeaways from the event.

1. Make agriculture attractive and profitable

Today, few young people see agriculture as attractive and profitable. Although the agri-food sector is one of the largest businesses in the world and offers many opportunities, large-scale youth unemployment and structural barriers are hindering the ability of youth and indigenous peoples to choose what they want to do way and take action upon it.  Agriculture needs to be able to offer highly skilled, meaningful and green jobs, followed by economic investments making it profitable for the youth to engage.

Making it more attractive for young people to work in agriculture is also crucial for future generations. In times of extensive urbanization and increasing social fragility due to conflicts and crises, people do not have the same opportunities to start an agribusiness or produce their own food. Engaging young people in agricultural business and empowering them to lead it will not only provide them with a meaningful employment, but also strengthen food security in general. To make that happen, we need to accompany policies with a shift in values to attract young people to agriculture.

2. Strengthen property and land rights

Young people are often referred to as “the future” in policy discussions, but de facto their access to power and property is low. Therefore, many young people are limited in their access to land and capital, which affects their ability to obtain jobs or enter agribusiness. In other words, for young people to see the future in agriculture, they must both be economically motivated and have strong property rights.

The same conditions apply for indigenous peoples and other minority groups, where many have lost access and rights to their property and land. Indigenous groups often cultivate food using sustainable agricultural strategies, integrating livestock, water and forest management, and they need resources and ability to maintain it. Recognizing property and land rights are therefore critical steps towards more equitable food systems.

3. Facilitate sustainable consumption patterns

Since the 1990’s, people started to eat more processed and fast foods. Our food systems are also becoming more uniform as the variety of crops we farm and consume has fallen dramatically, replacing the wholesome and nutritious diets of the past. One causal factor is today’s mischievous marketing strategies supported by culturally dominant narratives, which affect our consumption patterns and eating habits. Instead, healthy, sustainably produced and culturally diverse food choices need to be provided and promoted. Greater state investments, recovery of confidence in cultural heritage and better financing of destitute groups are vital. Also, the role of multi-national corporations needs to be better accounted for and regulated.

Governments need to assume their responsibility for the provision of sustainable and healthy food choices, hold the industry accountable for unsustainable food production and marketing strategies and counter in social inequalities to make the food chain more sustainable.

4. Encourage inclusive decision-making

Acknowledging and including marginalized groups deepens our understanding of food systems and provides creative solutions. Also, young people, and young women in particular, are often overlooked and excluded from decision-making processes. To make our food systems more equitable, an enabling environment is required, and the youth and indigenous peoples must be involved in the decision-making. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that youth are not a homogenous group. All young people need to be accounted for, regardless of gender, culture, religion, or ethnicity. Being young is not a phase of waiting to enter life, it is a period of active participation.

5. Take a holistic approach

Finally, a holistic system approach is crucial to transform our food systems, where a deeper understanding of different interconnections is necessary to identify possible trade-offs and solutions. Farmer participation in the creation of agricultural policy should be considered just as much as the food industry and its profit-oriented presumptions. Furthermore, it is not only about the food that is produced, but also about the diversity of actors producing it and their different type of knowledge. Also, young people and indigenous groups need more knowledge both about how to get access to markets and how to interact with them. Thus, to ensure a shift towards equitable and inclusive systems, everyone must be involved from local to multinational levels.

SIANI will host two more Global Food Systems Dialogues that will be focused on food security and peace as well as on nature-rich food systems. Find more information

Reporting by Emmy Pettersson Daniels, intern at the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation.