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10 October 2023

Collaboration and contextualisation, cornerstones for a resilient food system

Closing address by Dr. Irene Annor-Frempong, FARA at Agri4D Conference.

The Agri4D conference is organised every second year by SIANI, Sida and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). The 2023 edition, which focused on “building resilient food systems in uncertain times”, gathered more than 450 attendees from more than 60 nationalities, aiming  to link scientific evidence to policy and practice while also gathering diverse stakeholders to work towards SDG 2 and tackle food system challenges. Particular attention was paid to low-income contexts where food system vulnerabilities are most severe.

“With huge impacts from climate change, conflicts and the pandemic, the sustainable development goal of zero hunger is far from within reach” – Pär Forslund, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at SLU.

How can we gather the pieces of a fragmented food systems landscape in a poly-crises context to fulfil SDG 2 and build a resilient food system?

Land and gender rights

Farmers are fundamental actors in food production and have a strong impact on increasing food security. Nevertheless, their activities depend on their accessibility to land which is often restricted. Political issues can impede access to land, especially in Africa, because of the privatisation of certain areas for mining or oil drilling activities. Additionally, these private areas often degrade the quality of surrounding lands, triggering difficulties for agricultural activities.

Natural climate disasters such as droughts and floods also negatively affect farmers’ livelihoods and in turn, food security at large. To face these events, farmers, herders and nomadic pastoralists often migrate towards areas which offer greater natural resources, mentioned Ingrid Öborn, Professor of agricultural cropping systems at SLU. However, land may already be occupied by other farmers or mining or oil companies, creating competition for land access, which is why land rights are a hot topic. As such, Ingrid Öborn highlighted the cruciality of addressing land rights to enable an equitable distribution that satisfies the needs of different actors.

Developing more community title deeds would be a cornerstone to deal with these stressors. In terms of land access, focus groups are a relevant strategy that can benefit everyone regardless of their age and gender. Gender transformative approaches must also be mainstreamed to address gender issues, raised Johanna Lodin, Researcher at SLU. Many panellists emphasised the need to adopt new systems and participatory methods to enhance equity and gender inclusivity when addressing food systems issues in low-income countries.

Ingrid Öborn, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), during the wrap-up of day 1 with highlights at Agri4D Conference.

Feeding people with nutritious food

Nutritious food was a recurrent topic at the conference. As such, in some African countries, malnutrition, which affects up to 58% of the population, and unhealthy and unsustainable food systems generate more expenses than economic return. Although the global food system market is worth approximately $9 trillion, the true value of food is estimated to be $19.8 trillion per year with $7 trillion in environmental and $12 trillion in health costs.

To reverse this worrying trend, Betty Kibaara, Director of the Food Initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation, Africa Region Office, emphasised the nutritional and financial assets of fortified whole grains. She pointed out that whole grains are five times more nutritious than refined grains. Their analysis demonstrated that they are a budget-neutral solution, so, why do refined grains persist? The answer is rooted in our existing food cultures as we are conditioned to eat refined grains for, initially, shelf-life reasons, which are no longer an issue. But how do we overcome this habit?

School Feeding Programmes are a relevant initiative to shift consumer behaviours by enabling education and raising awareness from a young age.

Research often fails to consider the variety of available commodities. For instance, staple crops are a common topic for research while marginal grains such as cassava are often neglected, despite being prominent in certain contexts, explained Johanna Lodin. Thus, several experts including Johanna Lodin, Ingrid Öborn, Seema Kulkarni, and Bridget Bwalya, observed that participatory and bottom-up approaches combined with an interdisciplinary team are key to understanding the local needs of communities and ultimately, tailoring the research.

Betty Kibaara is a Director in the Food Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation, Africa Regional Office, and Seema Kulkarni, founding members of the Society for Promoting Participative Eco-System Management, Pune, India (SOPPECOM) during their keynote speech at Agri4D Conference.

Unpacking science knowledge and digitisation for a resilient food system

To harness the full potential of science, it needs to result in actions that are useful to farmers which is sometimes a complex task. In that sense, organisations such as Vi Agroforestry can play a substantial role in translating science into practical measures for the local level, stressed Wangu Mutua, Deputy Regional Director for Vi Agroforestry.

Policymakers are key actors in facilitating and fostering actions stemming from science. However, the bottleneck at the interface of science and policy must be addressed so policymakers can actively contribute to building a resilient food system by enacting adequate policies. To do so, policymakers must connect with scientists regularly in order to be updated on happenings and forthcoming research, underscored Appolinaire Djikeng, Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute. Furthermore, they should also strengthen their relations with local levels to better understand the needs. Thus, this underscores the need for establishing a multi-level team when designing a project.

Digital transformation can be a means to help smallholder farmers thrive in their activities. While digitisation needs to be fostered, it must also be paired with other tools and approaches to ensure inclusivity and leave no one behind, stated Appolinaire Djikeng. Governments can sustain this through loans, innovative funding schemes and incentives, highlighted Johanna Lodin.

Resilience is a broad term applicable in various sectors, thus, it must be adequately defined in a project to determine which type of resilience needs to be improved, noted Appolinaire Djikeng. Adaptability is a fundamental principle of resilience that is urgently needed in food systems to cope with current crises and prepare for uncertain times.

The parallel sessions in the conference also fostered discussions on a wide range of issues including agricultural biologicals, Uganda’s milk value chain, agroforestry in Vietnam, pollination services, pesticide governance, climate adaptation among agropastoral communities and indigenous rights and knowledge production. Other themes include science translation to policy and practice, ethnobotany, hydroponic and greenhouse production, market improvement, sustainable fisheries, cassava biofortification as well as drylands agriculture. The variety of themes encouraged rich discussions and sharing of knowledge and experiences among participants. It also pointed out the complexity of food systems and the need for actors to collaborate more in order to achieve the shared goal of agriculture sustainability, hunger reduction and food security.

“There’s no point in looking for a single solution to a single problem. What we need is the capacity to respond in a range of ways to a range of possible challenges.” – Dan Smith, Director of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI.



  • Lots of effort is required to achieve SDG 2, zero hunger, as we are currently off-track.
  • Contextualisation with tailored solutions is key to maximising the outcomes of projects and the efficiency of the system.
  • Transformative approaches moving from typical research to more specific research in ensuring inclusivity are required.
  • Interdisciplinarity, multicultural, multi-level and institutional adaptability are essential principles that must prevail to shape a resilient and sustainable food system.

Written by David Mingasson, SIANI reporter