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News Story
12 April 2022

Food systems transformation: joint responsibility for everyone’s benefit

Photo: Freya Morales (FAO) / flickr

For the third year in a row, SIANI organised its annual meeting in a virtual form. Over three weeks, three separate events gathered speakers and an audience from several continents. During the events, speakers from various sectors in the food systems – ranging from farmers to policymakers – shared their experience, knowledge, and work towards more inclusive and sustainable food systems. Despite the different geographical and sectorial areas, one thing remains clear: food systems must transform rapidly if we are to feed the world population in accordance with nature and people. 

A total of 150 people actively involved in the transformation of food systems gathered for three weeks. The Mentimeter, opening the three different sessions, offered an overview of the geographic and sectorial coverage of the participants. While most participants were engaged in development practice and aid or academia, policymaking and communications were well represented. A few participants were directly involved in primary production, denoting the whole range of sectors that SIANI engages with as a network. SIANI being a Sweden-based network, a vast majority of the audience joined from Northern Europe, but the sessions focusing on the African and the Asian continent pushed presence from other parts of the world. 

The geographical location of the audience during the second SIANI Annual Meeting 2022. The bigger the country’s name, the more people listened in from that country.

Photo: screenshot from the Mentimeter created with menti.com

Cross-sectorial and intercontinental presentations on food systems transformation

During the first part of the meetings, speakers from several sectors across food systems shared their work and thoughts on the challenges and opportunities in transforming food systems and how to best tackle them. A common attribute of any endeavour in food systems is the system’s interconnectedness. As all sectors are closely tied, the repercussions can be felt in other fields.  

Two agripreneurs and former alumni of the Agripreneurship Alliance expert group, engaging directly in primary production, shared their experience as youth willing to achieve a career and change within the agri-food sectors. Common features of the challenges faced by Dianah Boonabana, Founder of Agri-Gold farm, an organic training farm in Uganda, and Fedynand Otieno, Founder of The Supreme Cocoon Limited, a silkwool farm in Kenya, are the lack of compulsory agriculture training at school and access to financial resources to start up a business. Education and finances must work hand in hand.  

Eric Muthomi, engaged in the SIANI expert group Hidden in Grains, Founder and CEO of Stawi Foods and Fruits Ltd., Kenya, runs a fortified flour company. It produces and sells multigrain porridge blends, enhancing both the use of locally adapted crops and the nutritional status of consumers, hidden hunger – the lack of nutrients and vitamins despite an at times healthy weight – is a severe threat amongst low-income countries. Femy Pinto, Executive Director, NTFP-Asia and member of the SIANI expert group on wild foods, proved the importance of linking everyday practices such as forest foraging with research and policies for virtuous practices to scale up, inspire, and be picked up elsewhere. 

The private sector was also present on a different level, represented by Viveka Risberg, Axfoundation, and Kristina Areskog Bjurling, Dagab. They shared insights into a project based on a Public Private Partnership, to support small-scale rice farmers in Pakistan, producing sustainably while offering a high-quality and sustainable product to consumers in Sweden. The project, led by Axfoundation, has increased the livelihood of many farmers and seasonal workers in Pakistan, teaching them to produce ecologically soundly.  

Research and food systems 

The role of research in transforming food systems is crucial in connecting the dots and understanding mechanisms that make change work (or not). Delia Catacutan, a member of the former SIANI Mekong expert group and Acting Country Representative, Philippines (ICRAF), broadcasted the advantages of agroforestry as a nature-based solution to food production, leaning on Action track 3 of the UNFSS, and pledged for a systemic approach to food systems research, shifting away from the linear way of thinking food production chain, not taking into account waste recovery, nutrient cycling, or the interaction with other commodities and sectors, such as policy.  

Bridget Bawlya Umar, Senior Lecturer at the University of Zambia, opened up her presentation with an overview of food systems in Africa. Despite the important variation in climate, traditions, and vegetation, food systems on the African continent share one feature: the aftermath of colonisation and underdevelopment is perceptible in all its countries. Bridget is part of the Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet) research network that aims at bringing partners together and finding solutions to the challenges African food systems face around six different focus areas, governance, equality, and tackling food waste and loss being at the core of several endeavours. 

The overarching goal of policy in food systems transformation 

Representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) went over the specific work on food systems they are achieving in their specific geographical area, besides recounting the outcomes of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), organised for the first time in 2021. The Summit was preceded and accompanied by numerous dialogues amongst different policymakers, private companies, and civil society organisations on how to best transform food systems in their context, leading to national pathways to transform food systems. In order to maintain momentum for all actors involved in the process and reach out to more, the FAO has launched the Food Systems Coordination Hub that will act as a connecting, leveraging, supporting, and guiding focal point.  

Marija Milivojevic, Deputy Director and responsible for FAO relations, Swedish Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, went over the work of Sweden in the process leading up to the UNFSS, and shared insights about the ensuing Swedish National Pathway for Sustainable Food Systems. To achieve the SDGs, all sectors must work hand in hand, led by solid pilotage of the ones in power, whether politics or the private sector – hence the importance of multi stakeholder platforms like SIANI. 

Despite the geographical and sectorial disparities amongst the speakers presenting during the SIANI Annual Meeting, one thing remains clear: to transform food systems into more sustainable and inclusive ones, things must change rapidly, and action must be taken jointly, focusing on adapting solutions to the local context with people who know best.  

Input from the audience on SIANI’s work 

The second part of the meetings enabled the audience to discuss two different questions, thanks to an interactive online tool. While the first question opened up the floor to present participants’ work in food systems, the second one encouraged them to think about SIANI as a network and how it could be ameliorated for food systems to change and adapt quicker. The audience’s expertise enabled SIANI to pinpoint major areas the network should focus on. 

The two questions the audience had to discuss around during the interactive part of the SIANI Annual Meetings 2022.

Photo: screenshot from the board created with miro.com

Participants and members value the network, as it provides a sharing platform and creates connections amongst different actors while informing about both ongoing policy processes and realities on the ground. SIANI is also appreciated for unconventionally sharing insights from various sectors and unveiling stories from the ground. One of the aims of the Annual Meetings, besides allowing a wide range of experts to connect and share their efforts in agriculture and food systems, has always been to gain inputs from members and participants to grow as a network and become better at what it’s doing. SIANI, focusing on  planning of its next programme phase, was eager to hear more from members, partners and interested audience members. 

The infographic below gives an overview of what SIANI should focus on according to the outcomes of the three SIANI Annual Meetings 2022. 

Download the infographic: Interactive sessions outcomes – SIANI Annual Meetings 2022

SIANI Annual Meeting 2022: Global perspectives

Swedish Pathway for Sustainable Food Systems | Marija Milivojevic

Food Systems and Research | Bridget Bawlya Umar

Sustainable Rice Farming in Pakistan | Kristina Areskog Bjurling

Agri-Gold Mixed Farm | Dianah Boonabana

The Future of Food Systems | Siobhan Kelly

The Transformation of Food Systems: our Joint Responsibility - Q&A

SIANI Annual Meeting 2022: African perspectives

Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited | Eric Muthomi

Food Systems and Research | Bridget Bawlya Umar

Silkwool Production | Fedynand Otieno

Swedish Pathway for Sustainable Food Systems | Marija Milivojevic

The Future of Food Systems | Nomathemba Mhlanga

The Transformation of Food Systems: our Joint Responsibility - Q&A

SIANI Annual Meeting 2022: Asian perspectives

Sustainable Rice Farming in Pakistan | Viveka Risberg

Food Systems and Agroforestry in Southeast Asia | Delia Catacutan

Wildfoods in Asia: an Outlook to 2030 | Femy Pinto

Swedish Pathway for Sustainable Food Systems | Marija Milivojevic

The Future of Food Systems | Sridhar Dharmapuri

The Transformation of Food Systems: our Joint Responsibility - Q&A