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26 October 2016

Food for Thought and a Call for Change

This is a summary of the World Food Day celebration arranged by SIANI and the Swedish FAO Committee on the 14th of October 2016.

The climate is changing – food and agriculture must too, was the theme for this years’ World Food Day. Anders Malmer, professor at SLU Global, gave an overview from the point of academia, of global food production system. He explained that while farmers worldwide are facing the challenge of climate change, there is no silver bullet solution that would work for all. Due to the interconnectedness of the food system, Malmer argued, amongst others, work to improve market access and better traceability could benefit the global food system as a whole.

Speaking from a more bottom-up perspective was Million Beley, Director at MELCA-Ethiopia. He spoke of the difference between the ‘productivist’, producing as much food as possible, paradigm and the agroecological paradigm of modern agriculture. He claimed that while there is an emphasis within agroecology on small scale production, key findings of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, AFSA, indicate that there are higher yields to be had from agroecological farms compared to conventional ones. Beley argued that some of the ways to “break the lock-in effect”, the dominance role of the productivist paradigm, towards more agroecological farming are to increase recognition for indigenous knowledge and innovation, raise consumer awareness and more support for small businesses as well as reducing government subsidies on food production which make the price of food is very cheap for larger farms.

Sustainable agriculture is equally as important a topic within Sweden as it is in the rest of the world.  Adam Arnesson, from Jannelunds Gård, presented his role as an organic farmer. Calling himself a ”biosphere steward”instead of merely a food producer, Arnesson spoke about his view on the role of farming as producing all that mankind needs, including ecosystem services, rather than looking for ways to produce cheap food whose real cost is paid by somebody else. He presented his new focus on plant-based protein like pulses and showed figures indicating that this is not only climate-smart, with low carbon emissions, but that it’s also producing more energy per acre. Regarding the future of sustainable farming, Arnesson argued that we ought to start by asking ourselves what we are going to eat in the next 50 years and then how politics and business can help support that change.

At the other end of the value chain Anna Richert, Expert on Food Issues at WWF Sweden, explained the background and principles of their ‘Meat Guide’, which at its core is about eating less but better quality meat. She made clear that the environmental impact of meat is geographically sensitive making it hard to generalise. At the same time, some simplifications were necessary in order to make the guide easier to use for consumers. Richert showed that the guide works similarly to a traffic light, with different coloured signs based on factors such as animal welfare and antibiotics but that in the future aspects such as eutrophication could be added. Looking ahead, Richert spoke both of challenges outside of Sweden, for example working in countries with weak legislation, and engaging with restaurants and public procurement in Sweden.

Addressing the topic of food consumption from a waste perspective was Karin Östergren, Research Coordinator at SP, Technical Research Institute of Sweden. Östergren explained how one-third of all food produced is wasted, showing that it largely depends on the part of the value chain in question as to the cause of the loss; possible hotspots are inadequate transport and storing facilities near the centres of production, and consumer behaviour at the supermarkets on the consumption end. She also presented some preliminary findings of the SIANI Expert group on Food Waste, such as the need for improved information sharing about who handles the products and how, as well as the need for better distribution of costs and profits along the chain.

Returning to a more global viewpoint was Sara Gräslund, Senior Policy Expert at Sida. Guided by the 2030 Agenda, Gräslund explained how Sida’s approach involves working holistically across sectors and engaging with a multitude of different partners, while also having some focus areas such as land rights, women, farming as a business and social protection schemes. Gräslund further emphasized that the fast ratification of the Paris climate agreement must be followed by a similar engagement regarding national plans and political leadership, in order to create a safer environment for investment and guided choice.

Do you want to hear more? Check out our resources with slides and presentations of each speaker!

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