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29 October 2020

The fight against hunger calls for multi-stakeholder mobilization 

Photo: Isaiah Rustad / Unsplash.

On October 23, 2020 the Swedish FAO Committee together with SIANI organized an online event to commemorate World Food Day 2020, gathering a multi-stakeholder line-up of Swedish actors working with food security and development internationally and in Sweden. The webinar was moderated by Kajsa Johansson, Chief Senior Advisor at We Effect.

On this World Food Day, the basic question is: Why are people starving in a world full of food?  (…) What happens after a year of bad harvest? Food can be available in another part of the country or imported. But a poor farmer has no money to buy it.  

Opening the event, Per CallenbergState Secretary to the Swedish Minister for Rural Affairsquoted Olof Palme’s speech on World Food Day in 1983, these words could be easily re-used to depict today’s situation. Many years have passed, but hunger, armed conflicts and climate degradation remain among humanity’s biggest challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the pressure on the already fragile food systems and vulnerable communities. 

“There is still time for transformation, but change must happen fast,” said Gustav Lindskog, Expert for Food Security and Livelihoods at SidaSmallholder farmers require particular attention, occupying only 7% of the world’s agricultural land but representing 70% of all people in the agricultural sector. Two days before the online WFD event, the Swedish government presented a support package worth SEK 170 million to support the initiatives combatting the increasing risks of hunger in the world through collaboration with WFP, IFAD and Sida. 

Sustainable agriculture needs economic incentives. Profitability is key for youth engagement. Policies have to support investment in production, making sustainable choices easy and affordable to consumers. Governments have to understand that food systems and people’s nutritional status provide the basis for a prosperous economy. “All budgets need to be redirected towards sustainable approaches, especially focusing on sustainable food production, tailored to local needs,” said Maximo Torero, Chief Economist at FAO. He also underscored the critical role of cross-sector and multi-stakeholder collaboration, both internationally and domestically. 

As reminded by Elisabeth Hidén, President of the Swedish Youth Agriculture Organisation, Sweden can share its experience as a country that overcame hunger, not the least, by utilizing nitrogen-fixing legumes and scaling-up other innovations. In line with thatAnna Tibblin, General Secretary at We Effectadded that two out of three Swedes are now willing to pay more for food produced by smallholder farmers. She also noted a growing global awareness about the importance of supporting the most vulnerable people, which can provide a window of opportunity for shifting the focus to sustainable production and resilience. 

Schools can be a powerful ally in combatting hunger: not only in providing children with nutritious meals but also in teaching about sustainable production and consumption choices. “Focusing on children and women is crucial for a rapid reduction of hunger and malnutrition,” said Katarina Eriksson, Project and Partnership Development Director at Tetra Laval Food for Development. 

Digital tools and communication technologies can connect all actors across a food value chain, improving their work. These tools should be used wisely, as shown by Zoole Newa, responsible for Agricultural Market Development and Inclusive Growth at the Swedish Embassy of Zambia and project manager of the Sida-funded DAZ (Dairy Association of Zambia). His Digital Information Management System enables farmers to access market information, digital extension services, and keeps the record of farmers’ work to tailor extension services to their specific needs as well as paying them according to accurate information. 

Only if and when all actors work hand in hand will we get a chance to reduce poverty and end hunger. It is time to build back better and work towards food systems that don’t merely produce more food but are sustainable, resilient and can overcome future shocks. This way, we can ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t annihilate the development efforts of the previous decades and no one is left behind.  

Watch the recording of the webinar and review the presentations

Reporting by Magdalena Knobel, communications intern at SIANI. She is currently doing a Master’s degree in Sustainable Food Systems programme at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU. 

Q and A with the audience

Q: The food system has many challenges, but it is hard to address everything. In your opinion, what solutions can foster system change and provide the highest impact?

If we understand a food system as all the interlinked processes involved in feeding a population, then we also need to look at the policy conditions for doing so. In 2019, Sweden adopted a national food strategy linked to 2030 Agenda. It is the first holistic strategy that covers the entire food chain, looking at the potential for farmers, more jobs and green growth – but based on sustainable consumption. In the countries where We Effect and Vi Agroforestry work, we support local farmers’ organizations to demand similar strategies from their governments. We believe that local ownership increases food security and more sustainable food systems.

– Anna Tibblin, General Secretary at We Effect

Food systems have many challenges for sure. In Zambia for instance, there is low consumption of milk despite a lot of efforts such as school feeding milk, sensitisation meetings, subsidies etc. Therefore, what can be done is to solve such a problem is to use a multisectoral approach. The starting point should be to analyse and find out the root cause of the food system challenges so that an appropriate holistic approach can be used as a full package looking at policy, culture and habits, economic issues etc. By undertaking a holistic approach of addressing the root cause of the problems, we should be able to address most of the challenges of the food systems with greater impact.

– Zoole Newa, responsible for Agricultural Market Development and Inclusive Growth at the Swedish Embassy of Zambia and project manager of the Sida-funded DAZ (Dairy Association of Zambia)

I agree with Zoole but can add the following: It is true we cannot address everything in the food system at the same time, but on the other hand, just looking at parts of the value chain is never enough. A holistic or value chain approach is always necessary. A key to involve smallholders in the formal sector in a sustainable way, is to bring in and partner with the private sector, especially the food processing industry. Value chains do not need to be only small-scale to include smallholder producers. Our experience from the dairy value chain is that thousands of small scale dairy farmers can be connected to an industrial dairy processor, which commits to buy all their milk at all times. With this secure income, farmers can invest in their production. Programs combining this market connection with technical assistance to develop yields and quality have proven to be very successful. Projects and programmes have to be demand-driven, not production oriented. This is why private sector has to be involved, companies that can be the bridge between consumer demand and production.

– Katarina Eriksson, Project and Partnership Development Director at Tetra Laval Food for Development

Increasing knowledge among consumers so they can make more conscious choices can go a long way. Technology and development, research and education to make agriculture more sustainable and resource efficient. Distribution in the value chain must be changed so that the farmer receives a larger share of the profit.

– Elisabeth Hidén, President of the Swedish Youth Agriculture Organisation

Q: Elisabeth, the demand for products grown in sustainable ecological farms is growing, sold at farms and ”Ekoringar”, how is the LRF Youth engaged in meeting this increasing demand of ecological products? There are many business opportunities coming up….

Of course, it is a good opportunity. Perhaps especially valuable for young people who in that way can make money on less land. But, we represent all our members and there must be a system that works regardless of whether you have 2 hectares of potatoes, carrots and onions – or if you have 300 dairy cows and 1000 hectares of plant cultivation. Regardless of whether you choose to use plant protection products, are organic, have small production or large production, the system must work.

Elisabeth Hidén, President of the Swedish Youth Agriculture Organisation

Q: Elisabeth, how would a guaranteed minimum income for farmers help?

I do not think that the minimum wage is the solution. A minimum wage could lead to higher land prices. I see that the only long-term solution is for consumers to pay more for the food and the farmer to take a larger share of the profits. Consumers need to know what they are buying and what they are paying for. In the long run, supply and demand must determine the market. Farmers must be paid for what they produce, there is no pride or joy in depending on subsidies when you could instead be paid for what you actually do.

 Elisabeth Hidén, President of the Swedish Youth Agriculture Organisation