Why the world needs inclusive food systems now more than ever
IFPRI Global Food Policy Report released
The 2020 Global Food Policy Report is now out, with a sharp focus on creating inclusive food systems that sustainably benefit the world’s vulnerable populations. “Inclusive food systems can help create better economic opportunities for poor people, mitigate climate change impacts for the most vulnerable, and spark innovation for the production and consumption of healthy foods,” it says.
As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive disruption it has caused in food supply chains, it is painfully clear that the poor and marginalized communities are the hardest hit. The Global Food Policy Report emphasizes that modern global food systems should be inclusive of not just the poor (e.g. smallholder farmers), but also other neglected groups such as women, youth and refugees from conflict-prone regions. The report advocates global policy-level interventions to make way for massive investments in research and development. Also, individual nations are advised to draft and implement policies within the local context.
Across the world, smallholder farmers suffer an income disparity when compared to the significant role they play in global food productions. To balance this inequity, the report suggests the following steps:
- Promote agri-preneurship in a big way. This would require a) Infrastructure development (e.g. for faster delivery of produce to markets/processors) b) Quality regulation, for higher acceptance of agricultural products in markets and c) Skill training and capacity building of farmers to open farm/non-farm income-generation opportunities.
- Link farmers to relevant markets. This could be done by: a) Securing land tenures for giving farmers easier access to credit facilities and agri inputs b) Promoting collective action in agribusiness through farmer-producer organizations c) Leverage digital technology to connect farmers to extension services, markets, weather information etc. and d) Provide social protection in the form of cash or food to build resilience during hard times.
The report submits that more than one type of intervention might be required to make a difference, depending on the gaps in the food systems and local prevailing conditions.
Although women farmers are actively involved in food systems in various ways —growing crops, tending livestock, working in agribusiness/food retail, feeding their families – their contributions are often not recognized. Typically, they have lesser education, fewer resources, lesser decision-making power and greater demands on their time, than men. Therefore, it is imperative that food systems take into consideration women’s needs and employ approaches that enable women to benefit equitably and empower them personally and as a community. A few steps have been highlighted in the report:
- Data collection and analysis on value chains to identify opportunities for women
- The private sector – spanning food production, processing, transportation and consumption – to incorporate guidelines on gender equality
- Policies to create enabling environments for women’s empowerment in research and industry through incentives and regulations
- Collaboration with all stakeholders (including men) to ensure sustained gains in women’s rights and progress.
Annually, sub-Saharan Africa adds about 20 million people young (working-age) people to its population. Rural youth in several African nations have to deal with land scarcity and lack of financial capital and/or other resources to start their own enterprises.
The report warns against generalized ideas, e.g. youth are well-versed in using technology in their farms. “In Ethiopia, for example, youth-headed households are less likely to use improved technologies such as fertilizers and seeds. In Ghana, it is the better-educated farmers, not young farmers per se, who use improved technologies.”
Hence, the report recommends policies for generating better economic opportunities, as opposed to polices that focus solely on “youth capabilities”. This would mean, for instance, investing in transportation, energy infrastructure as well as education.
Long periods of war and other conflicts in parts of the world are one of the primary reasons of global hunger. The report states that in conflict-ridden areas, drought, economic shocks etc. exacerbate the distress, often contributing to large-scale migration. “An estimated 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced in 2018, the highest number in decades.” Conflicts in rural regions leads to increased food insecurity, which affects the food value chain, from production to marketing.
One of the ways to mitigate this is to include the affected populations to work towards building local agri food systems. This could be by:
- Reviving local food systems by supplying tools, agricultural inputs, cash or livestock
- Supporting rural residents who return to their homes post conflict
- Enabling long-term refugees to access land and water
- Setting up and reinforcing social protection systems for short-term relief and resilience-building
Apart from the above, four national-level approaches have been recommended for inclusive food system transformations to offer improved nutrition to vulnerable populations.
- Instead of thinking about increased food production, start from consumer demands and work back towards healthier diets
- Synergizing technology, institutional capacity and infrastructure to contribute to systemic change
- Developing countries to adapt policies to strike a balance between health, sustainability and overall wellbeing of all citizens.
- Draft and implement policies to include people and places overlooked by existing policies.
The Global Food Policy Report also proposes greater efforts towards inclusive food systems policies in the regions Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The ninth annual report was launched on 7 April 2020 in a virtual event by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Click here to read the full report.