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Harnessing policy thinking within development cooperation to strengthen the governance of food systems transformation

TMG is working to unravel which governance mechanisms are best placed to draw out synergies and collaborations between different food system actors

by Daniel Montas | 2024-02-27

Harnessing policy thinking within development cooperation to strengthen the governance of food systems transformation

With the One World, No Hunger Special Initiative (SEWOH), established in 2014, Germany became the second largest donor in the field of nutrition security and agriculture. In the following years it became increasingly evident that a lack of governance was a key weakness in this approach. In 2021, the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) created momentum for a new, holistic approach: the necessary transformation of food systems. Although the global introduction of this idea was successful, the UN FSS has fallen equally short to establish comprehensive governance frameworks to direct this transformation. These experiences led to the formalization of the 'Governance of Food System Transformation' project, undertaken by TMG Research. Building on these initial experiences from SEWOH, the project attempts to explore, identify, and analyze promising governance mechanisms, focusing on how development cooperation can facilitate substantial transformations within food systems.

With the initial kick-off in 2022, the project aimed to identify key elements that foster an environment conducive to effective governance, with our resounding message that those doing the job, must be able to do it. This led to an emphasis on inclusive stakeholder involvement, crucial for ensuring participatory processes, policy legitimacy, and assuring that the policies formulated reach the intended target groups. A significant part of our inquiry was to understand the influence of international governance on spurring action at the national and local levels while simultaneously understanding how local initiatives can impact global strategies.

Insights and Challenges

Our journey involved diverse approaches stemming from this multi-level perspective – including organizing side-events in international summits such as the UNFSS Stocktake +2 and the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, workshops at national level in Germany and Kenya, as well as analyzing local level initiatives. Through these, we quickly realized that a lack of context-specific scenarios and varying stakeholder interests only allowed for a superficial analysis of inclusion in food systems governance, while creating a “self-serving” atmosphere. Our efforts to impact governance processes throughout multiple levels equally revealed a mismatch between current development cooperation practices and the evolving geopolitical landscape. We argue that this disconnect is characterized by an overreliance onexcessive management-based projects and a disregard for the political dynamics and diverse interests among local actors, policymakers, and donors.

Looking Ahead

Our findings underscore the need for new platforms that facilitate discussions on innovative models of development cooperation. These should be capable of addressing the challenges of governing food systems transformation and adaptable to changing geopolitical circumstances, while highlighting key voices from the Global South. Such a platform aims to develop frameworks or analytical tools grounded in a shared understanding of the primary challenges, considering the current focus on resource scarcity in development cooperation and humanitarian aid. Our continued efforts will engage with country-level actors, particularly in Kenya, aiming to leverage political thinking within development cooperation to enhance the governance of food systems transformation. These efforts not only reflect our commitment to evolving and responsive governance but also ensure a significant advance in bridging theory and practice.

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