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Inclusive Governance of Food Systems Transformation: Empowering Food System Actors

Berlin workshop in June 2023 on inclusive food systems governance, emphasizing empowerment of marginalized groups, addressing power imbalances, and fostering collaborations.

by Daniel Montas | 2023-06-16

Inclusive Governance of Food Systems Transformation: Empowering Food System Actors

There can be no successful Food Systems Transformation (FST) without effective governance – such was the message that resonated in January 2023. On that date, TMG along with other partner organizations, hosted a three-day event series on the Governance of Food Systems Transformation along the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) framework in Berlin.

This event series united experts from Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Malawi, representing various stakeholders from government bodies, civil society organizations (CSOs), youth advocates, farmer organizations (FOs), and private sector representatives. Their collective aim was to dissect the pivotal role of governance in reshaping our food systems. A resounding consensus concluded that governance must foster an enabling environment and empowers marginalized groups.

Fast forward to June of that same year, and a decade of commitment in the field of FST has solidified Germany’s position as the second-largest global contributor in the field of food security, agriculture and rural development. From this, the Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ) embarked on a mission to collect and assess the experiences and insights gained from these ten years of German collaboration with selected partner countries in Africa and Asia. The Partners for Change (P4C) Conference, held between June 14th and 15th, 2023, offered a platform, attracting approximately 160 partners and stakeholders from over 20 nations. Their shared mission was to establish a global network of transformative change agents. Once again, the spotlight shone brightly on the critical role of governance in facilitating FST, as the various working groups demanded heightened attention to this fundamental aspect.

From this explicit need for governance, TMG Sustainability Think Tank, Andreas Hermes Academie (AHA), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Welthungerhilfe (WHH), and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) reconvened the group assembled in January to delve deeper into the subject. This subsequent workshop titled: Inclusive Governance of Food Systems Transformation, featured an expanded group, welcoming Burkina Faso as a participating country and ensuring representation from the most pertinent stakeholders. The primary objective was to move beyond the realm of general discourse observed in January, and instead, ground the discussions in specific stakeholder contexts. By anchoring the dialogue in these specific perspectives, the aim was to foster a more targeted and actionable approach. Recognizing the recurring nature of the topic and the growing trend of leveraging international gatherings, the group also sought to explore future collaborations. Their intent was to use the opportunity provided by other global events, such as the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) Stocktaking Moment or COP 28, to catalyze the governance of food systems transformation.

The workshop kicked off with a thought-provoking keynote speech by Jes Weigelt from TMG, who emphasized the importance of avoiding the pitfalls of colonial patterns when supporting inclusive governance for food systems transformation (FST). Weigelt underscored the progressive realization of the right to food and the need to ensure accountability of all actors involved. Drawing attention to the rallying cry of "nothing about us, without us," Weigelt called for a critical stance toward multi-stakeholder approaches and emphasized the crucial role of genuine inclusion.

Instantly afterwards, the conversation started - with multiple stakeholders eager to voice their respective realities and concerns. It was quickly recognized that as long as power imbalances persist, the mere establishment of multi-stakeholder platforms will fall short unless a level playing field is guaranteed. And even if those platforms can be established, their effects have to reach the local level. Civil Society actors emphasized their role of ensuring vulnerable groups meaningful engagement in decision-making processes. However, they called to bridge the gap between the theoretical space for CSOs and the practical realities on the ground so that they could properly address the most vulnerable needs. On top of this, another CSO representative underscored the existing gaps not only between governments and CSOs but also between CSOs and the very people they aspire to assist, including the younger generation. To address these challenges, participants called for heightened awareness, capacity-building initiatives, and empowerment programs encompassing social, economic, and political dimensions.

Likewise, these gaps from what is seen on paper and what happens on the ground were also felt within Farmer’s Organizations perspectives. Although it was widely recognized by multiple actors the importance of smallholder farmers inclusion in policy formulation, FOs representatives went a step further and advocated for farmers inclusion in policy implementation and enhance farmers agency. They emphasized the need to recognize farmers' knowledge on par with scientific expertise and shed light on the challenges faced by extension officers in implementing certain policies. Ineffective policy implementation on the ground was a shared concern among FOs transcending national borders.

The private sector emphasized the crucial role of grassroots engagement and tailor-made innovations to address the unique needs of farmers. They called for enhanced institutional support and government cooperation to foster an environment conducive to transformative change. On the other hand, Government representatives recognized the value of diverse stakeholders in policy processes, citing successful programs and projects that have yielded tangible improvements in food systems at the grassroots level. They acknowledged the inherent challenges of harmonizing stakeholder interests, considering cultural contexts, and making necessary trade-offs for the collective benefit.

While acknowledging commendable efforts by certain governments in addressing primary food systems challenges, participants cautioned against the fragility and lack of resilience inherent in the current systems. The looming specters of pandemics, climate change, conflicts, and unforeseen events pose significant risks to the progress achieved thus far. In response, a diverse range of actors called for a shift towards a rights-based governance model for food system transformation (as opposed to inclusive governance), emphasizing the need to incorporate people's rights as an integral part of genuine and comprehensive change. The group also stressed the need to recognize externalities resulting from the pursuit of food systems transformation goals, such as climate impacts, and evaluating the trade-offs associated with such actions.

Recognizing the multi-level nature of the topic at hand, the participants engaged in discussions concerning the upcoming UNFSS Stocktaking moment and COP 28, scheduled later in the year. Concerns were expressed regarding the UNFSS, with a particular emphasis on enhancing community understanding of the process and avoiding the tokenization of marginalized communities. Some actors proposed leveraging the network established during the workshop to fill the void left by the UNFSS, actively engaging in discussions relevant to the international sphere. This opened the conversation for what the future of collaboration and partnerships between countries could look like, expanding and reassessing the boundaries of the so-called “Food Diplomacy”.

It was underscored that while showcasing practices of accountable and inclusive food systems at international events is essential, redirecting the discourse back to the national level is equally important. In this regard, the Kenyan delegation expressed their interest in promoting the ideas voiced in the workshop at their upcoming National Agriculture Summit, further fostering dialogue at the national level and setting the stage for future collaborations.

Moving forward, translating the insights generated during the workshop into concrete actions that promote resilient, equitable, and environmentally sustainable governance of food systems transformation is of paramount importance. The significance of sharpening the workshop's focus on marginalized groups and their pivotal role in FST cannot be overstated. Recognizing this critical aspect, a side event dedicated to this topic will be hosted during the UNFSS stocktaking moment in Rome. This recognition underscores the importance placed on strengthening marginalized communities’ involvement in shaping the future of governance of food systems, ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive approach towards sustainable change.

In closing, Martin Hoppe from BMZ acknowledged the intricate complexity of food systems and underscored the necessity of a shared vision and understanding of respective roles. Hoppe emphasized the empowerment of farmers as the central actors in the food system and the paramount importance of a holistic, climate-smart, just, and resilient transformation. With a poignant statement, Hoppe remarked, "Unless parents aspire for their children to become farmers, we will fall short of our goals.” Once again, he highlighted the criticality of adopting a rights-based approach.

Ultimately, the workshop echoed the crucial need for effective guiding mechanisms to achieve sustainable and inclusive transformation of food systems. Such mechanisms must bring together governments, civil society organizations, farmers, academia, and the private sector in a continuous and collaborative manner. Proper governance entails addressing challenges and difficulties arising from divergent perspectives, in order to foster policy coherence, transparency and equitable resource allocation to those most in need. In this regard, donor countries must reevaluate their approaches to supporting partner countries and explore a novel form of "food diplomacy" rooted in dynamic political dialogues that engage with multiple levels of food system transformation (FST). The national leadership of change agents will play a decisive role in driving this transition and establishing the necessary governance mechanisms.

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