New coalition strives for sustainable food systems

Experts hail local knowledge, youth and finance as solutions

Sustainable forest foods drawn from the forest in Zambia. Joe Nkadaani, CIFOR
3 September 2021
3 September 2021

A new coalition has been forged to promote nature-positive landscape approaches to agriculture and land management for greater food and nutrition security, while reducing environmental damage.

The Coalition for Landscape-based Engagement, Adaptation and Resilience (CLEAR) aims to confront the serious, imminent threats that face humankind, organizers said at the conclusion of the 2 September 2021 digital forum Food Nature People: a blueprint to build thriving, sustainable food systems.

“Our reaction has to be as strong as the challenges are,” said Alexander Müller, founder and managing director of TMG Think Tank as he announced the coalition at the forum. There, scientists and policymakers alike acknowledged the threats to the climate, biodiversity and sustainable food systems while discussing solutions aimed at restoring the balance between the world and how it feeds itself.

There is no shortage of warnings about the risks to our futures unless we change destructive practices and re-learn how to sustainably manage production systems while ensuring future generations have necessary skills and opportunities, said Gary Juffa, Governor of Oro Province in Papua New Guinea.

“The forest is our home, our supermarket….everything we have ever wanted we can extract from the forest,” said Juffa. “But there are red flags raised and alarm bells are ringing everywhere you care to look, because we have disconnected ourselves from nature.”

A wide range of speakers shared their knowledge and experiences during the digital event that drew more than 3,500 participants and reached another 10 million people on social media. Organized by CIFOR-ICRAF with the Global Landscapes Forum and supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, the event highlighted the interconnectedness of the world’s ecosystems.

A systematic, collaborative approach is needed to solve the food system crisis, said speakers, particularly as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic with a sense of need to adjust consumption to live within the planet’s boundaries.

Vania Olmos Lau, a biologist with German development agency GIZ, opened the event from Mexico City with a statistical perspective, noting that between 2000 and 2010, commercial and subsistence agriculture comprised almost three-quarters of tropical forest loss. Meanwhile, 26 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are from food production, while 30 percent of food is lost or wasted, she said.

“Clearly, something needs to change in our food system,” she said.

Many participants emphasized the value of recognizing and investing in local, practical knowledge. This is crucial to successful food systems, said Cheikh Mbow, director of the Future Africa project at the University of Pretoria. He urged greater investment in proven, less expensive local knowledge, practices and approaches rather than chemical-intensive forms of agriculture.

“There is hope – a lot of hope,” added Vijay Kumar Thallam, vice-chair of the Indian non-profit Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS). Thallam leads a movement in India’s Andhra Pradesh state for climate-resilient, community-managed natural farming, also known as Zero Budget Natural Farming.

Similar examples of agro-ecological transitions in India were highlighted by Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog. “Real change can be brought about only through changing behaviors on the ground,” said Kumar.

Such change will help draw more young people to land-based livelihoods, which will have long-term impacts, he added. “Nature-positive breakthroughs will attract youth back to agriculture; it will bring excitement back and be seen as a practice which helps our planet and helps prevent further climate damage.”

Culinary course for young women in the community of Kapuas Hulu, Indonesia. Icaro Cooke Vieira, CIFOR
Culinary course for young women in the community of Kapuas Hulu, Indonesia. Icaro Cooke Vieira, CIFOR

Wisdom is found at the smallholder farm level, where champions can be identified and successes replicated, said Satya S. Tripathi, secretary-general of the Global Alliance for a Sustainable Planet. He urged that private finance be applied for public good via a new approach involving financial risk assessment. 

Science must also be linked with practical knowledge from the ground up, said Danielle Nierenberg, president of non-profit Food Tank. “We need new kinds of food systems that are based on science….that are participatory, and action based,” she said. “We need science that is living and evolving and actually transformative.”

Politicians must acknowledge the suffering of so many producers and take concrete actions to support them, said Gabriela Lucas Deecke, director general of CIASPE Mexico. That might include steps as small as calling for greater space in supermarkets for local produce and serving locally made biscuits at their political meetings.

“Politicians need to feel the anguish,” of local farmers including women, who have worked their land but have no ownership rights, she said. “It’s not about (agricultural) yields, it’s about making a life.”

Building bridges between women in cities and women in the rural communities could help each understand the needs of the others and contribute to creating socially just transitions, she added.

This requires mobilizing stakeholders, said Christophe Kouame, regional coordinator, West and Central Africa, CIFOR-ICRAF. “From farmers to farmer organizations, policymakers, private sector and international communities – all should be involved,” he said.

Sustainable agroforestry practices are the best option by which we can secure the future of cocoa farming in West Africa and forest landscapes for everyone,” he added. Cocoa production supports the livelihoods of some three million smallholder farmers.

Diversity, including more women and youth, in agricultural leadership is essential, added Kathleen A. Merrigan, professor and executive director at Arizona State University’s Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems.

“Educating a new and diverse generation of leaders is going to change the thinking around decision-making tables in very important ways,” said Merrigan. Keynote speaker Jewel H. Bronaugh, deputy secretary of U.S. Department of Agriculture, also emphasized the importance of encouraging youth in work to transform agriculture, forests and land management in the face of multiple global challenges.

Nafkote Dabi, climate change policy lead for Oxfam, warned that food security is sometimes being sacrificed to reforestation schemes. Four leading energy companies need a land area twice the size of the U.K. for tree-planting sufficient to meet their carbon offset goals – posing a significant threat to food security, she said.

“Reforestation does have a place in climate mitigation, but this should not compromise food security and be a smoke screen for continued use of fossil fuels.”


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