Food security and nutrition in conflict and crisis regions was the number one topic at the colloquium held in Stuttgart-Hohenheim

Food security and nutrition in conflict and crisis regions was the number one topic at the colloquium held in Stuttgart-Hohenheim.
Photo: © University of Hohenheim

Food systems in crisis areas - a key topic in the years ahead

What key themes must science and research address in the coming years to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be reached? This central issue was tackled by an international colloquium held at the end of September at the University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.

An international colloquium  on „Food Security and Nutrition in the context of the 2030 Agenda“ was the first of a series of international consultations of the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to identify critical and emerging issues to be addressed in the immediate future by this UN committee.

A clear finding at the end of the day was that food security and nutrition in conflict and crisis regions was the number one topic that the UN food committee has to address straight away. Crisis regions contain some ten percent of the world’s farming area and some 500 million people are affected, reported Professor Rami Zurayk of the American University of Beirut. Taking the example of neighbouring Syria, he explained that it was wrong to assume that food production and trade did not take place in war-torn countries.
There are always parts where war is raging and those that are less affected and where agriculture can take place. This is also the case in Syria. „What we do not know is how the food system operates in conflict. We don’t know, for example, where the inputs come from and how they reach the farmers. Nor do we know who makes the decision about the food you eat and what are the underlying power structures” These issues should be the starting point for science and research. He underlined that special importance must be placed on the role of women. Zurayk appealed for women to be empowered also in times of peace and for suitable framework conditions to be created that give them access to resources and the knowledge needed to be able to practice agriculture even in times of crisis.  

“We need metrics”

In this context, the question addressed was what is the best type of agriculture to achieve food security for all -  conventional agriculture or organic agriculture? This is still the subject of controversial discussions, as emphasised by Professor Regina Birner of Hohenheim University speaking at the colloquium. “Although we agree on the goal, academia and politics are still disputing on what is the right path to take.” While consensus reigns that we need to achieve sustainable intensification of agricultural production, “there is no consensus on whether this requires high-tech processes or whether it is better to rely on natural processes wherever possible.” said Birner.

The scientists and representatives of the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition agreed, however, that this question should be included on the agenda of the UN-World Food and Nutrition Committee in the coming years. However, a warning was voiced against considering sustainable food security solely from the production viewpoint. Consumption patterns also play a role. “We need a better understanding of the relationship between production, processing and consumption”, stressed Tara Garnett of the University of Oxford/United Kingdom. We have to collect more knowledge on how consumption habits and innovations in the nutrition sector, such as the advance of aquaculture or the global use of cold storage, are impacting on the environment and on sustainability. The scientist also insisted: “We need metrics, we need experimenting with options to see how we can change consumption.” The goal is to identify which food systems and which consumption patterns lead to sustainable agriculture, but also which social and environmental footprint the different pathways have. 

“We need more empowered participation

The different knowledge systems, for example the knowledge of indigenous peoples or the knowledge of farmers, have to be better integrated into conventional research. This also is a task that the scientists recommended to the representatives of the HLPE for the coming years.

Esther Penunia, representing the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development, regretted that the farms are still not sufficiently incorporated in the research activities of national and international research institutes.. “What we want is more empowered participation - sitting together with the researchers, identifying the research needs and the research priorities and then working together for that kind of research. Scientists must recognise that farmers are also innovators and scientists.” Sustainable development in agriculture needs the knowledge resources of all actors and also open access to data and information, she added.

Beate Wörner