Estrella Penunia, Secretary General of the Asian Farmer’s Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA), speaking at the GFFA opening ceremony.
Photo: Messe Berlin GmbH

GFFA 2023 – making food systems crisis-resilient and climate-friendly

At the 15th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA), representatives from politics and business, science and civil society discussed viable strategies to achieve food security against the background of multiple crises.

Climate change, species extinction, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine – through these mutually aggravating crises, the world community is currently facing the greatest food crisis since the Second World War. Already today, around 828 million people are suffering hunger, and nearly a third of the world population have no access to secure, sufficient food supplies. So it is high time for our agricultural and food systems to be transformed in a manner making them resilient to these external shocks while simultaneously protecting the climate and biological diversity. Just how this transformation can succeed was looked at during the 15th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA). In three High Level Panels and 16 expert podia, around 2,000 representatives from politics and business, science and civil society discussed viable strategies to achieve food security against the background of multiple crises.

Putting the right to food into action

“Over the last few years, the right to food has increasingly been recognised in international forums,” stressed Michael Fakhri, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, at the beginning of the three-day event. “What we now urgently need is a commitment to putting this right into action.” At national level, this could for example be achieved via the “national pathways” for food system transformation for which more than 110 countries opted following the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021. However, Fakhri criticised that despite the acute food crisis, a coordinated cooperation concept was still lacking, and he called on the international community to fulfil its commitments in this respect.

“We have to change the balance of power and place farmers at the centre of our food policy,” said Estrella Penunia, Secretary General of the Asian Farmer’s Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA). Smallholders in particular needed a guaranteed right to the use of water, land, forests and seed. Their market power had to be strengthened so that they could act as partners on a par in price negotiations with businesses. Production systems such as agroecology and regenerative agriculture ought to be supported since they not only enhanced biodiversity but also made use of farmers’ traditional knowledge and knowhow and turned them into key actors in sustainable innovation.

Cooperation is key

“We have no Planet B,” warned Jason Clay, Senior Vice President Markets at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US). If feeding a world population of nine billion people in 15 years’ time was to be accomplished, agricultural production had to be enhanced, input efficiency needed to be raised, and production had to be diversified. But above all, it was important to promote soil organic matter and make degraded soils fertile again, according to Clay. All this could only be implemented sustainably and in time if information and knowledge was shared and governments world-wide co-operated with each other.

It was precisely such cooperation which helped Albania to gain substitutes for grain deliveries no longer coming from the Black Sea region. With short-term cooperation agreements with its neighbouring states, this small Balkan country, in which agriculture accounts for 18 per cent of the gross national product and feeds a third of the population, has succeeded in securing domestic wheat and maize supplies. “In addition, we have raised budget resources to support agriculture by one third,” said Albania’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Frida Krifca, at the European Commission’s High Level Panel.

Protecting the environment, maintaining profitability

Murray Watt, Australia’s Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, also regards promoting free trade and open markets as an important measure to counter possible shocks in agricultural supply chains. Over the last two years, the farmers of this net importer have borne the full brunt of climate change impacts. Watt said that one of the goals the cattle and sheep farms had set themselves was to become CO2-neutral by 2030. “We have to manage farming in an environmentally friendly manner while maintaining the profitability of farms,” he remarked, explaining the balancing act which was now required. Via legal regulations, innovative production models and partnerships with the farmers, aspects such as afforesting more areas and creating carbon sinks are to be addressed.

In der European Union, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is to create the corresponding incentives. For the coming five years, a total of 307 billion euros had been allocated to the CAP, 40 per cent of which was earmarked for climate and environmental measures, EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski reported. Wojciechowski was concerned over rapid structural change. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of farms in the EU dropped from twelve to nine million. Especially family farms were threatened with extinction. “We have to improve the living conditions in rural regions and create incentives for young people to take up farming again,” the Commissioner for Agriculture insisted.

Attracting youth through fresh thinking

One good means to achieve this is new technologies. For example, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which produce a mere ten per cent of their food themselves, a Ministry of Culture and Youth was established in 2016 (at the time with a 21-year-old minister). All draft laws are reviewed at this ministry. “Young people have to see that they possess priorities, that they have their own markets,” said Mariam Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, explaining her strategy. For example, the most important bulk buyers of food in this desert country – the police and the military – were asked about the origin of their food, and then options were explored to find out which of it could be obtained from local (young) farmers. “We need innovation not only at technological level, but also in our way of thinking,” the Minister stated.

Regarding sustainable agricultural and food systems, it was above all important to overcome thinking in silos and cooperate at cross-departmental level, explained Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health and Environment of the World Health Organization (WHO). “A healthy society provides the best foundations for a good economy,” Neira maintained. Here, it was important to present healthy food not as a restriction but as something to enjoy – especially given that more and more developing countries and emerging economies are having to struggle not only with undernutrition but also with obesity.

Reducing food losses, stimulate local production

This applies to Chile, too. “Our Government has entered an alliance with the most important providers of school meals so that they purchase more fresh fruit and more regional products,” said Chile’s Minister of Agriculture Esteban Valenzuela Van Treek, explaining how his country promotes good food while supporting the local producers at the same time. The three Bs (bueno, bonito, barrato (good, beautiful, cheap) stand for a government food programme which shows consumers how they can cook meals which they can afford and which are also low in calories and taste good. An agreement with the supermarkets is to help check food waste.

In many African countries south of the Sahara, food losses occur in a very different area. “Half of our agricultural produce is not consumed because there is no market nearby and we lack processing capacities,” noted Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani, Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Regions. While is country was the largest exporter of cocoa and cashew nuts world-wide, the lion’s share of the food needed had to be imported. Now that grain supplies were no longer coming from Ukraine, one was now focusing more on local cultures such as manioc and maize, which can also be used to make flour. The cost of inputs, which has risen by 160 per cent, is reimbursed, for example by applying biological fertiliser produced in the country itself. “We have also learnt a lot in the crisis,” the Ivorian Minister of Agriculture concluded.

The Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment of the African Union (AU), Josefa Sacko, reminded the meeting that just seven years were left to achieve the goal the international community had set itself of eliminating hunger by 2030. With its Agenda 2063, the African Union is even more ambitious and strives to reach the goal by 2025. But Sacko noted that just one of the continent’s 54 countries was currently on track. “We need the West’s experience to support us on this course,” the AU Commissioner said, stressing the importance of the GFFA as a forum for international exchange.

Silvia Richter, editor, Rural 21

The Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) has been held since 2009. Representatives from politics, business, science and civil society meet at the several-day conference to discuss urgent world food issues. As a rule, the conference is held in the context of the International Green Week in Berlin/Germany; this year’s event from the 18th to the 21st January was being run under the motto “Food Systems Transformation: A Worldwide Response to Multiple Crises”. The Conference traditionally closes with the International Conference of Ministers of Agriculture, in which ministers from 64 countries and representatives from 11 international organisations participated this year.

More information:
GFFA Website
UN Food Systems Summit Website

Further reading:
Rural 21 issue 04/2022: Financing sustainable agri-food systems
Rural 21 issue 03/2021: Food systems, nutrition and the SDGs

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