On Jan 30th, on behalf of IBLF’s Partnering Initiative, I attended “Feeding the World 2013”, Accelerating Global Collaboration on Food Security”, a conference organized by The Economist. The conference highlighted some of the ways in which pioneering organizations are contributing to the transformation of the food industry. Acknowledging the complexity, scale and interconnectedness of the challenge, participants highlighted both the importance of partnerships and the difficulties associated with them. In particular, they emphasized the importance of finding the right partners and of carefully and skilfully building the partnership. Participants also recognized the need to develop appropriate metrics that recognize the systemic nature of the food system and encourage sustainable practices.
Recent price hikes on food commodities have increased mainstream awareness and concerns around food security and nutrition. The issue is now at the top of the global agenda due to the expected increase in food demand driven by population growth and changing consumption patterns. Furthermore, our capacity to meet this demand is compromised by dwindling natural resources, the effects of climate change, and the need to protect our ecosystems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The debate around the food challenge has shifted from a focus on access to food or “food security” to access to the right combination of nutrients for healthy lives or “nutrient security”. Speakers shared the latest thinking and research on the harmful effects of malnutrition especially in the “first hundred days” including irreversible growth stunting and brain damage and those of obesity including an increase in the risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
A Way Forward
The agenda has evolved from building awareness around these challenges to finding ways of addressing them. Some of these included working with smallholder farmers to increase access to markets and marketing goods with a specific focus on strengthening the role of women, addressing markets failures such as excessive speculation on commodities and a lack of transparency in markets, promoting collective organization to achieve scale in rural areas, addressing the nutritional values of food items and increasing investment in R&D to promote new technologies such as precision farming. A particularly inspiring presentation came from Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, illustrating how promoting effective fishery management in local coasts could dramatically increase global catch contributing to long term food and nutrient security.
A Holistic and Systemic Approach
Addressing the issues requires a context-specific, holistic and systemic view. As one participant highlighted, the availability of natural resources such as water will be intrinsically linked with the future of food and agriculture more generally. Furthermore, the complexity of behaviour change was reiterated, illustrated by the complex case of obesity. Finally, there is a need to create new metrics which can better account for the complexity of the food system and support the transition towards more sustainable practices.
Getting Partnering Right
Panellists shared their experience working in partnerships, highlighting that partnerships are complex and take time and trust, so “must be built rock by rock”. This resonated with the Partnering Initiative’s belief that selecting, developing and implementing the right partnerships and building the individual, organizational and systemic capacities to do so will be instrumental in building a more equitable and sustainable food system.
By Liv Raphael.