The Transformation of Food Systems Needs More Inclusion

Original article is published in The Jakarta Post

The just concluded United Nations Food Systems Summit, and the alternative forum organized, the Global People Summit on Food Systems, indicate that the target and intent are the same, ‘transforming food system,’ but the interpretation of the narrative, whose agency, benefits, values and rights are at the core of the transformation of food systems, is still divided.

The science has long been decried the negative impact of food production on nature. The realization that the current global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience, and further entrenches inequality, has been growing among the public together with the awareness that we need to act now, and that the actions of all count.

It is clear that we need to overcome divisions and work together on shared, long-term solutions for a food system that is just, sustainable, and healthy for all.

The Summit was commendable in setting in motion a large mobilization of diverse actors in the food system from local to global and facilitating a long process of consultation at multiple levels that culminated with the Forum on 23rd of September 2021. This bodes well for the call to action on World Food Day 16 October 2021,

“Our Actions are our Future. The food you choose and the way you consume it affect our health and that of our planet. It has an impact on the way agri-food systems work. So you need to be part of the change.”

At the Summit, Indonesian National Development Planning Minister Suharso Monoarfa reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to support joint efforts to realize the transformation of the food system by also creating a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food system and acknowledging the role of small-scale farmers as guardians of traditional and local food system.

Still, globally, many small-scale farmers, Indigenous Peoples, fishers and rural communities, men and women, who are key producers and sustain the livelihoods of millions of people, feel excluded from the process and consider that their solutions are ignored in favour of those of corporations and big business.

Can we afford to change the global food system without including those who should be at the center of the process and help drive alternative ways to produce food more sustainably, locally, and equitably?

The diversity of local food systems developed and practiced by local and indigenous communities, men and women, have been proven to be resilient and sustainable for supporting food security in Indonesia.

Food systems to be sustainable need to be inclusive and ensure that equity and rights are integrated throughout the food system along food value chains, and generate value(s) and benefits for all actors. For a food system to be inclusive, it needs to recognize, respect and support other food systems developed and sustained by the knowledge, practices and innovation of small farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and indigenous food producers.

Examples of resilient and sustainable indigenous food systems abound in many parts of Indonesia. In Nusa Tenggara Timur, sorghum has traditionally been the staple food of local communities, a food security and food sovereignty crop well adapted to local environmental circumstances. The communities are rediscovering and replanting this traditional crop.

In several communities, like among the Baduy and Minangkabau, one form of coping strategy has been food granaries and local wisdom serving as the backbone of food security in good and bad times. Many more stories of resilient indigenous food systems can be told from across the archipelago. They are resilient because they are embedded in their territories and adapted to the local cultural and environmental conditions. Their resilience and vitality are also closely linked to the crucial role that women play in rural economy. Their ecological agency supports healthy and nutritious diets but also climate adaptation through the conservation of seeds and crop varieties, including the memory of ‘forgotten foods’ and the knowledge of wild foods. Despite ample evidence of their critical contribution to food security, women food producers have often been neglected by decision-makers in policy discussions around food.

Transforming the food system to be more inclusive, just, sustainable and healthy will require changing the current governance and power relations, and reconnecting it with nature and cultural heritage. Re-localizing the food system will capture more economic value for food producers at local level through shorter supply chains, local farmer/fisher markets and Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS), an alternative certification scheme.

In this time of health, biodiversity and climate crises, acting faster and in culturally appropriate ways is important. Focus on local food systems enables more accurate mapping of critical and vulnerable events and rapid interventions to manage food emergencies that often can be resolved locally.

Our Actions are our Future is the call on the World Food Day 2021. The actions of consumers to make different food choices, rediscover culinary traditions and local products, and adopt greener and healthier lifestyles; the actions of producers to use farming and fishing practices that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable; and the actions of decision-makers to enforce sustainable use of natural resources, secure the land, water, seeds and other resources of small-scale farmers and Indigenous Peoples, and effectively include them in policy-making about food production. Policies need to take into account the diverse circumstances of each island and provinces, and extend credit, appropriate technology to food producers, including women.

Divided paths to food system change is not an option. Actions to be undertaken need to be discussed and agreed among the various stakeholders and rightsholders, including those closest to the food production. Local solutions by Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers and fishers that have secured food for centuries are integral part of shared solutions and can help transform the food system and the values upon which it is based.

Local food systems can be ‘game changers’ and contribute not only to a more equitable governance of resources, food security and self-reliance, but also to mitigating the effects of natural disasters and climate change for a healthy, sustainable and fair future for all people and the planet.

Miranda works for HIVOS, a Dutch humanist and innovative organization in Indonesia. Cristina Eghenter is an anthropologist based in Zeist, the Netherlands.

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