Realigning priorities for a healthier food system

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition just came out with its latest report: “Future Food Systems: For people, our planet, and prosperity“. There’s a lot to, ahem, digest in there, but Dr Shenggen Fan has a brief blog post to whet the appetite. He summarizes the policy objectives of the necessary transformation of the food system as follows:

  • sustainably producing the right mix of healthy foods in sufficient quantities
  • ensuring those foods are readily accessible and at low cost
  • making healthy and sustainable diets affordable to everyone
  • empowering consumers to make informed food choices

Which is fair enough, but how do you do that when governments, the private sector and households have different, and sometimes competing, goals and priorities? Well, for that you have to go to page 179-182 of the report, where you’ll find a long menu of stuff. But let me give you a taste. Here’s what I happen to think are the most mouth-watering single actions that should be taken by different actors, according to the report:

  • Governments: Rebalance subsidies going to the agriculture sector in ways that better support sustainable, healthy diets.
  • Development partners: Realign donor policy priorities towards supporting actions which promote simultaneous achievement of planetary and human health goals.
  • Commercial food companies: Increase private R&D to support locally appropriate nutrient-rich foods and share related intellectual property with public research entities.
  • Civil society and citizens: Advocate for institutional investors and asset managers to link human and environmental health goals to their core strategies.

Needless to say, crop diversity comes into all these, and indeed many, if not all, of the other actions the report recommends. Though, naturally, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

And since I’m here, maybe this is a good time to talk about another report also just out, IPES-Food’s latest: “The Added Value(s) of Agroecology: Unlocking the Potential in West Africa.” Thanks to the Panels’ social media team for highlighting in a tweet what the report says on page 71:

…farmer seed systems are relegated to ‘informal’ status, and their potential to support diversified agroecological farming is held back. While farmer seed systems for cereal crops are highly developed, access to vegetable seeds remains low. As a result, the risks of genetic uniformity of crops, loss of biodiversity, and farmer indebtedness are high, and the prospects for agroecology are severely constrained. As Issouf Sanou, coordinator of FENOP, testifies: “In the beginning, people believed that improved seed would improve farmers’ living conditions, but we very quickly realized that improved seeds had a lifespan [ …] Improved seeds means pesticides, means fertilizers […] And all this creates dependence.”

An opportunity for realigning some of those subsidies and priorities?

The state of plants — in genebanks and out

More than 4,000 species of plants and fungi were discovered in 2019. These included six species of Allium in Europe and China, the same group as onions and garlic, 10 relatives of spinach in California and two wild relatives of cassava, which could help future-proof the staple crop eaten by 800 million people against the climate crisis.

That’s from The Guardian’s article on the release of Kew’s latest State of the World’s Plants and Fungi. Nice to see a shout-out for crop wild relatives, and indeed orphan crops. But it’s not all sweetness and light, of course.

Two in five of the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction as a result of the destruction of the natural world…

This year the report comes with a full volume of scientific publications in the journal Plant, People, Planet. That includes International collaboration between collections‐based institutes for halting biodiversity loss and unlocking the useful properties of plants and fungi, which has case studies on the CWR Project and Genesys.

International collaboration across biodiversity projects offers numerous benefits. Through the eight case studies presented we have identified the five key benefits to collaboration: (a) synergy; (b) greater efficiency; (c) sharing resources; (d) greater impact and leverage; and (e) transfer of knowledge and technologies. We remain mindful that successful collaborations are environments where trust and professional respect within and between partners flourish.

‘Nuff said.

Brainfood: Cali ag, Wild potato double, Enset diversity double, Banana collecting, Disease models, Wild resistance, SP drought, Wheat blast, MAGIC wheat, Biological control, Teosinte, Artemisia, Multiple cropping, Mungbean value, Traditional crops, Singing dogs, Biodiversity metric, Hotspots

Brainfood: Bending the curve edition