Rome 2016 Student Reflections

International Fund for Agriculture and Development

By Megan Chivers, Erica Calder, and Christine Tan

On the 9th day of our field course on International Food Policy, we visited the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD) – a UN agency. We had the opportunity to listen and converse with various speakers within the organization, which enabled us to gain a better understanding of what IFAD is, their role in agriculture, and a variety of underlying issues that are being addressed on a global scale.

The first presentation was a brief overview of IFAD projects and how the fund invests in rural people. IFAD is a UN organization that has 974 projects in 122 countries, reaching 438 million people around the world. IFAD stresses its role in investing in smallholder farmers in order to “lift them out of poverty”, by providing funds such as loans and grants to governments and individual entities, respectively. Governments of countries are able to design projects and present them to IFAD in order to receive funds, as they have the capability of allocating their money based on their needs. IFAD focuses on the development of rural people through the exchange of knowledge in order to develop their businesses.

The second speaker outlined the recent developments in global nutrition policy, highlighting the importance of nutrition to sustainable development. For example, concerning education, nutritional deficiency in children leads to stunting that will impair cognitive development. And concerning gender, insufficient nutrition for women impairs pregnancy and lactation with effects spanning the household to population level. In fact, the return on investment for scaling up nutrition is estimated to be 16:1 (2015 Global Nutrition Report: IFAD’s main role in mainstreaming nutrition is to provide expertise and to influence on the development of project parameters towards promoting nutrition sensitivity. These include topics such as nutrition sensitive agriculture – which is arguably the greatest potential to address food security. The speaker also relayed an interesting trend, whereby obesity coupled with micronutrient deficiency (conventionally an urban problem) is increasingly becoming a rural problem. She explained that this is occurring because there is a growing availability of processed and packaged foods in rural areas combined with a decline in the amount of time rural families have to prepare meals.

The third presentation was from a specialist in human resources, who told us about different opportunities to get involved in the organization. This allowed us to learn about the various positions that may be available and the requirements for them. IFAD also provides both training and on the ground experience to develop new skills for its employees, facilitating the opportunity for continuous learning. The speaker emphasized that this agency is unique in specializing on rural poverty, with a mandate to work on the ground, with local decentralized government, farmers, partnerships, etc.

The fourth presentation focused on the impacts of climate change on agriculture. The speaker began with a short overview of the era of the Anthropocene and the ‘hockey stick’ graph. The impacts of climate change are evident around the world, as seasonal events/weather become less predictable over time, which means that this generation of farmers is dealing with unprecedented events that cannot rely on the experience of their forebearers as conventionally practiced. This can affect agricultural production and crop health/yields (due to drought, floods, etc.), which the speaker emphasized reinforces existing inequalities in the global south (the areas most affected by rising temperature).

The presentation also touched upon how agriculture can be a huge contributor to climate change and global warming, as many farms do not participate in sustainable or green farming methods, or sustainable management of landscapes and natural resources. Not only can this affect agriculture, but it has already been evident that it has led to an increase in certain diseases and occurrence in new regions (lacking the technological/social capacity to mitigate).

Issues related to resource management affected by climate change have also created conflict and competition among countries. The speaker emphasized that it can be difficult to integrate climate change as a priority in agricultural investment programs, because the conventional focus has been on intensification and maximizing return on investment out of the land (which in itself contributes to climate change). As well donor countries themselves are reluctant to discuss climate change in relation to agriculture, as they each have signature value chains with large environmental impacts.

In the face of these challenges, IFAD strategies include: (1) better analysis and mapping of what climate change means to their investment projects (i.e. risk informed planning); (2) introducing technologies to manage risk; and (3) systematically finding the sustainable natural pathways to scale up/out projects. The main barrier to scaling up/out, in the speaker’s view, is governance capacity (especially where there are conflict and changes in leadership which drive unpredictable changes in project dynamics) and these factors vary from region to region. For this reason, it is important to be open to alternative unique pathways with local communities, leaders, and lenders.

Lastly, we heard about the finances behind IFAD. This gave us an idea of how decisions are made on whether a project should receive a loan or a grant, the full cycle of how financial help will be provided, and the monitoring and technical assistance that is offered to ensure that the goals are met. We learned about the way in which negotiations occur when a country is not able to pay back its loan and how IFAD can assist in these situations (with its ‘debt sustainability framework’). We also learned about the mechanisms that exist to prevent overt influence of OECD countries with large contributions on certain projects (e.g. the ‘performance based accreditation system’).

Overall, during our visit at the IFAD, we learned about how the organization allocates its funds to help provide agricultural support to countries projects and what some of these projects entail, and to which Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) these projects are aimed. The presentations we heard on our visit to IFAD focused on reducing rural poverty worldwide, how this is incorporated within their mandate and aligned with the SDGs. The visit allowed us to gain a better understanding of how IFAD works and what they aim to do. It gave us a change to reflect upon issues of nutrition and climate change and their influence in developing countries. This visit did raise questions as to how governments decide on which projects to undertake, and how money is distributed or allocated in the country, as IFAD has little to no control over the monetary aid, once given.

World Food Programme

By Hayley Clin and Jing Xie

On July 13, the International Food Policy students visited The World Food Programme (WFP). The WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Last year, the agency received 4.8 billion in funds used for emergency operations, development projects, relief and recovery and preparedness initiatives. The WFP is funded through completely voluntary donations from worldwide by governments and private institutions, and Canada is a large contributor. Currently, WFP acts to support countries in achieving SDGs. When we entered the gate of WFP, a poster of a little girl who is holding a biscuit caught our eyes: “Her future starts with Zero Hunger”.

On our visit we learned that in its quest to achieve the goal of Zero Hunger, WFP has assisted 76.7 million people with a variety of partners including governments, NGOs, Rome-based agencies, other UN agencies, and private partnerships. WFP provides emergency aid when needed and is currently delivering food assistance to hungry people in Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and areas affected by Ebola. Beyond delivering food, the WFP also supports local markets through buying local food to promote purchasing power. Besides providing food to hungry people, WFP also supports governments to build domestic food security strategies.

WFP works to eliminate hunger by using food analysis methods and monitoring and mapping. The agency works hard to find out who, where and why people are experiencing hunger and food insecurity. The agency collects this data directly in the field, using surveys and by collecting satellite imagery. Using this data allows the agency to target vulnerabilities and better apply WFP programming.

We also learned about one of the WFP’s flagship initiatives, its School Feeding Program. Each year, WFP provides school meals to between 20 and 25 million children across 63 countries, often in the hardest-to-reach areas. WFP works to ensure that the most vulnerable children in the poorest countries receive sufficient nutrition to allow them to concentrate in school and develop into healthy adults. WFP staff stressed that School Feeding is not just food assistance, but also a program that encourages children to attend school and become educated. This creates an opportunity for the program to be deeply transformative in societies affected by hunger.

Currently, WFP is looking to expand the amount of assistance it gives in the form of Cash Based Transfers (CBTs). CBTs are made up of e-cash and vouchers provided directly to recipients so that they can purchase what they need, rather than relying on handouts of aid that is sourced in donor countries. CBTs can help to support the local economy and allow for a more empowering form of charity that supports a market-based approach. While there is growing evidence of the benefits of CBTs, agencies must recognize the need for caution to implement them only in cases where markets function well and integrate local farmers.

Overall, the visit was highly informative and gave us a window into the complexities of providing food assistance to those experiencing hunger. It also deepened our understanding of the links between hunger, humanitarian aid and the structural inequities that disadvantage children.

Multiple Intersections of Food Security Governance

A Visit from Nora McKeon, author of Food Security Governance: Empowering Communities, Regulating Corporations

By Carly Hayes and Rebecca Bell

Is it possible to govern the foods we eat and the lands we use to produce them in a way that is equitable, just, and ensures that future generations will be fed? Nora McKeon, author of Food Security Governance: Empowering Communities, Regulating Corporations came to speak to our class about that exact question on Friday July 8th. McKeon spoke with us for an hour, using student questions to help guide the conversation and weaving her personal experience from both inside the FAO and as a civil society actor into her responses. McKeon’s book was assigned for a review assignment to students before arriving in Rome, and so we all came to class with an important overview of the issues, and an understanding of McKeon’s background and experience. Four comments from throughout the discussion help to demonstrate some themes relevant to the entire course. Here, we examine the stories and opinions that shape the way McKeon thinks about food security governance.

“Unveiling the way that terms are being co-opted”

The use of language is an important part of McKeon’s book as she demonstrates how terms have changed in meaning, and how language is sometimes co-opted by those with power to change how the issues of food security are framed. For example, the term ‘innovation’ has been divested of its meaning to indicate technology and modernization, whereas McKeon suggests that innovative responses to issues in agriculture have been practiced by peasant farmers throughout the ages. By using the term ‘innovation’, powerful actors reconstruct the conversation to pave the way for increased inputs and foreign technological solutions to problems that can be solved by farmers themselves.

McKeon discussed the difference between ‘scale up’ and ‘scale out’, the former meaning to grow in a top-down, hierarchical way and the latter to create connections in a horizontal manner, across networks between agricultural producers. She explains that in using one term over the other, we prioritize certain relationships and certain ways of improving our food systems that have intrinsic power inequities.

Third, McKeon asked the class what comes to mind when we think of ‘private sector’. Words such as ‘corporations’, ‘businesses’ and ‘private interests’ all came up. McKeon pushed the class to consider why it is that we see the ‘private sector’ in this way when the actors within such a broad category are necessarily more nuanced. The same goes for ‘public sector’ and those who belongs to this category.

Who is Civil Society?

A question from the class spurred a reflection on McKeon’s previous book, United Nations and Civil Society. She spoke about the difficulty of defining who is ‘civil society’ when part of the point is to keep the definition fluid enough to include a diverse set of actors who want to be included. Looking for an image for the cover of her book, McKeon’s publishers first came back with an image of the United Nations logo. McKeon responded that she wanted to show civil society on the cover, and so the publisher returned with a photo of ‘angry looking Western protesters’. Unsurprisingly, McKeon was looking for something a bit different. The next option proffered was a group of Maasai warriors with spears. At that point McKeon decided to take the matter into her own hands and the book now bears a photo of a West African peasant farmers’ group gathered to listen to a leader.

The anecdote helps to answer the complex question: What do we mean by civil society, and what is it that all of these groups bring to the table? Throughout the course, we’ve discovered that everyone considers this differently and the definition is fluid. For example, while certain civil society groups may see the World Trade Organization as being the fundamental antithesis to food security and sovereignty, others maintain the value of engagement and communication. What seems to be most important is that individuals and associations of all stripes are included when making important decisions about food security that affect us all. It’s not good enough that governments speak on behalf of their citizens and corporations speak on behalf of their shareholders. Civil society must be able to speak for themselves.

“You need it all and it’s all worthwhile.”

Civil society can also extend its borders beyond tangible movements and organizations. Most importantly, McKeon stressed that the most important part of civil society is people. Throughout McKeon’s long and varied career, she has worked both within the governance system and outside it, taking her role in the Civil Society Mechanism at the Committee on World Food Security later in life. When asked what she thought was more effective – working within the system or working outside it – she responded, “you need it all and it’s all worthwhile.” Changes to food security governance are happening in all places, at all levels – from local changes on food waste legislation to indigenous movements in saving seeds to progress on the Right to Food at the global level. To push these movements forward, change-makers must be working everywhere. Civil society may start the conversation and set the agenda, and technicians may pick up the cause to implement it into their everyday programs and projects. True change is systemic and multi-directional, a point that McKeon stresses in her book in the chapters on the intersections between bottom-up and top down governance.

“Anything but linear.”

This sentiment carried on into her advice for a room of eager young professionals at a variety of stages of their careers – some ready to enter the workforce, some returning from careers to further their education, and many in between. McKeon recounted her positions at a variety of focal points of the food system, from emerging as a fresh graduate of academia to work for UNESCO to being an important component of the Freedom of Hunger Campaign. In the current chapter of her life, she is both a teacher and a continuing activist in the civil society mechanism of the CFS. The point of this, she espoused, was that impactful careers could be “anything but linear.” Overall, she reflects on her career to note the importance of listening, of patience, and of empathy in the quest to effect change. As we take the time to reflect on the many interactions we had throughout this course, it will be important to keep these characteristics in mind as we continue our work towards a more equitable, just food system from all directions.

Bioversity International

By Larrissa Jerome, Chen, and Emma Tamlin

On July 8, the UW International Food Policy course was welcomed at Bioversity International in Rome to participate in meetings with various project representatives who took time out of their day to tell us about their work. Bioversity is a global genetic research centre concerned with agricultural biodiversity and its importance for food security and nutrition. The goal of their projects is to provide and inform scientific evidence, management practices and policy options that may improve the use of agricultural biodiversity. Some of the key challenges that Bioversity aims to address include global malnutrition, climate change, and shrinking biodiversity globally. The staggering reality is that of 250,000 known plant species only 7,000 are grown and only 12 crops and 5 animal species provide 75% of the world’s energy intake.

Bioversity has a four step approach to their research including: consumption (looking at healthy diets), production (studying productive and resilient farms), planting and safeguarding (research on genetic conservation and use). The institution works with a variety of partners including development organizations, governments, United Nations agencies, farmers organizations, the agribusiness sector, and other research institutions. The work of Bioversity focuses primarily on 35 low-income countries in 5 main regions.

The group first heard about diet diversity and its relation to nutrition over video call from one of Bioversity’s experts. The presenter started with a staggering set of facts.

“2.1 billion obese, 8 billion malnourished, and 2 million suffering from micronutrient deficiencies” These forms of malnutrition, often experienced at the same time in many countries, is also known among development agencies as the triple burden of malnutrition.

Diet relates to biodiversity because the products that are available dictate consumer choices and therefore their health. Bioversity is hoping to promote diverse nutrient dense diets at the household level that are linked to sustainable production and processing techniques. Bioversity plans to improve diets through supporting more efficient value chains (e.g. reducing food waste), encouraging affordable prices, opening opportunities for responsible investment, improving food access and use, as well as advising on enhanced public policies.

Promoting nutrition is a difficult task as it relies on many different interacting dynamics such as market availability due to supply and demand, and social aspects such as income, education, and access.

Next the group had opportunity to learn about neglected and underutilized species (NUS). NUS are species to which little attention is paid, including by policy makers, agricultural researchers and plant breeders, but which hold enormous potential. These species have significant nutritional benefits, but have not been established as cash crops, and there is little consumer demand for them. Compared with some traditional species, however, NUS are more ecologically resilient, versatile and nutritious. Bioversity promotes NUS to fight poverty, hunger and malnutrition in the context of climate change and population growth.

One approach of Bioversity takes to promote NUS is to create recipes and introduce (or reintroduce) local species into the market. Every household has their eating habits and preferred food, so making them to accept new types of species is a challenge. Governments can, for example, lower the price of NUS to make them more competitive and build up demand. Education is another avenue to popularize NUS, especially to educate women who often decide on ingredients for family meals. Through projects, governments can also support the development of institutions and infrastructure, for example, to provide better cultivation tools to local farmers, processing machinery and storage facilities for NUS.

The next presentation was on Biodiversity’s project for Food and Nutrition. The Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project is a multi-country, multi-partner initiative led by Brazil, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey, and is coordinated by Bioversity International with support from the United Nations Environment Programme and the FAO. We learned that it is a time-consuming process and requires a lot of dedication because the diversity has not been fully utilized. Traditional crops are often chosen because they are affordable, accessible, culturally acceptable, and they provide nutrients for health and balanced diet. People are used to eating them. But at the same time, the diversity and nutrition of food are also needs to be taken into account. The three pillars of this project are to provide evidence, influence policies and create awareness. First the nutritional value of agricultural biodiversity and the role it plays in promoting healthy diets should be demonstrated. Evidence can in turn be put to use to influence policies and markets and encourage them to support the conservation of agricultural biodiversity. The awareness of biodiversity can also be raised by developing tools, knowledge and practices.

Finally, we heard about the International Treaty on Plant genetic resources. The treaty is designed to create a pool of genetic resources for the 133 countries who have signed on to it, to access diverse plant resources for research. An interesting fact about the treaty, and the pool of resources, is that it is free to access for participating countries, but if a country chooses to commercialize a resource taken from the pool, it must pay 1.1% on the profit generated into an international fund that seeks to distribute the benefits to rural communities that provided the genetic resources. The Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources is currently up for review and we heard about some of the possible changes that will hopefully make the treaty more attractive to countries to participate.

From our visit to Bioversity International, we understand the food security and food policy from a new perspective — biodiversity. In the context of climate change and increasing food demand, it is the food diversity, and its associated genetic diversity, that provides us a new way to attain sustainable global food and nutrition security. The biodiversity approach is an all encompassing lens that will target the many issues in our food system.

A Visit to the FAO

by Alex Schneider, Chelsea Brash, and Regan Zink

On day 2 of our field course, we visited the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to learn and reflect on current food governance issues and the role that the institution plays. We first heard a presentation from the Food Systems unit where we learned about the FAO’s three main objectives: to eliminate hunger, eradicate poverty, and use and manage natural resources sustainably. We also learned that gender, governance, nutrition and climate change were key underlying themes that the FAO tries to incorporate into all of its decisions. The FAO, we learned, is grounded in research and serves to provide neutral advice to member states on agricultural topics.

From the policy and governance unit we learned that FAO has set a specific agenda to complete by 2030. The FAO’s 2030 agenda is based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which were established in 2015. The SDG’s are more ambitious, measurable and prescriptive than the previous Millennium Goals, aiming to elevate the most poverty-ridden people, thereby “Leaving no one behind”.

The representative from the trade and markets division spoke about trade and food security and highlighted the importance of empowering countries to create and enforce their own food security and trade policies. We also heard from one of FAO’s nutritionists about the triple burden of malnourishment, over nourishment (obesity), and nutrient deficiencies, and the importance of education in overcoming these challenges.

In the afternoon session we heard from the statistics division about past, current and future models used by the FAO to measure world hunger. The speaker explained the current method of using caloric intake as the measurement of hunger, the data sources the FAO uses for its estimates, and methods that the FAO is looking to implement in the future. We then heard from one of the newer FAO units, the Agroecology division, about the contributions it could make in moving towards food sustainability. The speaker explained Agroecology as a methodology that prioritizes internal, natural, local, and renewable resources in agriculture, promoting intra and inter species diversity and the transfer of knowledge pertaining to farming practices.

The last speaker to address our group was the Secretariat Coordinator for the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) for the Committee on Food Security (CFS), who spoke about the CFS and the CSM and their roles in global food governance. CFS and the CSM aim to prioritize organizations and movements of people that are not normally heard, and to facilitate the convergence, coordination, and accountability of food governance.

Our FAO visit concluded with a tour of the facility where we were able to see the David Laubin Library, which was named to commemorate Laubin’s contributions to the issues of global agriculture dating back to the early 1900s. We were also able to visit the boardroom where biannually the new FAO president is elected. Our tour ended on the roof-top patio of the FAO, which gave us a beautiful birds’ eye view of Rome.

We left our visit with new perspectives on Rome and more specifically on global food governance. The complexity and interconnectedness of the food governance system and FAO’s role in it, left us with a new understanding of the scope of the work FAO does. However the fragmentation within the FAO and also the broader scheme of the global food system left us wondering about the potential for partnerships between departments in the FAO, and how the different departments might interrelate to one another.