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Build on knowledge, translate to action

Discussion on IFPRI’s Global Food Policy Report
Virtual Discussion Global Food Policy Report 2020
May 20, 2020 By: F&BKP Office Image: IFPRI
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IFPRI’s 2020 Global Food Policy Report was written before the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Although the world changed drastically ever since, the insights shared in the report are still valuable and an important source of knowledge to inform the policies and actions currently developed and implemented. A virtual event was organized by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs on April 28 to launch the report, present and discuss the outcomes and place them in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Paul van de Logt (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) remarked in his opening statement, “the world is suddenly in an uncertain situation with challenges that we have not faced before”.

The virtual event started with three short IFPRI presentations, providing information on the need for more inclusive and sustainable food systems, as well as possibilities to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These presentations were discussed by three respondents, followed by a Q&A session with all participants of the event. The presentations revealed how important the outcomes of the report are for the actions and programmes being developed to reduce the impact of the pandemic on food systems.

Reverse thinking

During the virtual event several conclusions from the report were discussed about the need and benefits of changing perspectives in food systems. John McDermott (A4NH, CGIAR) highlighted the importance to reverse food system thinking and start the thought process from the diets of the consumers. This focus on diets can help to look at all forms of malnutrition, especially as the COVID-19 crisis emphasizes and magnifies the constraints in the food systems related to the food environment and consumer behavior. John also mentioned two sources for additional information: the food system resource center and the food systems idea exchange.

Jo Swinnen (IFPRI, CGIAR) focused in his presentation on the COVID-19 pandemic, explaining that the impact on food systems is multifold and will strongly differ between food systems. Especially labour dense food systems and poor people will be much affected due to the economic recession and government measures. Meike van Ginneken (SNV) reflected on the presentations with the message that it is important to “sow the seeds of future resilience”, especially now that the focus is most on the present. This implies that policymakers and organizations should not only focus on solving the current crisis, but should include the long-term vision of food systems to ensure their inclusiveness and resilience.

The third conclusion was highlighted in the presentation of Rob Vos (IFPRI, CGIAR), who shed light on the need to be inclusive towards the so called “hidden middle”. The hidden middle is the midstream of the value chain including many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) such as traders, truckers and processers. This group often escapes the attention of the policymakers but are a key part of food systems. Perspectives should change to include this group in the policies and programmes that are being developed, both in the short and the long term. Rob explained that support could be offered through provision of basic infrastructure, incentives and frameworks to increase standards for food quality, education to facilitate basic knowledge and skill development for entrepreneurship and inclusive business models for smallholders. Both Wijnand van IJssel (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Chris de Nie (Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality) agreed that the hidden middle plays a crucial part and is currently not analyzed enough and too often missed out on by policymakers.

Connectivity is the key

During the presentations and the following discussion the need to make connections at different levels surfaced. Jo Swinnen emphasized the unequal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequently states that the need for inclusive food systems is now higher than ever. Inclusion has to be achieved at global policy levels but connected to the actions which need to take place at national and subnational levels. Several policy actions were mentioned that could help reduce the impact of the crisis: social protection “plus” programmes, effective management of food reserves, information sharing and surveillance transparency as well as the need to not place restrictions on food trade.

During the Q&A questions were asked related to regional/domestic food production and international food trade. The responses from the presenters and discussants indicated that in principle there is no conflict of interest between these two types of systems. Both have increased in terms of consumption and trade over the past decade and could provide important trade channels for food and nutrition security. It will be important to connect, strengthen, integrate and keep open the existing trade channels, domestic and international, to ensure access to sustainable and healthy food.

Another important message that was shared is that policymakers need to keep learning from reports such as the Global Food Policy Report as it is important to update the policy and development narratives including by sharing new insights. Paul van de Logt and Wijnand van IJssel specifically mentioned the connections between the well-structured and country based approaches in the report, as it helps to make the insights actionable. In addition, Meike van Ginneken shared that policies should also be adaptive and smart, and should get it right. While the report presents a roadmap, the knowledge and creativity of what others do, especially coming from the SMEs, needs to be connected to and influence the actions taken at the policy levels.

From analysis to action

During the virtual event it became clear that all participants recognized the need to act fast. Yet, the organizations and policymakers behind these actions should look at the future as well, to ensure that more inclusive and resilient food systems will be build. Within these efforts everyone should include the knowledge that is gathered at a global and national level, as well as the innovative and creative efforts of what people themselves are doing. It is imperative that the programs and the policies implemented right now and in the long term should remain adaptive and up-to-date as more knowledge becomes available. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is committed, with its partners, to contribute to and support the efforts to reduce the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. The knowledge shared in the report and during this event will also feed into those developments. Like in the past few years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is committed to bring the Global Food Policy Report to the attention in the Netherlands in the years to come; once is an incident, twice is a trend, thrice is a tradition.

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