Agency of advocacy in the food systems of the majority
This paper (PDF) by Hivos and IIED highlights lessons and insights from the Sustainable Diets for All programme about the opportunities, dilemmas and tensions of putting (low-income) citizen agency at the centre of advocacy and interventions. Interventions to improve the sustainability and nutrition of food can be misdirected when based on assumptions about people’s priorities and level of knowledge. When citizens have agency, there is the potential to achieve better and more durable outcomes. The food systems for low-income citizens have characteristics that make citizen agency an important starting point for external interventions. These food systems of the majority operate largely through the informal and semi-formal economy without large-scale corporate structures. At the consumption end, these food systems meet a growing demand for prepared food, with the role of women and youth being particularly important throughout. The organisation of these systems are usually unclear to outsiders. Policy neglect is rife, as is a lack of trust. Local concepts of sustainable food systems may differ fundamentally from western framing of food and diets. External interventions therefore need to be grounded in realities of food systems of the majority. By understanding lived experience and by locating hotspots of organisation and energy, interventions have a chance to establish common cause with food producers, trades and consumers, especially in informal food economies. Reflections for citizen-centred interventions are: 1) Space and opportunity for agency should be designed from the beginning of an intervention. 2) Careful scoping in the food system of the majority and its organisation helps build around people’s priorities rather than an imposed agenda. 3) Ways of working need to be adapted to keep citizens at the centre of advocacy. 4) Advocacy at the local level and in the wider policy and market environment will not always be directed at public policy. 5) Effects on citizen capacities and agency can be monitored as outcomes in their own right.