Agroecology comes into focus at the UN Food Systems Summit

Sustainably transforming food systems through agroecology is at the heart of Biovision’s efforts to fight hunger and poverty. At the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit, agroecology was officially recognized by key actors as one of the game changing solutions.

 

Frank, Eyhorn, CEO of Biovision and organic agriculture expert with more than 20 years of experience in international cooperation, Stefanie Pondini, Programme Officer for "Advocacy for Agroecology" at Biovision and NGO representative in the Swiss National FAO Committee (CNS-FAO).

Interview: Martin Grossenbacher, Biovision

The Pre-Summit at the end of July established the course of action for the Food Systems Summit (FSS) in September. Is it going in the right direction? 

Frank Eyhorn (FE): The Food Systems Summit (see green box below for details) has initiated an impressive process over the past 12 months: Across 145 countries, tens of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations from civil society, politics, science and the private sector have exchanged views in over 1000 dialogues and sought answers to what the future of our food system should look like. First, it was agreed that ”business as usual” is not an option, and second, that only holistic approaches like agroecology provide real solutions. 

Stefanie Pondini (SP): I consider it a significant success that agroecology was so present at the Pre-Summit and was named by numerous state representatives, including Switzerland’s, as a “game-changing solution” to transforming our food systems. The French Minister of Agriculture, for example, said: “There is no food and nutrition security without an agroecological transition.” Agroecology was also named as one of seven tone-setting coalitions. Only a few years ago, “agroecology” and “food systems” were terms not presentable at UN conferences and thus did not appear in resolutions. 

At the same time, some civil society organizations are heavily criticizing the Summit. Why? 

SP: There are concerns that the private sector could be given too much weight and that, under the name of the Summit, greenwashing could occur at the highest level. We know from experience that lobbyists from the powerful private sector play a strong role in food-related politics. It was also feared that agroecology would be sidelined. However, thanks to external public criticism and the committed, persistent efforts of numerous internal organizations such as Biovision, agroecology was prominent in the Pre-Summit. 

FE: Despite justified criticism of the process, the results of the Pre-Summit far exceed our expectations. Another important achievement of the Summit is that the issues of food and nutrition are now viewed systemically. Nowadays, it is generally recognized that everything is interconnected: agriculture, health, environment, economy, human rights, and climate change. The previously existing silos have thus been broken down to some extent. 

Why exactly is it important to look at food and nutrition systemically, or holistically? 

FE: From a global perspective, today’s food systems are doing a poor job of fulfilling their intended purpose: around two billion people suffer from hunger or malnutrition, and three billion people’s diets are harmful to their health. Those who make their living in the food system – farmers, processors, cooks, vendors – are often in the lowest income groups. And today’s food systems are among the main causes of the biggest problems of our time: climate change, biodiversity and soil fertility losses, and strained water resources. Continuing to limit the topic of nutrition exclusively to questions of producing higher yields and cheaper food is of little use. What is needed are new, holistic approaches and coherent policies. 

Where does Biovision see the most important levers of change in this process? 

FE: Making urgently needed transformation of food systems happen – in Switzerland, in Africa and globally – requires several kinds of leverage that include further developing and disseminating ecological production methods, investing in agroecological enterprises and research, and designing conducive enabling policy environments. Biovision is involved in all these areas and tries to set these levers in motion in a targeted way with innovative approaches and broad alliances. 

SP: We support governments in consistently aligning strategies and policies to the promotion of sustainable food systems and enable policymakers to exchange ideas and develop their own solutions with our Food Policy Forum for Change. In Kenya, for example, we bring together different actors from politics, science, the private sector and civil society to discuss policy solutions. 

FE: Particularly important is promoting public awareness about the relationship between food, the environment, health and prosperity. Ultimately, we all shape our food systems by exercising our political rights and by deciding our daily consumption patterns. We can all influence what the world of the future will look like because we all eat. Every day. 

And what role does agroecology play in this transformation? 

SP: Agroecology is a promising holistic and unifying concept in this transformation process. It offers evidence-based practices for producing food in harmony with nature, which we use in our projects in East Africa. Agroecological principles such as promoting biodiversity, closing cycles and reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not only good for designing new, sustainable systems; they can also help to gradually improve conventional production methods. Moreover, agroecology aims to connect producers and consumers in fair value chains or food webs.  

FE: In short, we can say that agroecology brings healthy food for all, produced in a way that respects the environment, animal welfare and human rights, while providing fair wages for everyone. 

That all sounds well and good. But how exactly is this to be implemented, especially in Switzerland? 

Frank Eyhorn: Important stimuli arose between proponents of different concepts or models for increasing food system sustainability during preparations for the Summit in Switzerland, and a dialogue was set in motion. This is urgently needed because of the deadlock in agricultural policy and the hardened fronts. However, to overcome existing rifts, these dialogues must be continued and deepened. As a society, we need to sit down at the same table and negotiate feasible measures that not only ensure sustainable production and farmers’ incomes but also sustainable consumption. To this end, we are currently in discussion with important partners. 

Stefanie Pondini: In addition to promoting coherent national policies based on agroecological principles, we are now concentrating our policy dialogue and advocacy activities on ensuring that more investments are directed towards agroecological approaches. Both in the research sector and in business, the financial resources necessary to scale-up agroecology are currently lacking. We are collecting and documenting successful agroecological showcases in the political and economic spheres, and publicizing them to ensure that they receive attention. In this way, we raise awareness and motivate decision-makers to increasingly support projects based on this approach – whether as politicians or investors.  

We keep telling ourselves “The climb will still stand before us after the Summit. We won’t reach the peak just by attending the Summit.” (laughs).