There is an urgent need to change the way in which the world produces and consumes food. In 2020, nearly one in three people did not have access to adequate food. After remaining relatively steady between 2014 and 2019, the number of people going hungry in 2020 shot up by 15% from 2019, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The epidemic has not only exposed cracks in existing food systems, but has also widened their impact. Across the globe, there is a growing awareness of the need to transform current food systems. This includes every individual and process involved in getting food onto our plates.
The UN Food Systems Summit, kicking off today, serves as a launching pad for new actions, solutions and strategies to address these challenges and to transform global food systems. The process leading up to this summit has brought together the UN member states, youth, civil society, researchers, and the private sector to offer tangible solutions towards a healthier, more sustainable and equitable food system.
Expanding access to expertise
A pre-summit held in July reviewed all the work that had been done and identified key gaps. To grapple with the bottlenecks in realizing sustainable food systems, the groups who have been working together on solutions and concrete actions have drawn up 5 ‘Action Tracks’. These tracks explore cross-cutting ‘levers of change’ such as human rights, women’s empowerment, finance and innovations. The first of the Action Tracks is to ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all.
One of the key elements of the solutions identified under Action Track 1 is the need for advisory or extension services for farmers, not just those in the global south. They write that “a lack of access to extension services, to formal credit and cooperative membership often limits technology adoption, which is associated to positive household welfare effects.”
KIT agriculture advisor, Tom van Mourik, who works with extensions services, or agribusiness advisory services (ABAS), agrees, “To produce enough quantities of nutritious food, farmers need to have access to relevant information and ideas in addition to appropriate agricultural inputs. While public agriculture extension has been relied upon in the past to provide advisory services, it is evident that within the food system, agribusinesses can and do play an important role. Integrated into their commercial operations, small and large agribusinesses do provide farmers with important information, training, and new insights that guide them in their efforts to innovate.”
A study conducted by KIT on understanding ABAS concluded that: “Advisory services of agribusinesses are potentially important mechanisms for small and particularly medium farmers to improve the way they farm, increase the volume and quality of production and enhance their livelihoods.” At the same time, the study also highlighted the limitations of these services related to their reach.
“In many situations, the conventional extension system is too stretched to cater to the needs of all farming households, especially the poorer households in remote areas. Therefore, we should facilitate the involvement of the private sector to provide complementary extension services to farmers, for instance by using the ABAS approach,” say Marthe Diallo a KIT agricultural advisor.
Investing in extension services does have demonstrable results. According to the same study mentioned above, “The evidence reviewed suggests that ABAS lead to significant improvements in the productivity of the commodities targeted and to commodity-related farmer income. The few studies that look at outcomes in terms of income changes at the household level find increases at this level too.” An increase in income can have the desired impact on nutrition and food security.
The latest IFAD report, Transforming food systems for rural prosperity, corroborates this need for an increase in investment and calls for concrete policy changes. They stress on the importance of investing in changes in rural food value chains that do not harm the environment and that will simultaneously increase incomes.
And indeed, the goal of the Food Systems Summit is to lead to actionable commitments from heads of states and other leaders to transform the global food system.
Concrete commitments to ABAS and the many suggestions that have been documented to transform food systems would not only lead to increased food and nutrition security, but would also have a knock-on effect on another of our greatest threats – climate change. The food system is responsible for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, so a healthier and more robust system, could also lead to a dramatic reduction in this figure.