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Pass the parcel blog-series #2 by Emile Frison - SDGs: we missed a boat, but it is not too late to focus on Sustainable Food Systems

October 7, 2015
Emilie Frison

This post takes up where Corinna Hawkes’ initial post on the SDGs left off, and is written by FCRN member Emile Frison.  Emile is Chair of the International Scientific Committee on Sustainable Food Systems of the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation; a Member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food); and Former Director General of Bioversity International. During his time at Bioversity, he developed a strategy entitled “Diversity for Well-being” focusing on the contribution that agricultural biodiversity makes to the sustainability, resilience and productivity of smallholder agriculture and to the nutritional quality of diets.

For the two subsequesnt posts in the series see; Creating successful multi-stakeholder partnerships key to address the Global Goals – the experience of The Netherlands by Marcel Beukeboom who heads the Food & Nutrition Security cluster at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands and the last post in the series, Metrics Matter by Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation.

You can contact Emile via member messaging here (note you will need to be logged in as a member on the FCRN website). We also welcome comments below this post are of course welcome – again, you’ll need to be logged in.

SDGs: we missed a boat, but it is not too late to focus on Sustainable Food Systems

Description: the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we missed a boat by not having a specific Goal on Sustainable Food Systems (SFS), or at least the explicit recognition of SFS as an important approach to addressing the complexity of our food systems in a holistic, integrated manner. But that does not mean the battle is lost: on the contrary.

The fact that the SDGs are so many and so specific is the result of the long intergovernmental negotiations that led to their adoption. For each aspect, negotiators from that particular sector wanted to have “their goal”, reflecting earlier commitments or relating to other sectorial agreements, whether on climate, on health or social justice. This was inevitable. But as Corinna pointed out in the first blog-post of this series, “the proof that the “Global Goals” is the right approach will be in the implementation”. Indeed, reading between the lines of the SDGs, there are - as Corinna described - clear interlinkages.

The question is: will countries be able to overcome their traditional “silo behaviour” and create the necessary inter-sectoral platforms for collaboration to identify these links and reach the necessary policy coherence to pull off Sustainable Development in all its dimensions?  It is true that times have changed since the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals, and systems thinking is making progress. However, it will be a hard battle to overcome the habits of territoriality and specialization.

We all, researchers of and actors in the food web, should not just hope that decision makers will have the wisdom to change. We must take every opportunity to foster collaboration and coherence at every level. This requires raising awareness not just about the dangers resulting from “business as usual”, but about the existing opportunities for positive change. 

Description: recent initiative at the strategic level, is the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food). This has been set up at the initiative of the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation as a totally independent Panel to accelerate the transition to sustainable food systems. Its goal is to inform the policy debate on how to reform food systems across the world. The Panel will look at issues such as under-nutrition, obesity, rural livelihood insecurity and environmental degradation through an integrated food systems lens, bringing to light the interconnections, power imbalances, political lock-ins and potential levers for change at the systems level. To do so, IPES-Food will engage systematically with actors and ideas from outside the traditional bounds of the scientific community.

On the ground, there are numerous initiatives bubbling up in different parts of the world that demonstrate what can be done and that must be promoted and scaled out and scaled up.

On the food production side, which is the area I come from, many examples of agroecology-based, diversified farming are demonstrating that we can not only feed the growing population but do so in ways that are economically viable, environmentally sustainable, that provide the necessary diversity for balanced nutritious diets and that offer better quality and more stable employment for farm workers. The IPES-Food Panel is finalizing a report that highlights the potential of diversification and agroecology, not just as a set of agronomic practices but as a whole-systems approach to agriculture: an approach that links ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.

There are also numerous other local initiatives that focus on achieving food sustainability and that have resulted in, for example, changes in public procurement, reductions in food waste at the distribution level, or better and more direct links between farmers and consumers.

Having given the example of IPES-Food as an initiative that promotes more integrative thinking, the question I want to ask the FCRN member taking this series forward Marcel Beukeboom, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands (Head of Food & Nutrition Security cluster) is: 

What other positive examples are out there of initiatives that aim to transform our food systems and increase coherence between policies designed to enhance nutrition and those designed to promote sustainability? How can such initiatives and policies best be implemented, what does it take to make them successful?


Chris Foster's picture
Submitted by Chris Foster on

Emile Frison poses excellent questions at the end of his blog post. Around 2007, UK's DEFRA started a "Food Chain Programme" that was intended to bring more coherence across the food chain to food policy making. That programme didn't survive the economic crisis of 2008 and 2 subsequent changes of government. This illustrates a challenge for "cross-silo" initiatives: they are strongly dependent on their sponsors within institutions and seem much less durable than the institutions themselves. So I'd like to add to Emile's questions another question, about  how these initiatives can be made to endure long enough that they: a- have some net effect, and b- become embedded and thus the way that the institution normally works.

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