World Food Prize Laureate, Dr. Lawrence Haddad says he’s tired of all talk and no action when it comes to food systems.
“Many summits in the past have made grand statements; people applaud, but there is little follow up. We rarely say well did they actually do that, and if they didn’t do it why didn’t they do it, and if they did do it let’s celebrate it. We are all determined that the UN Food Systems Summit of 2021 will be different.”
Dr. Haddad and his colleagues are trying to ensure that the voices and opinions of those who are usually not listened to— women, youth, smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples— are at the heart of the action-driven agenda of the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit in September.
There are also plans for a meaningful accountability mechanism to be put in place to follow up on the important commitments that will undoubtedly be made at that time.
As Executive Director of The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Chair of Action Track 1 of the UN Food Systems Summit (Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all) and co-convener of the Standing Together for Nutrition coalition of researchers, Dr. Hadad believes that giving “the most excluded among us” a “seat at the table” will help to drive meaningful change.
“While many of us in the Action Tracks are policy and programme experts, our knowledge is largely based on scientific evidence, so we’ve been actively looking to combine that with more experiential and tacit knowledge to help drive the co-construction of practical and impactful solutions,” says Dr. Haddad of the voices that need to be heard.
“With the Food Systems Summit Dialogues, we have established a process of change that can accommodate multiple perspectives and make sure that we all hear as many voices as possible,” says Dr. Nabarro.
One of the things that makes the Summit so unusual and open is that the five Action Tracks are by chaired by leaders from NGOs: GAIN, EAT, CARE, WWF and ICCCAD, supported by anchors from five UN agencies: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – Action track 1: Ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all; World Health Organization (WHO) – Action track 2: Shifting to sustainable consumption patterns; United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) – Action track 3: Boosting nature-positive production at scale; International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD) – Action track 4: Advancing equitable livelihoods, and the World Food Programme (WFP) – Action track 5: Building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses.
This need for collaborative and inclusive action has been heightened with the pandemic.
COVID-19 has had a massive negative impact on young people’s nutrition, women’s empowerment and a range of other outcomes such as income inequality. According to Dr. Haddad, progress over the last 10 years in reducing wasting— children under the age of 5 who are too thin for their height— is likely to be wiped out over the next 10 months if nutrition action is not taken now.
By “actively reaching out beyond the usual suspects”— to youth, the general public, marginalized women, community actors— knowledge construction can become more democratized and aligned with the needs of the true stakeholders.
“Women in particular often eat last, they eat least and they eat worst,” says Dr. Haddad, highlighting that marriage rights, land rights, water rights and access to information all need to be addressed in order to bring women closer to the forefront of the discussion and improve outcomes for everyone.
“Studies have shown that when women are a part of the decision making process, whether it’s in households, at the community level or even at the urban level, the decisions are different and benefit everyone,” says Dr. Haddad.
Some of the propositions raised in the Summit dialogues have included Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) funds and innovation labs that target women, as well as dedicated spaces for women to breastfeed safely in the workplace and elsewhere.
A potential solution that has emerged through Action track 1 is the need to promote the revitalization of underutilized crops, both from the perspective of supply and demand. This would provide an excellent opportunity for rural women, allowing for income generation and improved family nutrition, but requiring a holistic assessment of the entire food system and its underlying inequalities, including the power dynamics between women and men.
Dr. Haddad says that the youth also have a critical role to play in overcoming barriers to food systems change. “Cultural and historical baggage, doesn’t weigh quite as heavily on the youth. Young people are willing to take a fresh look at things,” and are instrumental as catalysts for transformative growth.
Dr. Haddad believes that we have a once in a generation chance to end hunger. He cites a CERES2030 study that estimates, with an extra $33 billion a year of investment, for just under a decade until 2030, we can reduce hunger numbers from 690 million to less than 200 million. The funds would be invested largely in rural areas, generating improvements across all food systems outcomes.
“Those businesses that have done very well out of this crisis have a responsibility—to contribute in a focused way to ending hunger,” he says.
Dr. Haddad argues that governments, donors and businesses should all share the investment burden. He notes that many companies have had a windfall during the COVID-19 period, particularly tech companies, and that if they were to allocate a fraction of profits to rebuilding food systems, in the amount of 0.2030% of corporate profits ($1 in $500), this could generate $5-6 billion a year which would serve to stimulate funding from governments and donors. “We could look back from 2030 and say we ended hunger for good,” he says.
Dr. Haddad believes that governments also have a central role to play.
“Governments are the biggest procurers of food. They buy it for schools, they buy it for hospitals, they buy it for their social protection programs; they buy billions of dollars of food each year. If public procurement of food was aligned with the goals of the Food Systems Summit—healthier with a lower environmental footprint that is better suited to producing jobs for the most marginalized— if we could find a way to align public procurement with those goals, imagine the impact.”
Dr. Haddad recently joined with 23 other World Food Prize Laureates from across the globe in submitting an open letter to Joe Biden, President of the United States to re-establish American global food systems leadership.
“A lot of people like to talk about building back better, but I like to talk about building forward better,” he says.
“We want to build food systems forward so that they do the things that they weren’t doing pre-COVID. I still think we can do this by 2030.”