GAIN Interview Cruncher: Tackling Equity in our Food Systems

8 March 2024 - 

The below transcript has been edited for clarity and readability

Shiulie Ghosh: Hi, hello everyone, and welcome aboard for the latest Interview Cruncher from GAIN. To mark International Women's Day, we're going to be looking at how we tackle equity in global food systems, and address vulnerabilities of women and girls. Within the context of food systems and nutrition, women, of course, play a critical role. They're producers, they're workers, processors, traders, retailers, and consumers, yet their contributions are often overlooked, and they face many challenges as they try to access agricultural opportunities, technologies, resources, and so on. These barriers can be social, cultural, or institutional. But the gender inequalities mean women are much more vulnerable when it comes to nutrition and food security.

In fact, there's been pretty slow progress when it comes to improving nutrition for adolescent girls and women. Two in three women worldwide suffer from nutritional micronutrient deficiencies, and global targets to address things like low birth weight, or reducing anemia are abysmally lacking. So, this is against a background in which, sadly, no country is on track to meet the SDG goal to eradicate world hunger and ensure access to nutritious, and healthy, and sustainable diets for everyone by 2030. Clearly, there's a lot of work to be done before these problems can be rectified.

Our discussion today is going to focus on what's going wrong for women and girls when it comes to food systems and how this can be put right. What are the solutions to empowering women? How do we increase investment in female-centric initiatives? What kind of stakeholders need to be involved? How do you hold those stakeholders accountable? And what kind of innovations can help increase access to healthier diets?

So, to help us explore the complexities of this topic, I'm absolutely delighted to have a fantastic panel of experts today who are going to be sharing with us their insights and their knowledge. Let me introduce them to you now. We have Dr. Lujain Alqodmani, Director of Global Action and Project Portfolio at EAT, the global platform for food system transformation. She's also the President of the World Medical Association. I'm delighted to also introduce Beatrice Gakuba, Founder and Executive Director of the African Women Agribusiness Network Afrika. And Dr. Anthony Wenndt, Technical Officer for Reaching the Very Poor at GAIN. A warm welcome to all of you. I'm delighted to have you with me to discuss these very important issues.

And we're going to start by getting an overview from each of you, if I may. Lujain, let me come to you. Your background is in global health, as well as transforming food systems. And we know there's a very strong correlation between both those things. So, talk us through about the gender imbalance when it comes to accessing healthy, and nutritious, and sustainable diets.

Dr. Lujain Alqodmani: Yes, happy to! I'm honoured to be part of today's panel discussion, especially as we commemorate International Women's Day. The stark reality is that while we celebrate progress, millions of women and girls still grapple with acute and chronic hunger and malnutrition, the consequence of entrenched gender inequality, fragile food systems, political shortcomings, and conflicts. I would like to start with this slide from the Global Policy Report of the Food System Economics Commission that was released just last January.

The report underscores a pervasive structural inequality within our current food systems, particularly evident during food crises. Regrettably, vulnerable groups including women and other marginalised communities bear the brunt of these crises. Women, in particular, often struggle to bounce back from such shocks due to entrenched social norms and cultural barriers that impact their access to vital information resources. So, we urgently need to address this gender gap as we work towards fostering healthy and sustainable food systems. We cannot afford to leave women and other vulnerable groups behind.

They must have equitable access to affordable, healthy, and sustainable diets while ensuring that they can maintain their livelihoods. It's a crucial step towards building healthier, more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food systems. Let me start by sharing some staggering facts that underscore the stark reality we face. It's alarming to note that 60% of the 820 million people grappling with chronic malnutrition are women and girls. This figure represents more than half of the total affected population. Women and girls bear the brunt of food production, sourcing, distribution processes, as well as the accessibility of nutrition services.

Oppressive gender norms and gender-based violence reciprocate the cycle of food, health, and nutrition, further exacerbating the challenges faced by women and girls in accessing social supports. During emergencies and conflict, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition compared to men and boys, with pregnant and breastfeeding women even at higher risk. Second, let's talk about micronutrient deficiency. Anaemia emerges as the leading cause of mortality among pregnant teenagers, posing a significant health complication for both women and their unborn children.

Micronutrient deficiency disproportionately affects women and girls, highlighting the critical need for access to nutritious food to sustain their well-being. Unfortunately, such foods are often very costly, exacerbating the challenges faced by those vulnerable populations. So this kind of stark reality underscores the urgent need to concrete our efforts to address gender disparities in nutrition and ensuring equitable access to essential resources to support women and girls worldwide.

Let's talk about solutions. We urgently need a paradigm shift in how key stakeholders within the food systems address the promotion of healthy and sustainable dietary patterns. And it's imperative that women are positioned at the heart of all the actions and policies with a strong emphasis on advancing women's economic empowerment. This approach must permeate every aspect of the food system, from production to consumption.

We must take decisive action to bridge the existing gender gap in accessing healthy diets. And this can be achieved through three key strategies that I would like to summarise. First, educate. We need to empower women with knowledge and amplify their voices as informed consumers, enabling them to make healthier choices and advocate for easily accessible, nutritious, and sustainably-produced food. But this also means that we need to incentivise gender-responsive research in areas such as food loss reduction, behavioural change, consumption, food labelling, and technology that is tailored to women's needs and preferences.

The second one is empower. It is essential to enhance women's decision-making power in shaping legal frameworks, policy design, and governing food systems. Empowering women across the value chain to increase the production of nutritious food, boost their productivity, accelerate the adoption of definitive solutions and improve the consumption pattern that does not only improve the health of the women but also child health and the overall family.

Providing them with greater access and control over the means of production, along with education, skill development, and training, will boost their ability to make better choices and give them more opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. Third, challenging social norms. We have to address the social norms and the cultural practices that might restrict women's access to the consumption of healthy foods. How can we do that? By promoting positive practices, and dismantling barriers rooted in tradition, we can create a more equitable and supportive environment for women to prioritise their health and their well-being through their dietary choices. I'll stop there. I'm happy to answer any follow-up questions.

Shiulie Ghosh: Lujain, thank you. We're going to be talking a lot about some of the points that you've raised. I think it's interesting you were talking about the three-pronged attack for solutions: educate, empower, and challenge social norms. It's clear, a holistic approach is needed, isn't it?

Dr. Lujain Alqodmani: Indeed. We need to address this. It's quite important, as I mentioned before, that we put women as central. Unfortunately, even now with the Food Systems Agenda emerging as a key priority across the Global Climate Agenda, Global Health Agenda, but still, many of those actions and initiatives really lack the gender perspectives, and we rarely look at the gender gap and the existing gender inequality. So, having that lens over every action's initiative is quite important. Otherwise, we'll risk leaving several, millions of women behind along with other vulnerable groups.

Shiulie Ghosh: Okay, thank you, thank you for that. Beatrice, let's get your perspective now. I know you're very active in promoting women's inclusion in sustainable agriculture. Give us an overview of how we can accelerate gender equality through economic empowerment.

Beatrice Gakuba: Thank you, Shiulie, again. What is particular in Africa is that 70% of the food we eat is produced by women and by small-scale farmers. So, those are two vulnerable groups, yeah, women and small-scale farmers, yeah, who are small-scale farmers? So first of all, they are women. 

There's a lot of bias in terms of historical bias. Instead of women having access to knowledge, have access to income, have access to everything, the way that our social system is distributed, everything has, you know, been putting very much, a lot of pressure on women. Which is different today because the new generation is educated and has access to an Android phone, which gives them access to information around the world so they can see the young people in other countries, how they live, how they eat, how they study. So it's becoming very, very difficult for the donors and the governments and ask them, the local institution, to really keep up with the young generation. 

There's a disconnect. And yet, we are really expecting those young people to produce their food for themselves and for the generation to come. Yet, there's no trans-generation policy, or strategy, or anything, but strategy with a young grower. We are the youngest continent in the world, and there is a gap, and that gap needs to be addressed. And the more vulnerable in that group is no longer only women, or young women, including also young boys because also some of the policies we are seeing in promoting young girls, are also marginalising young boys. And in the African continent, in our culture, it's very important to keep the balance for this in the society. So, when we talk about food systems in Africa, unless we put at least 30% of the budget into agriculture and the support of SMEs, there'll be no equitable food system and there will be no equitable women, there will be no economic empowerment. 

These informal skilled farmers, they call them informal, but who are feeding Africa, who are feeding 1.5 billion people, have no access to affordable and flexible finance, have no knowledge on market access, and have no knowledge on trade facilitation, which we have regional blocks and the number one largest, if it's implemented, economic block in the world, the Africa area. And no access to agri-technology, agricultural knowledge on how to increase their acreage, on how to improve their productivity, and on how to... even have no access to digital information even though they're young because of all these challenges. So, when it comes to specifically women, we have said earlier that they are the one who are producing in Africa. They are processing. 

But in addition, they have this extra work that other developing women in different countries are not facing. It is the time they spend on managing the household. They have to make sure that they fetch water. They're in the rural area where 80% of our population live. They have to have water. They have to have firewood, not only for cooking, but also to be able to have the fire, and they have to do homework for the children because in most of our countries, it is mandatory that children go to school. So, no young girls will stay home to go and fetch water. These days it's not possible. So, you found that the woman is overburdened. So, that empowerment also will lead to releasing some of the work that is enforced on women, so that they can be more productive, so they can be even more empowered to contribute and participate, yeah, into the whole national economies. When it come to nutrition, which is very important, it is also that that money they make, the small money they make because they cannot increase their capital and derive more income, they have to distribute between the food, school fees, the clothing, and everything that, you know, makes a household be a household. 

So, the access of food is limited to what they can feed the family. And most of the time they have no choice even though they know there is nutritional food on the market. Because of income, they cannot access that food. So, that's something that we need to address, that we cannot just focus on nutritional education. When we talk about transformative food system, we've got to be honest, to be intentional, and deliberate, and say what are they really blocked, and address them. As I said, here, I'm saying that dietary nutrition equity is about improving opportunities to live a healthy and fulfilling life. But you'll notice, 50% of the population in Africa cannot even dream about a fulfilling life. And this is something that is caused by inequity also in the food distribution. Some of the countries, even 80% of the food is imported. So, they are putting pressure on the local foods and accessing food become a challenge. 

So, the efforts that we have in fighting malnutrition are very poor because we can also now not forget about the competition, the not-so-fair competition of international food companies that are at the door of Africa, distributing food. And so, when there's this kind of lack in distribution and equity, it is also something that when you look at our culture that puts a women in the centre of agriculture and women in centre of our culture. Because for us, agriculture is agri and then culture, right? So, I come back again to contextualising. And I think that's where we see organisations like GAIN that are trying, actually among the ones that are really trying very hard and giving an example of localising, yeah? They have understood that if you don't localise, there'll be no impact. And I think we should drive this, yeah? We should be an example leader and show impact and evidence, and pass information that when you localise, you are adjusting, and being flexible, and adapt to the local mindset. And once it's accepted, you have more leeway to transform because you cannot transform what you don't know. 

Part of empowering woman is to build their knowledge. I think she has talked about it. We talked about improved storage, and agro-processing. We all know this part of food transformation, but how do we implement it? And I just say, we really have to come up with innovative way of addressing aid, yeah? And digitalisation, we talked about it. Everybody's going digital, so we really have to put money where it's needed, yeah, in digitalisation. I think digitalisation in agriculture and in nutrition will take us where, in Africa, where we moved. We know some of our young people have never known a landline phone. They are just growing up with a cell phone, a mobile phone. So, let's just make digitalisation something that's going to jump the development and the agenda of transformation of food system, and nutritional food for all. I think my last slide was talking about there is an urgent call. And I really think that's something that we have to go beyond the 8th of March. We have to go the end of March. This is an urgent call for innovative funding approaches, yeah, in achieving zero hunger. We should really be on blended financing. Utilising catalyst for larger commercial finance, overhauling development of finance, and coming up with revolving funds, yeah, on how to just make the local groups, networks in a world with international donors to go directly where the programme is, and bring where the solutions are, using the local knowledge.

And addressing the challenge of lending to small-scale farmers, then it'll be, you know, it will be a game changer because those are the one, you know, supplying food for the whole continent.

Shiulie Ghosh: Beatrice, thank you. I think you made those points brilliantly. Localised solutions, greater education about things like digitalisation, and more innovative financing to help empower women. Thank you very much indeed for that. Anthony, let me come to you. Your work centres very much around the very poorest communities, rural smallholders. Take us through the mechanisms that can help vulnerable women access better diets for both themselves and their households.

Anthony Wenndt: It's an absolute pleasure to be here today. I'll be speaking today about the importance of social protection systems for meeting the nutritional needs of vulnerable women. We can think of social protection as initiatives that transfer income or assets to the poor, that protect vulnerable people against shocks, livelihood risks, and also those that provide special support for particularly marginalized groups. These initiatives are often supported by governments together with development partners. And while indeed the middle class is growing in many, many contexts, poverty rates remain stubbornly high, and nutritious foods are dismally expensive, out of reach for many, many households.

So, these systems are essential for alleviating the affordability gap, especially for the very poorest households. Globally, millions of people benefit from social protection already; for example, the ILO estimates that 60% of people living in poverty in Bangladesh or Pakistan, for example, both very large countries, are covered by social protection systems. So, these systems are essential for alleviating the effects of poverty, and this is also something that takes place throughout the life cycle. For example, by providing nutritious meals to children in schools, or by ensuring basic income for working-age adults, as well as providing support for the elderly.

And given the inextricable link between poverty and malnutrition, nearly all forms of social protection can have a positive effect on nutrition outcomes. And it's toward this aim that GIAN is actively working to support governments and other system actors to improve those nutrition impacts in social protection systems. While social protection always seeks to address some form of vulnerability, vulnerabilities are gendered and multidimensional with girls and boys, women and men, experiencing very different risks, and being subjected to different social norms. Women in particular often face structural barriers that constrain their agency, limit their access to important resources, and also their access to educational opportunities.

And it's these constraints and others that can have substantial effects on the extent to which women can access social protection and further to effectively utilize those social protections to improve their access to healthy diets. Social protection systems, while they do often target explicitly women and children, are still falling short of being adequate and equitable in their provision of benefits to women. And these gaps can have serious consequences in the longer term. For example, if we dive back for a moment into the ILO data that I mentioned earlier, while social protection systems broadly cover 60% of people living in poverty in Bangladesh, just one third of mothers with newborns received maternity benefits in Bangladesh in 2021.

This really illustrates a gap. These are benefits that could potentially be vital safety nets for new mothers and that could ensure that newborns are given the support and the nutrition services they need to lead prosperous and dignified lives. So really, it's critical that social protection, given these gaps and constraints, is designed and implemented with those gendered considerations squarely at the forefront. At a very minimum, social protection should be gender-sensitive and gender-responsive where it seeks to adequately reach and meet the basic needs of vulnerable women, for example, by giving cash transfers or support to families to procure food, or also perhaps providing micronutrient supplements during pregnancy.

But such approaches, while they are absolutely necessary, still operate within existing social norms and contextual features, which may sometimes systematically disadvantage women. So the question remains, can social protection also help to shift gender norms and to challenge power dynamics? And this is what has been called gender-transformative social protection. And I think this is part of the future of social protection. And many in the field are actively trying to understand exactly what that means. Really, social protection should progress beyond just being gender-sensitive and toward being transformative, seeking to specifically address structural barriers and promote social change.

And I'll finish up by just giving a vision of perhaps what gender-sensitive social protection actually looks like. These sorts of approaches might include building up women's skills and capacities, helping them to take advantage of livelihood opportunities. It could also mean increasing access to education for women and girls as a basic building block of prosperity. Importantly, and this is becoming ever clearer, it's essential that we engage boys and men as allies so that we can call attention to gender norms among everyone that might disadvantage women. And ultimately, I think it's important that we amplify women's voices in key decision moments and amplify their ability to exercise their rights, for example, by the building of alliances between governments, civil society, INGOs, and other actors together with women's movements at the grassroots.

And these are some approaches that we are increasingly paying attention to and trying to integrate into our social protection programme at GAIN, and that I hope many, many will continue to incorporate into their social protection work as well. So, that's it from my side. Thank you so much.

Shiulie Ghosh: Anthony, great presentation. And I think what really struck a chord for me was when you said that we have to change mindsets and social norms. Gender-sensitive social protections can help us do that. Thank you very much. 

Thank you all for your initial insights there. So, let's dive a little deeper into some of the points you've raised. I think one of the key things that we all agree on is that when you look at the current trajectory of women's nutrition and how that sits with the 2030 global targets, it's really not very good news, is it? Beatrice, what do you think about progress, or lack of progress that's been made so far?

Beatrice Gakuba: I think the system, again and again that the question comes up every time we're getting closer to the month, or the day of International Women, it looks like that's where the government and the donor community will all hurry up, try to put things together to talk about the international women, yeah? But for us, as we see it on the African continent, it's about 60 years we're talking about it, and very little has changed. And we're very far for reaching SDG2. In fact for reaching out SDG when it come to the needs of nutrition and food security, as we say because it's all linked together. It's linked with governance, with politics. We've got your politics wield power of everything. So, maybe this is the time as we get closer to think about. We all know what we have not done. We all know what we should do. What is stopping us to do it? I think this is what I will say for now.

Shiulie Ghosh: And I think what's really interesting, and I think Lujain, you touched on this in your presentation, is that statistics show that when we do empower women and girls, and when we do educate them, and when we do give them greater economic power, that has massive knock-on effects for the whole community. There is a big return on investment there. So, this is something that has benefits for everyone, not just women.

Dr. Lujain Alqodmani: Yeah, exactly. So, it affects, well everyone, women, the future generations at a family level, but really the whole society because women are, many of them are also food producers. We're looking at farmers, entrepreneurs, even some of them own and manage food businesses, and in many societies, as well as family makers where they're in charge of the household. But unfortunately, there's several cultural and societal barriers that leave them behind from a decision-making process, that doesn't give them enough power to lead, if you look from a farmer's perspective, even sometimes accessing to the market. And so, really addressing those challenges and the barriers would be crucial, which will have sustainability benefits, health benefits, but also economic benefits in the short term and the long run.

Shiulie Ghosh: Yeah, and this is something you're very much in favour of, Anthony, leveraging mechanisms to improve opportunities for women and girls. What are the repercussions if we don't take action now? The world has been very slow to eradicate world hunger as it is, and those knock-on effects are even worse for women and girls. If we don't address the inequalities, what are we looking at?

Anthony Wenndt: The repercussions are really enormous if we don't take action immediately. The gaps that we are seeing are slow to close. And despite the good intentions of governments and other system actors, there's still a massive lag in many, many contexts around the world. This is something that governments are acutely aware of. And I think, as others here have mentioned, it's just a matter of translating evidence into action. And I think really a system-level transformation is in order. Thinking about how we leave our old systems behind and look toward a system that really prioritises and centers the needs and specific vulnerabilities of women, I think is the future.

Shiulie Ghosh: So, let's look a little closer at solutions. And all of you can jump in here, but I want to start with you, Beatrice, because you've built the largest network of women in agribusiness across Africa. So, from your perspective, what kind of policies or government initiatives help, what do you wanna see more of?

Beatrice Gakuba: I think some of them Lujain has talked about it. But what we see, I think evidence is there. I think we have more statistic and evidence. And some of the researchers put really science behind the policy and the narrative. So, and we are more advanced than we were 10 years ago in terms of advocacy and agenda, but we cannot spend all the time talking about advocacy and agenda. 

What we have shown in AWAN Afrika is that the women in Africa, at least the women everywhere actually, if you look in every nation, it's not just that woman who sits at home. We have a younger generation of educated women with degrees and a smartphone. And those are the ones changing the narrative. And this is what we do at AWAN Afrika. We showcase that this is where they are, this is how many they are, and they are the ones who are driving the food system. And of course, if you talk about improving the food system, you are talking about nutritional food. And in terms of nutritional education, it's easier to deal with them because they're young. 

Our membership, 70% under 30. The less educated one has a high school degree. So, we are talking about young women, and women who know what to buy when you go to the markets, and what to feed their children, but the issue is about income. And I think we shouldn't be afraid of talking that and pointing it out to the government and the donors that poverty is about income level, today as we speak. 70% Of the population in Africa is under 20, so we can no longer talk about ignorance, not knowing what we eat. It's about income distribution equality, and equity to women because it's the women who decide what to eat, what to buy, what to eat, but if you have $1 a day when you earn $1 a day, it's very difficult to balance your diet.

Shiulie Ghosh: Exactly. So, it's difficult to make the right decision sometimes when you are constrained by how much money you have. Anthony, you talked about the need for governments, and I think you actually said that governments want to do more and are aware of the problems. How important is it to have a proactive government which is going to make those tough decisions about finances, and budgets, and making changes? And who else should be involved? What other stakeholders can get on board with that?

Anthony Wenndt: Yeah, I think you're exactly right in using the word proactive government. And I think that is a key ingredient, but it is so essential to realise that important decisions about who gets what benefits are not made by governments alone. There are careful considerations that are made to understand the trade-off between reaching as many people as possible and reaching with as much quality as possible. And this is something that governments trust advisors, and donors, and development partners to help them weigh in on. So, I think we really need to start pushing for benefits administered through these systems that are as focused on quality and depth of coverage as they are on the breadth of coverage across the population so that their true impact can be really felt and sustained over time.

Shiulie Ghosh: Lujain, what about science-based approaches, innovations, and technology? Because they are going to have a key role in creating fairer food systems. How do we make sure that women can access some of those opportunities?

Dr. Lujain Alqodmani: Well, let me start with the first part of your question. We are now working on the second iteration of the EAT-Lancet Commission. And as part of that, is defining and upgrading the definition of planetary health diet, so, healthy diets within the planetary boundaries. And as part of that, we're having a strong emphasis on women given their different nutritional needs, particularly pregnant women and lactating women because of all the challenges I've mentioned earlier in my presentation. So, we really need gender-transformative research that addresses those needs rather than having one size that fits all. Second, through skill development, training, and knowledge awareness of the best available evidence of what to eat, how to eat, and how to produce, is quite crucial. And that includes not just the research and the evidence, but also the emerging technology that is out there, that is accessible and inclusive for all women everywhere.

Shiulie Ghosh: Beatrice, what are your thoughts on this in terms of women being involved in agribusiness? Are they being given opportunities to access innovations and technologies, which might help them become better producers?

Beatrice Gakuba: Well, I think the research, there's a disconnect between the research and the implementation, yeah, and applied research. So, there's no connection. I think they have very few universities that have approached us, you know, to be able to work with us to see some of those innovation on the field. 

First of all, I think we have also to take into account what is the image of a woman, yeah, when you talk about women, definition of a woman, yeah? In terms of, at least on our continent, government and the donor community always portray women that somebody who is vulnerable, who live on $1 a day, but we do have a middle class, upcoming middle class. We also have small, in our SMEs we have small business, small-scale farmers, but they are educated. So, we'll want to see academia linking with us, you know, to download all that knowledge, you know, unpack it for them so that they can improve. I think this is something we come up when you talk about digitalisation because it's what also is in the message of this year. 

And so, even our local university that we work with, you know, is now for the last five years, only there we start to really, we're asking them, please, can you also do research on our indigenous foods? Okay, it's good to eat broccoli, cauliflower, and all that. That's for middle class. They know what they're buying, and they have the money to buy it. But if we want to improve nutrition at the whole household level and the community level in the lower income, which is 80% of our population that lives in rural area, we have to do more research that is appropriate, and contextualise, you know, where we are doing it. When we talk about indigenous food, I mean vegetables, fruit, cereals, and pulses. Understand also, you know, doing research on it and adding value for that. Because as it is now, why nutritional education has failed in Africa is because it was not contextualised. It wasn't important. And the design, bottom-up, from the donor community, government not paying attention. 

We have spent billions and billions in nutrition education as, I think, part of that system also from the UN. But yeah, I mean everywhere we grow indigenous food, but no scientists are really, even our local scientists don't put the accent and research on that.

Shiulie Ghosh: So, I think- That's a really interesting point. I think you've raised a really, a really interesting topic there about the need for research and to contextualise that research. I mean this is data. Data and information is so important. Anthony, you know, data will help policymakers identify where those gender gaps are, and guide policymakers. How important is data in this context? And do we have enough of it?

Anthony Wenndt: Data is extremely important, as always. And I think those who sit in positions of power have a hunger for information, and they are receptive to that information. The real challenge is getting the contextualised findings that are actually meaningful at the local level. How do we afford to conduct the type of research that really gives a nuanced picture of needs in context? That is a persistent challenge. And I think there are good examples of evidence that really gets absorbed into legislation and to the decision-making processes, but in many cases, decisions are made, including important decisions that have real consequences for health and nutrition get made based on generalisations. And I think there's a consistent need and an urgent need to be more localised and more contextualised in the kinds of data that are collected and made available to decision-makers.

Shiulie Ghosh: And presumably, if decision-makers are using data to base policies on and initiatives on, the right data can make those decisions much more cost-effective?

Anthony Wenndt: Absolutely. And the right sort of data infrastructure also goes a long way. For example, the Food Systems Dashboard, you know, is a tool that aggregates information and makes it plainly clear where the gaps are, what the opportunities are. And I think such tools are actually very valuable for policymakers, and to really inform decisions without really enormous effort. Policymakers are in fact human beings, and we all struggle to understand the complexities of the information that we receive. And so, the tools that can be made available to help policymakers process that information are really almost as valuable as the data themselves, I believe.

Shiulie Ghosh: Lujain, what do you say about the issue that a lot of countries, a lot of governments will say, which is they are dealing with the after-effects of Covid, they are dealing with climate change, they are dealing with conflict, all things which affect girls and women's disproportionately as we know. But governments have a lot of financial challenges, don't they? So, how do we encourage them to embark on more gender-based initiatives?

Dr. Lujain Alqodmani: That's true. So, the globe and the world is still grappling with those three big Cs, right, the COVID, climate change, and conflicts. But if we left this as usual, the economic implications of that are massive. In our recently-launched Global Politics for Food System Economics, we said that the economic benefit of doing this right with a just transition of food systems, but that alone would have economic benefit of 5 to 10 trillion US$ per year. And that includes, of course, the lens of inequality and addressing vulnerable groups, including women, and issues such as gender inequality. But if we left business as usual, the economic cost of that exceeds 20 trillion. And this is something that we will never be able to recover from, and will continue to have severe economic challenges, and put the global economy in recession. So, when you look at the cost of action and inaction, the benefits economics of action bypass inaction by many degrees and gratitudes. And this is something that the governments really need to understand and grapple. So, it is a benefit, not just for health and well-being for their people, not just for the sustainability for the planet, but for the resilience and the economic power of the society and the world as a whole.

Shiulie Ghosh: Thank you. I think we've covered quite a lot of points there. And I'm aware that we're coming to the closing minutes of the discussion. What I would really like to do is come to each of the panellists in turn and ask for your final thoughts about the way forward, and the absolute imperative for equity in food systems. As our token male, Anthony, perhaps you'd like to go first?

Anthony Wenndt: Sure. Yes, I do believe that these discussions are so essential. Part of the path forward is just to encourage more of this discussion at more levels and among more stakeholders. In terms of what we can do to make so-called protection systems more in tune with this conversation, I really feel like we need to carve out a path that lets policymakers transition from merely gender-sensitive or gender-aware approaches toward more action-oriented, gender-transformative approaches that really get to the essence of the systematic marginalisation of women and other vulnerable members of populations. So, I think just by facilitating these conversations, we're already scratching the surface. It's our task now to take that even further in the future.

Shiulie Ghosh: That's a great point, Anthony. Thank you. Lujain, why don't I come to you next? What is the final message that you'd like to make about the need to tackle equity in food systems?

Dr. Lujain Alqodmani: Anthony kind of stole my point. I had it in mind. So, one focus is that gender-transformative food system transformation really needs to ensure that women's empowerment is central to all our actions from production to consumption. Otherwise, we will not reach any just, or socially fair systems, and healthy diets will not be accessible to several vulnerable groups, particularly women and girls.

Shiulie Ghosh: Lujain, thank you very much. And Beatrice, what is the final key message you'd like to leave us with?

Beatrice Gakuba: For me, I think the equity, you know, it will start when we start localising the implementation of the food system. I think we were part of the food system in 2023. Was it 2021, yeah? And there were so many actions that were to be taken, but as long as they're taken in the wrong place with the wrong team, with the wrong people, including even the women, we're not talking about the grassroots women to be part of that, but you know, taking to account these particular needs of women in each of their ecosystems, it will not change. So, we should just move from, you know, talking about policy strategies because they're all in place. Each African government, at least for my side, has the programme and the strategy, and just connect the talk to the action.

Shiulie Ghosh: Thank you, Beatrice. And a big thank you to all my speakers, Lujain Alqodmani, Beatrice Gakuba, and Anthony Wenndt. I think it's been a fascinating discussion, and you've all, all three of you very clearly outlined the approach that the global community and stakeholders need to take in terms of proactive policies, data-driven solutions, and more initiatives to counter gender inequities. And I think the key takeaway for me is that all of this is an investment. It's not a cost. As you've all said far more eloquently than I can say, empowering women and girls has a massive positive impact throughout. So, thank you very much indeed for sharing your thoughts with us today. Those of you watching the Cruncher online, I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. You can see the interview again, or watch our previous Interview Crunchers on the website - But for now, from all of us here, thanks very much indeed. Bye-Bye.