Bite the Talk 21 : UNFSS Stocktaking Series - Tanzania

The below transcript has been edited for clarity and readability

Cat Kissick: Welcome to this episode of Bite the Talk, we are Taking Stock! The 2023 United Nations Food System Stock Taking Moment in Rome follows the transformative 2021 United Nations Food System Summit, or UNFSS, which enabled countries to report on the progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the midst of a changing and challenging global context. 

This podcast series will be focused on the UNFSS and the post-summit activities and progress of different countries. We are bringing thought leaders in food and nutrition to comment on the most pressing global issues impacting our food systems.

I’m your host Cat Kissick, Acting Policy and Advocacy Manager at GAIN. And today we're delighted to have Obey Nkya and Dr. Jamie Morrison on the podcast.

Obey is a Senior Policy Adviser at GAIN Tanzania, an Economist by background, and for twenty one years he worked with the government of Tanzania in policy formulation, and implementation, in the areas of nutrition, agriculture, social protection, health, environment, and climate change. He served as the Director of Policy and Planning at the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Director of Coordination of Government Business in the Prime Minister's Office. He also coordinated food security and nutritionist initiatives as the SUN focal person for eight years.

Jamie Morrison is the Senior Adviser in the Policy and External Relations Directorate at GAIN. Prior to joining GAIN, Jamie was Director of Food Systems and Food Safety at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He has more than thirty years of experience in the provision of research, capacity development and technical assistance in relation to the impact of trade and economic policy reform on food security. He was lead author of the FAO’s State of Agriculture Commodity Markets on the theme of trade and food security and is the editor of several books and the author of many peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. 

So, you're both economists at heart. But today, our discussion focuses on your experiences championing nutrition, both inside and outside of government.

Over the past two decades there's been tremendous change in agriculture and nutrition, and one of which is the concept of food systems. So today we'll discuss how this is manifested in Tanzania, the challenges for government, and what kinds of support government requires to implement a food systems approach for better food system transformation.

So, Obey we’ll start with you. You're a proud Tanzanian and a strong advocate of nutrition for the past few decades. Can you give us a snapshot of the Tanzanian food systems about ten years ago? And what's changed by today?

Obey Nkya: Thank you very much, Cat, for having me in this important conversation. As we all know, the food system entails both food value chains food environment and the consumer behaviour that at the end of the day gives us certain good outcome, for example a good nutrition outcome.
So, in Tanzania, really, the food system has been emerging, has been developing, has been changing over time. Over the past ten years Tanzania’s food system, as we know like other most developing countries, the food system is disintegrated, it has multiple stakeholders who each need coordination. 

But in terms of all those systems that create a good outcome. In agriculture sector, for example, in Tanzania, is big, predominantly by small holders producing both crops, livestock, and fisheries, at a scale which is reasonable. 

We [Tanzania] have been claiming to be food sufficient almost throughout the year. And we are kind of food secure, but not in nutrition security. So, we have been seeing different stakeholders along the value chain, trying to, you know, make things happen. Production happens at a certain place. Processing happens, in which is more private sector oriented, transportation, which is the private sector and also coming to the market, so the chain itself - it is a bit challenging. There are so many actors who need to be coordinated to produce what we want, the most nutritious and diverse, the best food for everybody, and that has not really been happening. Like I said, we have nutrition security, and with food security, we are good, but in terms of nutrition security - that's where we are struggling. So, the government has put in places some coordination systems. For example, in nutrition, we have a very good national multisectoral nutrition action plan, which contains all stakeholders in terms of designing and implementing it. So to me it gives me the opportunity to say, yes, we have a place where we can build on, in terms of putting the stakeholders in the food system, building on that platform as well, and that experience.

The first national sectoral coordination action plan was not taking into consideration the system approach, but the second one, which we developed alongside with the ongoing dialogues on the food system, has taken into a consideration, the systemic approach whereby the food system issue has become more strongly. So I see that change as very, very important compared to where we came from, and to me the UN Food System Summit, which was preceded by national and sub-national dialogue in the country to come out with the pathways. 

It was really a game changer, whereby different stakeholders came together, put together their ideas, came up with the pathways which they: the country committed at the UN in September 2021 to implement. So those pathways to me are really good and game changing. And now a lot of stakeholders go together with those pathways. So, to me that change, and having one convenor who convenes all of the stakeholders together to discuss, is this the real way to go. That discussion which is ongoing, and with pathways in place and moving forward, how do we implement them? It gives me a hope that we will be able to shape the food system in the next coming years for better lives of Tanzanians and the future generation.

Cat Kissick: Thanks, Obey, you mentioned that the transition... you worked in government yourself for over two decades, when did you hear the term food system? And what was your understanding at that point?

Obey Nkya: I heard the food system terminology in 2018, really. When I was attending a meeting in Florence, [it was] you know, a game changing thing, and my first understanding, I couldn't differentiate between supply chain and food system. So, with time, I'm able to now see the difference and our food system is broader, that includes even the food value chain itself as part. But putting more environment and a consumer behaviour, and the outcome which brings to us, that's the food system. So, I'm now more knowledgeable, differentiating between the food system and the food value chain, but initially I could take it one and the same.

Cat Kissick: And, Jamie, you currently work for GAIN, but before that, you spent nearly two decades at the FAO, and you were involved in the first ever UN Food System Summit that took place in 2021. What benefit does a food systems approach bring to reducing malnutrition?

Jamie Morrison: Thanks, Cat, I think, reflecting on what Obey just described in Tanzania - but also what we're seeing in other countries, using a food systems approach is introducing a fundamental change in the way that we go about policy making. It's forcing us to shift from the traditional sectoral approach where both the mandate of a ministry and the range of policy instruments available to it are quite narrowly defined. So, an approach where this impacts of sectoral interventions on outcomes falling outside their mandate need to be accounted for. And I think this opens many opportunities to tackle malnutrition much more effectively. So, for example, if we look at agriculture ministries in many lower- and middle-income countries, where agriculture is still the significant contributor to national income and to employment. They've traditionally seen their main objective as being to drive productivity growth in staple crops as a way of ensuring food security as Obey has explained. And this is being achieved through interventions which have been mainly targeted at the farm and the early post-farm stages of the value chain, such as research and development and extension into more efficient farming practices, or improving access to inputs and finance, or connecting farmers to markets. And while we see many successes of this approach across the world, in terms of driving improved food security. The true costs in terms of damage to people's health, through poor diets, to the environment, through resource degradation and also to the most marginalised people, through an exclusion from the profits that are being generated by more commercialised agriculture, have often been very significant. 

So, what a food systems approach does is to allow us to retain these important objectives of increasing productivity and agriculture, but adds in additional goals, such as increasing the demand for healthier diets or promoting biodiversity, mitigating climate change, and ensuring that the poor get a better share of the profits. And this means connecting activities and decisions from farm right through to the plate, ensuring that farm practices are not driven solely by income generation, but also by these other important outcomes. It means enabling not just farmers, but also all value chain actors, the processors, traders, financiers, retailers, consumers to make the choices which will deliver these wider outcomes. And what we're saying is, that this needs a whole of government approach which promotes the demand for more nutritious products, but also facilitates their supply through more sustainable food systems. And in many countries, we're seeing this shift in approach reflected in the national food systems pathways. 
But there's still a lot to be done to translate those into reality through the Nourishing Food Pathways programme which you've mentioned previously, what we're trying to do is to support countries across Asia and Africa, including Tanzania to do this translation of pathway into implementation plan in a way which strengthens this intersectional coordination and fills the capacities of different stakeholders to play their role. And I think if we can get this right, we will already see a fundamental change in the nutrition status across these countries.

Cat Kissick: Thanks, Jamie, so Obey. We've heard from Jamie about the national pathways. Let's zoom into Tanzania. Can you tell us a little bit more about the national pathway in Tanzania? And what government needs to bring that reality that Jamie is talking about? What do they need to implement it?

Obey Nkya: All right. Thank you, Cat, like I said earlier, the UN call in 2021 generated that dialogue within the country where the stakeholders from all walks of the food system space came together and said, what are the key issues we are facing in transforming the food system in Tanzania - And we came out with six pathways. Of course, five were the one which are action oriented, the 6th is more of the cross-cutting issues. 
So, the first one, which was seen necessary, is production and productivity in both crops, livestock, and fisheries subsector, so that that one can be, how do we increase productivity to make food available and affordable for the population? - That is key.

The second part of the pathway is financing agriculture, and the private sector involvement. You know, we know for sure the food system really is a predominantly private sector goods and service so, we need to bring them in. But in doing that, we need financing; how do we bring in the finance for them to access and produce more nutritious food?

And the third part of the pathway is on nutritious health and safe diets for all, that will also include school feeding as well. So how does everybody access nutritious and healthy food diet? So that one is really shaped by, what do we produce? Can the private sector also be part and parcel of solving the nutrition challenges which we are facing. 

The fourth pathway, we talked about the climate change mitigation, adaptation in biodiversity protection. So, we know for sure now the climate is changing, and reflecting to even the findings from the national sample census of agriculture, which was carried [out] in this country in 2019, 2020, and the results released, showed that one of the constraints which farmers raised was the climate change. They have seen the climate is changing, and it brought a lot of changes. So, we need to see how we mitigate the impact and adapt, of course, in the biodiversity production. 
And the fifth one is a resilient food system and livelihoods. So how do we support those who are really in need? As well, to be able to be resilient in case of shocks, in terms of what happens to their livelihoods.

And the 6th is the sustainable food enablers, you know, enablers are important, that will include ICT - technology is important. But the issue of gender, you know, women are very good in producing food and even feeding their children. 

So, equity, research, and development, political economy - all of these are enablers, which we think are important in making the other pathways, you know, to perform better. So, I think, putting everything in place is one state is necessary, but it's not sufficient. Implementing them is key. So, I think the question will be, how do we support the countries to put this in action? Actionable. Because these are still high level. And that's why the convenor of the food system here in Tanzania has been organising and calling all of us. He is also a Director for National Food Security at the Ministry of Agriculture, and who will bring all of us together and says, let’s have a functioning implementation plan, with the proper monitoring and the evaluation framework that makes everybody accountable to these pathways. But also, the Government wants to be supported in terms of, you know, generating a good system to ensure safety of food which we bring in the market. So as we make pathways on nutritious and safe food more realistic - we also need to be, the government needs that proper coordination mechanism to make things happen. So, to me, that's what the convenor has really been asking. But the first one, why don't we have an implementation plan and monitoring and the evaluation system has the indicators and KPIs which makes all of us accountable as the first stage, and then the others will follow like I mentioned.

Cat Kissick: So, if we think about a slightly different perspective, Jamie, you've been an academic, maybe a very long time ago now, but you've also worked for an UN institution, and of course you're now working for GAIN, an international NGO, from your perspective - what can these different type of stakeholders do to support and challenge, like Obey was mentioning, in terms of accountability to move towards food system transformation. How can we support governments to make this a reality?

Jamie Morrison: Yeah, thanks. I think, having held these different roles does give some perspective. But also, realism is to watch each of these types of organisations can do to support the process of transformation.

So, on the role of academia, we hear a lot about this so-called science policy interface when discussing food systems. And I think this is because food systems are still a relatively new concept and the evidence to support a food system approach is still nascent, and in many, many cases it's also very contentious, as it involves trade-offs which it could have huge implications for farming practices, for the way we process and distribute food, and ultimately for the food that we eat.

So, the role of research institutions here is key in helping to clarify that evidence but also in supporting all of those who are using that as evidence to use it much more appropriately than I think is currently being done. If we look at the role of UN agencies, I think you know, these are agencies or institutions which are governed by nations and therefore, they have a privileged relationship with government. And this provides opportunities for global level platform, for debate and resolution between governments of many different forms and types, on key issues and helping to reach agreements on voluntary guidelines, and so on. But I think, mirroring the situation that we find in many governments. The agencies have also tended to focus on issues under their specific mandate. So, we have the own based agencies such as FAO and WFP who focus on food and agriculture, WHO on health, UNEP on environment, and so on. So introducing a food systems approach has actually been quite challenging for the UN. And for this reason the UN Secretary General convened the first food systems summit to elevate the approach above the responsibility of any one agency. And this reflects also in in the UN's role, not just at the global level, but also at the country level.

The UN has presence in in many countries and has a very important role in supporting countries to take forward the agenda. Helping to make the link between the global policy processes and providing data and analysis to help inform government decision making. And I think here we're seeing some significant improvements in the coordination across UN agencies, something that was often absent in the past and which helped back this transformative process.  And if we look at international NGOs, I think you know, these don't necessarily have the same privileged relationship with governments but where there is a good level of trust this can be very effective in advocating for change, especially when the advocacy is backed up by the provision of technical support and the efforts to better connect different food system stakeholders to the policy process.

And since joining GAIN, I've seen this as being, you know, fundamental to the work of GAIN, not just advocating for change, but backing that up with strong technical support, evidence and effectiveness in linking with different parts of the food system. I've already mentioned the Nourishing Food Pathways programme, where we're seen the key role that our policy advisors, such as Obey, have been playing in this respect, linking the stakeholders, strengthening the policy processes. So, whilst each of these different types of stakeholders have quite distinct roles, it's increasingly important that their work is better coordinated, if we're to take a food system approach.

We've recently been working on a paper with 4SD which analyses how the ecosystem of support has been evolving in different countries, and amongst our key findings that these ecosystems, effectively being the grouping of partners supporting governments are revolving differently in different countries, but in all countries where they're effective - they're respecting national leadership in guiding their own actions. They have clear roles, and they're prepared to adapt their support as the process moves forward as we learn how to support food system transformation. And I understand that in the following episode of this podcast series, Florence Lasbennes from 4SD or they will elaborate on some of these points.

Cat Kissick: Wonderful. We look forward to hearing more from her next week! In this episode we've looked back at changes in Tanzania over the past decade, and the growing understanding of food systems. If we look towards the future - what would symbolise food system transformation for you both. Obey?

Obey Nkya: I think, like I said, the food system pathway will be our direction to track whether we are going towards achieving them [the six goals] with the robust implementation plan that we have a follow up mechanism in place. So, I will expect to see a production, productivity transformation, considering nutrient dense food more produced, most supplied in the market. That is not just a continue in production of normally what we know but it can be dense food and safe food. I will also a see the transformation by seeing the role of the government in putting in place some incentive for private sector, to be more active and sensitive to production and supply of nutrient food. When I see that - okay, really, we are transforming. I also want to see how more ‘good’ stakeholders like transportation part of it, energy sector come into nutrition discussions as key stakeholders that say: Okay, we need to improve the transportation network for the food to reach the market in good condition. Energy sector to say: Okay, we need to, some level of processing close to the farms. So, when you see these ones being brought to the discussion, I'll be very, very happy and see signs of transformation. I’ll also see more active coordinated… because we are bringing more stakeholders... So I want to see how is this this being better coordinated, better involving more [stakeholders] but in a coordinated and synergised fashion.

I will also be happy to see SME in the food system accessing finance, for their activities, so that they can be part and parcel of the food system in trying to bring in the nutrient food in the market, because they are the ones who are really feeding most of us. But I would like to see more evidence coming - see the evidence on the food system, and the data to track the progress. When I see that with more organised and harmonised systems for data collection and analysis and tracking and putting the result forward, that will be fine! I would like to see research in the academia, becoming more interested in researching and it providing more evidence to the government and other stakeholders that interests gain momentum at academic and the research institutions, [that] will be a really good sign of transformation to me. All those really put together can give us a clear sign of where we are going, or we are on the right track toward achieving the food transformation of the full system. 

Cat Kissick: Thanks, Obey, and Jamie?

Jamie Morrison: Yeah, I I'd agree with all of the points that Obey makes about, how do we know the transformation is progressing in the right direction? So I think ultimately if we are to measure success, I would say that it's reaching a situation where the food system delivers affordable healthy diets to all Tanzanians, but also it enables them to make the consumption decisions which will be needed to improve their level of nutrition. And I think, what this also means is, that we need to have a situation that ensures that production systems are sustainable and resilient to shocks.  And this is important when we consider not just Tanzania, but the fact that Tanzania is part of an interconnected world when it comes to food systems. 

Cat Kissick: Wonderful, Obey, and, Jamie, thank you so much for your perspectives. That brings us to the end of this episode of Bite the Talk podcast! Remember, each small action we take has the potential to contribute towards a more sustainable and equitable feature. Thank you for joining us on this journey, and we look forward to having you with us again in the next episode, where we’ll be hearing from the youth perspective and what really happened at the Stock Taking moment in Rome.

Until then take care and keep making a difference.