Bite the Talk Episode 22 : UNFSS Stocktaking Series - Wrap Up

Mark: Welcome to this episode of Bite the Talk, we are Taking Stock! The 2023 United Nations Food System Stock Take moment in Rome, followed the transformative 2021 United Nations Food System Summit or the UNFSS, enabling countries to report on the progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the midst of changing and challenging global context. 

We are delighted to have Azeez and Florence on the podcast.

Azeez, you are a youth in agriculture, an advocate and climate activist with broad experience in mobilising the youth for climate action, food and nutrition security and sustainable development in Nigeria. In addition, you’re the Founder and Executive Director at Community Action for Food Security (CAFS), a registered not-for-profit organisation committed to promote a food secure Africa and you also serve as Youth Leader for the UNFSS Dialogue where you coordinate all the youth engagements with the National Convenor in Nigeria. 

Florence, you are an agronomist by background and have worked with a range of food system actors across the years in several African countries on rural land issues, food security, post-conflict economic reconstruction. You also worked for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on food security before joining the United Nations managing large scale multi-stakeholder and multi-sector initiatives on food and nutrition.

This experience must be incredibly useful in your current role as Managing Director of 4SD, a Swiss social enterprise, where you support the development of capacities for systems change and played a leading role in the development and facilitation of the Food Systems Summit Dialogues and continue to provide significant support to the national convenors as they take the food systems agenda forward in their countries. 

Both guests have been busy participating in the UNFSS Stocktaking Moment in Rome this week, so we’re grateful that they’ve been able to catch a breath and reflect with us on progress so far.

Florence, I’d like to start with you – please can you to explain the role of 4SD in the preparation for and in the Stocktaking Moment itself

Florence: Thank you, Mark. Glad to be with you today. So, indeed 4SD has been involved in the preparation of the food system summits since 2020. As you've said, we've been supporting multi-stakeholder engagement through dialogues. We've been also accompanying the national conveners in particular, enabling them to feel part of a global movement for food systems transformation, providing spaces where they can reflect on their work, learn from each other, and get inspiration about what another country is doing. At intervals, 4SD is synthesising the progress of the dynamic. We were synthesising the outcomes of the dialogues before the Food System Summit 2021, and just before the stock taking moment, we contributed to the synthesis that has been published by the Secretary General. 

Mark: Wonderful, wonderful. So, Florence as someone who’s been involved in the synthesis of all governments voluntary progress reports - you have a very unique insight into the progress of governments since the original summit. What are your main findings?

Florence: Interesting. Indeed. One aspect we were expecting, is how the crisis multi-crisis context had impacted the work for food systems transformation at country level. What I've seen in the national voluntary progress reports is actually a renewed attention to food systems transformation that needs to deliver food and nutrition, security at the same time. Attention to the right, to food, and at the same time needing to transform, to adapt to climate change, to reinforce the resilience to multiple shocks. That is central. That is extremely widespread. All countries are really concerned about the future of their food systems.

Progress Since the summit. We've seen a lot of incorporation of the priorities of the governments into their national policies and various policies. Most of them have focused on their agriculture policies, but not only, and it's a good sign that it's really a systems approach that is advancing. Social protection has been updated. Climate policies are incorporating more elements related to food. It's not perfect, but a real sense of movement and progress across a large number of countries. About 100 of them had submitted a voluntary progress report before the stock taking moment. Looking a bit further than the policies with whom to implement food systems transformation. The dynamic of the dialogues is kept alive in most countries in different forms, but what I find especially interesting and wanted to flag here today, is, most countries want to bring the conversation, the dialogues at subnational level, closer to the communities, to the people, in most countries Governments wants to engage more stakeholders. Unfortunately, there might not be as much progress as one would have wanted for women, for youth, for indigenous peoples, for farmers, the small, the medium, and the large to be part of the conversation, but the intention remains very, very vivid. A few countries, maybe not the majority, have advanced more than I was expecting on costing how much they need for implementing action in various sectors. That is very inspiring, especially at a period where so many countries are indebted and have a very tight fiscal space. It means that most countries are facing very tough choices on where they put their resources. 

Mark, it's a patchy picture. Not all countries are advancing at the same pace, but having read all the voluntary progress reports, I was really, really encouraged and curious to hear more when I was about to, to travel to Rome, to the stock taking moment. A real sense that the willingness to transform food systems remain very vivid for most countries. 

Mark: Thank you, Florence. Those are very interesting, insights and, I'm happy to also learn from you that in as much as countries are not progressing at the same pace, there is still some progress. Talking about progress, Azeez – you were involved from the very beginning as a youth advocate – can you share with us what that has that looked like for you representing the voices of young people in Nigeria? 

Azeez: Thank you so much Mark. For me, my journey as a youth advocate, you know, representing voices of young people in Nigeria has really been fulfilling and also challenging. From the very beginning, I have been actively engaged in different youth initiative and organisations, focused on food systems and agriculture. And, you know, it started with myself and other young people coming together to host the second independent dialogue in 2021. And the national convenor in Nigeria reached out to us and since then we've been participating in, various youth dialogues, consultations, workshops, and I've had the opportunity to voice this content and aspirations of young people regarding food security, nutrition, and environmental sustainability. Of course, this platform has allowed me to bring youth perspective to forefront and advocate for inclusive policies and programs that prioritize the need of young farmers and entrepreneurs in our agricultural sector. Representing the voice of young people in Nigeria as also involved collaborating with government agencies including the Office of the National Convener, international organizations, and other stakeholders to raise awareness about importance of youth inclusion in food system transformation. I have engaged in advocacy efforts to ensure that youth perspective are considered in development and implementation of the National Food System pathway, and I am happy to inform you that I was part of the committee, the task team, you know, and other with my fellow young people, where we were able to develop the priority action plans and also the implementation strategy for our National Food Systems Transformation Pathway.

While the journey has been rewarding, it has also present challenges, including limited access to resources and multilateral spaces for young people, especially in vulnerable, situations and remote areas. As a youth advocate, I remain committed to addressing these disparities and finding innovative ways to amplify the voices of young people in Nigeria to create inclusive and a sustainable food system for our nature's future.

Mark: Thank you, Aziz. I'm happy to. Know that you've been quite involved in the process and also in a meaningful way. Azeez, you mentioned National convenors, this series has aimed to showcase the role of the convenors – they have this really big job of coordinating a food systems approach across their government which is no small feat. But there’s also a big task for governments to open up and be more inclusive in their approach – how can young people have a meaningful part in the policy process going forward?

Azeez: Thank you. Indeed. The role of national convenors is crucial of course, for coordinating a food system approach across the government and, and other stakeholders but ensuring meaningful youth participation in the policy processes is also very and equally important. And to your question, to involve young people effectively in shaping food system policy, key strategies could be adopted. For example, establishing a youth advisory board. Government can actually go a long way or go a bit further to create dedicated youth advisory board on food systems to provide a platform for young people to also share their perspective, ideas, innovations, recommendations, directly with policy makers.

You know, these boards can also serve as a bridge between the youths and policy makers, ensuring their voices are heard and considered. There is also a need for inclusive consultations and dialogue where government should, regularly organise consultations and dialogue, especially with young people, because when we talk about young people, we have young researchers, we have young farmers, we have young advocates, we have young scientists, and you know, and particularly from marginalised and vulnerable backgrounds.

This discussion should be very inclusive and accessible allowing young people from different, uh, subnational regions and states, ethnicities and social backgrounds to participate and contribute. There is also need for youth capacity building and training where government should be willing to invest in capacity building and training programs for young people interested in food systems and policy advocacy. By equipping them with different and necessary skills and knowledge, young people can engage more effectively in policy processes. Also, there is need for our leaders and also the national convenor’s government to engage youth organisations in form of partnership with, youth led organisations and network to collaborate on policy development.

It would go a long way and it will be very valuable insight and experience that could transform the policymaking process. Integrating youth in decision making bodies would also go a long way. Also utilising data platforms, social media platforms given the tech savvy nature of today’s youth, governments can also leverage digital platforms to engage young people on food systems matters. Virtual consultations and online survey can, you know, be valuable tools for gathering youth perspective. And this is where we are coming because we are willing to, you know, support what can be done together for food and transformation. And you know, by adopting these a few approaches that I just mentioned and actively valuing the contribution of young people, government can really create more inclusive food system policy that reflects the diverse needs and aspiration of youth leading to more sustainable and equitable food systems for the future.

Mark: Thank you Azeez. That is wonderful input. Now I'd like to turn back to you, Florence. You’ve nicely painted this picture of the challenges and opportunity for governments to take this work forward. But you’ve also been working on a paper which explores the emerging ecosystems of support to governments – can you tell a bit more about the paper and the types of propositions that it puts forward for strengthening these ecosystems? 

Florence: Thank you, Mark. Happy to talk about this piece of work indeed. The starting point was to consider that altogether at the Food System Summit in 2021, we've challenged governments to be much more multi-sectoral, engaging multiple stakeholders. But how are they supported and are they supported by actors who also have evolved in their manner to engage, adopt a comprehensive approach to food systems and an open one that is connecting to a multiple stakeholders. So that's this piece of work you were, alluding to that, we've taken forward with GAIN.

We've looked into what you've called ecosystem of support. So, who are the supporters that are engaging with a government, the national convener, and others in government to advance the food systems transformation? First of all, there's not one definition of ecosystem of support that is commonly agreed by all of us. Some of us consider it's the UN country teams in particular. Some others consider it's the coalitions that have emerged at the Food System Summit in 2021. And GAIN, would say, I am a supporter for a long time, even before the Food System Summit, and I've engaged with the National Conveners, the National Pathways for Food Systems Transformation, so I'm also part of the ecosystem of support and many other actors. There are multiple perspectives from those different actors. There's a lot of goodwill to engage and to support, but does it all come together? That's what we wanted to explore with this working paper. 

What we found is that unfortunately no. Actors are not really coming all together. Last week we've heard several national conveners being a bit embarrassed that they have to coordinate so many different supporters that are not well connected together. Some, convenors are even saying, hold on, you are reinforcing, you, the supporters, are reinforcing a siloed approach while us in government are trying to advance this comprehensive approach. Indeed, we found there's not one model.

The actors that are supporting a government are not exactly the same in each geography, and there's no method for working together.

So, what is our paper highlighting? There should not be one recipient for all. Each context is a bit different. As I was saying, the actors are not exactly the same in each country, but we wonder and we propose with our work working paper that there are some principles that are common to all of us. One of them being, we should have a shared narrative shared with the government shared across all of us. GAIN will focus on nutrition. That's your mandate forever. You've enlarged from nutrition to incorporating climate. Some others will focus on social protection. Others are specialists in agriculture. What is the narrative that is Pulling us all together and giving a shared vision of how we want to advance together?

There needs to be principles on how we will work together. Transparency, sharing of information. I'm cautious on using the word coordination too much. We know that coordination has a cost, so can we invent ways of Coordinating that are not a burden for each of us, nor a burden on the government, but that is helping all of us to know what we are doing and at the same time, advancing together. It would mean principles for reviewing and adapting our ways of working along the way as we are clarifying progressively our roles and our manners of engaging. Our working paper will be published by GAIN, and this is made to generate reactions, trigger conversations.

The paper does not resolve the challenge, just proposes a few directions and we would love to be engaged in follow-up conversations probably country per country before creating a space where the various ecosystems of supports could learn and share with each other in the same spirit as the national conveners are sharing their progress and challenges at regular interval. 

Mark: Thank you Florence. Definitely this is a very wonderful idea and also thank you, for working with GAIN on this. It sounds like an excellent resource and one that may stakeholders can build on and use those principles. Now as we close this final episode in our series "Taking Stock" what’s the one thing that’s providing a glimmer of hope to each of you? What’s motivating you to push for change?  I'll start with you Azeez. 

Azeez: All right. Thank you for that question. My motivation to push for more change in Nigeria food systems stems from the growing recognition and support for youth-led initiative and youth inclusion in policy processes. I mean, the acknowledgement of young peoples as crucial as stakeholders in shaping the future of food systems inspires me to advocate more for meaningful youth participation and representation, also collaboration between youth led organisations and government agencies along with international entities like the UN, signals a positive shift towards more inclusive policymaking, presenting an opportunity for collective action and impact.

The increasing recognition of young people as change makers and the momentum towards youth inclusion in food systems policymaking, for example, during the closing session yesterday, the D S G, Amina Mohammed really emphasised that there will be more recognition and you know, more collaboration with young people and their coalitions. This inspires us more as we are determined to create a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems especially for Nigeria, future generations and you know, other African countries and across the globe.

This sense of hope and motivation drives us to continue pushing for transformative policies and programs that prioritise the need and aspiration of young people in the pursuit of sustainable and inclusive food systems, not only in Nigeria, not only in Africa, but across the globe. 

Mark: Wonderful. Azeez. Thank you for sharing that. What about you, Florence? What's the one thing that provides a glimmer of hope for you and what's motivating you to push for change? I know you're doing a lot. 

Florence: Thank you, Mark. I think I'll have more than one thing, but the first one I want to pick up on what Azeez was saying - feeling, seeing, hearing about the determination of youth to be part of this transformation is certainly what is giving the highest hope to all of us, to continue the efforts. We owe that to our younger generations and to the generations to come. Beyond that, the buzz that I felt in Rome during the food system stock taking moment. The willingness to keep on advancing, to share with each other, to learn and talk about the realities of the challenges we face. We've said earlier, we have at 4SD, a sort of privileged relationship with the national conveners all over the world. What do they want to talk about at the moment?

It is their difficulties and success of bringing agriculture and health, agriculture and climate, social protection, and decentralisations together. It's not easy. It takes time, but they feel they can advance. They can transform food systems. It has to be done all around the world to really be successful at the same time. In Rome, we were talking about the realities of those challenges. It is political, there are tensions, there are choices to be made.

That's what countries are talking about, wanting to learn from each other. I find that extremely encouraging. But again, closing with where I've started, we need our youth to keep us on message and keep on encouraging all of us to walk the talk. 

Mark: Thank you Florence, for those, wonderful insights. They say nothing for the youth without the youth, and anything for the youth without the youth is against the youth. Azeez and Florence, thank you so much for your invaluable insights and the significant contribution you've made in enhancing our understanding of the UNFSS and the stock take moment.

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 future. Thank you for joining us on this journey, and we look forward to having you with us again. Until then, take care and keep making a difference.