Public Development Banks Can’t Drag Their Feet When It Comes to Building a Sustainable Future

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Opinion

Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast , Oct 21 2022 (IPS) – A coalition of civil society organisations is demanding public development banks (PDBs) to take radical and innovative steps to tackle human rights violations and environmental destruction. No project funded by PDBs should come at the expenses of vulnerable groups, the environment and collective liberties, but should instead embody the voices of communities, democratic values and environmental justice.


The demands, part of a collective statement signed by more than 50 civil society organisations, come as over 450 PDBs gather in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from October 19th, for a third international summit, dubbed Finance in Common.

The COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency, coupled with human rights violations and increasing risks for activists worldwide, is bringing the need to change current practices into even sharper focus. While public development banks may drag their feet on addressing intersecting and structural inequalities, civil society organisations are taking actions aimed at creating dignified livelihoods by embedding development with concrete affirmative measures towards climate, social, gender, and racial justice.

PDBs cannot be reluctant to act. They need to hit the target when it comes to supporting the transformation of economies and financial systems towards sustainability and addressing the most pressing needs of citizens worldwide – from food systems to increasing support for a just transition towards truly sustainable energy sources. PDBs must recognise that public services are the foundation of fair and just societies, rather than encouraging their privatisation and keep austerity narratives alive.

9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted, and with an environmental activist killed every two days on average over the past decade, development banks have an obligation to recognize and incorporate human rights in their plans and actions, following a “do not harm” duty.

Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako

Communities cannot be left out of the door. They need to be given the space to play the rightful role of driving forces in the answers to today’s global challenges, without them PDBs will move backwards rather than forward – and this means more environmental degradation, less democratic participation, and to put it bluntly an even greater crisis than the one we are facing today. And nobody needs that.

The recommendations in the collective civil society statement emerge from a three-year process of engagement and exchange, involving civil society networks in an effort to shape PDBs policies and projects. You can find some of their words and messages below.

As the call for accountability grows, the Finance in Common summits are an opportunity for PDBs to show moral leadership and help remedy the lack of long-term collaborations with civil society, communities and indigenous groups, threatening to curtail development narratives and practices.

Here’s the messages from civil society organisations from around the globe directed at public development banks.

Oluseyi Oyebisi, Executive Director of Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) the Nigerian national network of 3,700 NGOs said: “The Sahara and Sahel countries especially have been facing the most serious security crisis in their history linked with climate change, social justice and inequalities in the region. Marked by strong economic (lack of opportunities especially for young people), social (limitation of equitable access to basic social services) and climatic vulnerabilities, the region has some of the lowest human development indicators in the world – even before the covid pandemic. Access to affected populations is limited in some localities due to three main factors: the security situation, the poor state of infrastructures and difficult geographic conditions. PDBs must prioritise civil society organisations and Communities initiatives supporting state programs of decentralization, security sector reforms and reconciliation. This will help reduce the vulnerability of populations and prevent violent extremism.”

Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of Spong, the NGO network of Burkina Faso said: “Development projects shape our world; from the ways we navigate our cities to how rural landscapes are being transformed. Ultimately, they impact the ways we interact with one another, with plants and animals, with other countries and with the food on our plates. The decisions taken by public development banks are therefore existential. Such responsibility comes with an even greater one to include communities directly concerned by development projects, those whose air, water and everyday lives are affected for generations to come. For this to happen, public development banks must reinforce their long-term efforts to create dialogue with civil society organisations, social movements and indigenous communities in order to fortify the democratic principles of their work. We encourage them to listen, to ask and to cooperate in innovative ways so that development stays true to its original definition of progress and positive change; a collective, participative and fair process and a word which has a meaning not for a few, but for all.”

Tity Agbahey, Africa Regional Coordinator, Coalition for human rights in development said: “Many in civil society have expressed concerns about Finance in Common as a space run by elites, that fails to be truly inclusive. It is a space where the mainstream top-down approach to development, instead of being challenged, is further reinforced. Once again, the leaders of the public development banks gathered at this Summit will be taking decisions on key issues without listening to those most affected by their projects and the real development experts: local communities, human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples, feminist groups, civil society. They will speak about “sustainability”, while ignoring the protests against austerity policies and rising debt. They will speak about “human rights”, while ignoring those denouncing human rights violations in the context of their projects. They will speak about “green and just transition”, while continuing to support projects that contribute to climate change.”

Comlan Julien AGBESSI, Regional Coordinator of the Network of National NGO Platforms of West Africa (REPAOC), a regional coalition of 15 national civil society platforms said: “Regardless of how they are perceived by the public authorities in the various countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) contribute to covering the aspects and spaces not reached or insufficiently reached by national development programmes. Despite the undeniable impact of their actions on the living conditions of populations, NGOs remain the poor cousins of donor funding, apart from the support of certain philanthropic or charitable organisations. In such a context of scarce funding opportunities, aggravated by the health crisis due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis, Pooled Finance, which is in fact a paradigm shift, appears to be a lifeline for CSOs. This is why REPAOC welcomes the commitments made by both the Public Development Banks and the Multilateral Development Banks to directly support CSO projects and programmes in the same way as they usually do with governments and the private sector. Through the partnership agreements that we hope and pray for between CSOs and banks, the latter can be assured that the actions that will be envisaged for the benefit of rural and urban communities will certainly reach them with the guarantees of accountability that their new CSO partners offer”.

Frank Vanaerschot, Director of Counter Balance, said: “As one of this year’s organisers of the Finance in Common Summit, the EIB will brag about the billions it invests in development. The truth is the bank will be pushing the EU’s own commercial interests and promoting the use of public money for development in the Global South to guarantee profits for private investors. Reducing inequalities will be second-place at best. The EIB is also co-hosting the summit despite systemic human rights violations in projects it finances from Nepal to Kenya. Instead, the EIB and other public banks should work to empower local communities by investing in the public services needed for human rights to be respected, such as publicly owned and governed healthcare and education – not on putting corporate profits above all else.”

Stephanie Amoako, Senior Policy Associate at Accountability Counsel said: “PDBs must be accountable to the communities impacted by their projects. All PDBs need to have an effective accountability mechanism to address concerns with projects and should commit to preventing and fully remediating any harm to communities”.

Jyotsna Mohan Singh, Regional Coordinator, Asia Development Alliance said: “PDBs should have a normative core; they should start with the rights framework. This means grounding all safeguards into all the various rights frameworks that already exist. There are rights instruments for indigenous people, the elderly, women, youth, and people living with disability. They are part and parcel of a whole host of both global conventions and regional conventions. Their approach should be grounded in those rights, then it will be on a very firm footing.

Asian governments need to support, implement, and apply strict environmental laws and regulations for all PDBs projects. The first step is to disseminate public information and conduct open and effective environmental impact assessments for all these projects, as well as strategic environmental assessments for infrastructure and cross-border projects.”

IPS UN Bureau

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How Digital Can Drive a Green Recovery

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Opinion

Shutterstock

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 13 2022 (IPS) – As much of the world was starting to glimpse recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it now finds itself amid a cost-of-living crisis brought on by disruptions in global energy and food markets that are the result of conflict and climate change.


This again highlights how societal and planetary imbalances reinforce each other, as well as the need for a truly inclusive and green recovery. One that is foundational for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that digital is no longer optional. Countries with existing digital foundations were much better equipped to respond to citizens’ needs, including through the effective delivery of public services such as healthcare, social security benefits, and remote education. Digital will play a similarly important role in shaping a global green recovery.

Beyond building national socioeconomic resilience, digital transformation is also proving a key enabler in advancing global climate commitments. Countries supported by UNDP are leveraging digital in innovative ways to redouble their efforts to adopt renewable energy, transition to a circular economy, and to protect biodiversity.

Ecuador is building a digital traceability system for monitoring land use change and to track commodities through the supply chain. Papua New Guinea has piloted a mobile phone application to assist law enforcers to quickly record and report environmental harms such as illegal logging and bush fires.

Riad Meddeb

Whether it’s emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) or more established digital tools like the mobile phone digital can be a fundamental driver of change. It is reshaping the dynamics between the economy, governments, businesses, and civil society and is an important tool in rebalancing our planetary, societal, and economic priorities.

However, digital is fast becoming the global metric of both inclusion and exclusion. With 37 percent of the world’s population still offline, the digital divide, notably, the lack of accessible broadband, gaps in digital skills, and marginalized groups excluded from technology, has become a key barrier for countries wanting to capitalize on the potential opportunities of the increasingly digital economy.

And digital technologies themselves could constrain a Green Recovery. The industry’s carbon footprint could account for about 14 percent of global emissions by 2040. If digital were a country, it would nearly surpass the US as the second largest contributor to climate change. And this impact may worsen, with emerging technologies also contributing to increased emissions.

Digital and a green recovery

Integrating sustainable development in digital is central to ensuring a green recovery – one that drives inclusive digital access and capacity, promotes openness and open data, and fosters innovations that increase the efficiency of digital technologies and mitigates their environmental footprint.

In this context, the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development organized its flagship event ‘Digital for a Green Recovery’ on the sidelines of the World Cities Summit in Singapore. The event highlighted three priorities for an inclusive and green digital transformation.

First, we must put people at the centre of innovation. This includes ensuring the availability of foundational digital infrastructure so that everyone can benefit. We must also ensure that the technical standards and explorations of emerging technologies are ‘human-centred’, founded on the local needs and aspirations of populations, but also ‘environment-centred’.

Second, we need to strengthen collaboration between innovation ecosystems. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires an enabling ecosystem comprising policies and regulations, investors, incubators and accelerators; and educational institutions. Digital can be a potent enabler for connecting dispersed national and global innovation ecosystems in pursuit of sustainability.

Third, data is the lifeblood of digital transformation and could be an important equalizer for countries in accelerating their efforts towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

However, a number of countries lack even foundational data infrastructure, such as data centres, communication networks, and energy grids. We need to accelerate efforts to build data capacity to ensure that existing digital divides are not widened.

Digital is an indispensable enabler for driving a green and inclusive recovery. But it is truly a ‘whole-of-society’ endeavour.

As a platform to showcase innovation, best practice, and to foster partnerships, the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development will continue to convene global discussions, support and align innovation ecosystems around the world, and guide governments in leveraging the potential afforded by digital. Through driving the experimentation, adoption, and scaling of digital, we can shape a Green Recovery that works for both people and planet.

Riad Meddeb is Acting Director, UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development & Senior Principal Advisor for SIDS

These insights were drawn from ‘Digital for a Green Recovery’ – the Flagship Event of the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development, held on the sidelines of the World Cities Summit 2022 in Singapore.

Source: UNDP Blog

IPS UN Bureau

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Healthy Planet Needs ‘Ocean Action’ from Asian and Pacific Countries

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Opinion

BANGKOK, Thailand, Jun 27 2022 (IPS) – As the Second Global Ocean Conference opens today in Lisbon, governments in Asia and the Pacific must seize the opportunity to enhance cooperation and solidarity to address a host of challenges that endanger what is a lifeline for millions of people in the region.


Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

If done right ocean action will also be climate action but this will require working in concert on a few fronts.

First, we must invest in and support science and technology to produce key solutions. Strengthening science-policy interfaces to bridge practitioners and policymakers contributes to a sound understanding of ocean-climate synergies, thereby enabling better policy design, an important priority of the Indonesian Presidency of the G20 process. Additionally policy support tools can assist governments in identifying and prioritizing actions through policy and SDG tracking and scenarios development.

We must also make the invisible visible through ocean data: just three of ten targets for the goal on life below water are measurable in Asia and the Pacific. Better data is the foundation of better policies and collective action. The Global Ocean Accounts Partnership (GOAP) is an innovative multi-stakeholder collective established to enable countries and other stakeholders to go beyond GDP and to measure and manage progress towards ocean sustainable development.

Solutions for low-carbon maritime transport are also a key part of the transition to decarbonization by the middle of the century. Countries in Asia and the Pacific recognized this when adopting a new Regional Action Programme last December, putting more emphasis on such concrete steps as innovative shipping technologies, cooperation on green shipping corridors and more efficient use of existing port infrastructure and facilities to make this ambition a reality.

Finally, aligning finance with our ocean, climate and broader SDG aspirations provides a crucial foundation for all of our action. Blue bonds are an attractive instrument both for governments interested in raising funds for ocean conservation and for investors interested in contributing to sustainable development in addition to obtaining a return for their investment.

These actions and others are steps towards ensuring the viability of several of the region’s key ocean-based economic sectors, such as seaborne trade, tourism and fisheries. An estimated 50 to 80 per cent of all life on Earth is found under the ocean surface. Seven of every 10 fish caught around the globe comes from Pacific waters. And we know that the oceans and coasts are also vital allies in the fight against climate change, with coastal systems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows at the frontline of climate change, absorbing carbon at rates of up to 50 times those of the same area of tropical forest.

But the health of the oceans in Asia and the Pacific is in serious decline: rampant pollution, destructive and illegal fishing practices, inadequate marine governance and continued urbanization along coastlines have destroyed 40 per cent of the coral reefs and approximately 60 per cent of the coastal mangroves, while fish stocks continue to decline and consumption patterns remain unsustainable.

These and other pressures exacerbate climate-induced ocean acidification and warming and weaken the capacity of oceans to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Global climate change is also contributing to sea-level rise, which affects coastal and island communities severely, resulting in greater disaster risk, internal displacement and international migration.

To promote concerted action, ESCAP, in collaboration with partner UN agencies, provides a regional platform in support of SDG14, aligned within the framework of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). Through four editions so far of the Asia-Pacific Day for the Ocean, we also support countries in identifying and putting in place solutions and accelerated actions through regional dialogue and cooperation.

It is abundantly clear there can be no healthy planet without a healthy ocean. Our leaders meeting in Lisbon must step up efforts to protect the ocean and its precious resources and to build sustainable blue economies.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

IPS UN Bureau

 

Do we Really Need a World Ranking to Measure Happiness?

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Opinion

Credit: UN Women

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Mar 29 2022 (IPS) – The 10th edition of the World Happiness Report was recently published and once again the findings raised an array of mixed emotions with many questioning the real foundations underpinning the most discussed aspect of the Report, the World Happiness Ranking,


For example, according to the ranking, Nepal appears to be the happiest place in the South Asia but is it really the case? Many experts from the country doubt about it as it was reported by The Kathmandu Post on the 22nd of March.

In the article, Dambar Chemjong, head of the Central Department of Anthropology at Tribhuvan University simply asks “What actually constitutes happiness?”

This is a complex question to answer but certainly it is fair to wonder how come each time this report gets published, it is inevitable that the richest nations, especially the Nordic ones come up on the top while the poorest and more fragile ones instead are hopelessly at the bottom.

There is no doubt that material prosperity determines a person’s quality of life and the World Happiness Report looks at GDP and life expectancy. In addition, the report also explores other factors like generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption.

These six variables, put together, are central to depict what the report calls “life evaluations” that “provide the most informative measure for international comparisons because they capture quality of life in a more complete and stable way than emotional reports based on daily experiences”.

The ranking is based on the Gallup World Poll, that asks “respondents to evaluate their current life as a whole using the mental image of a ladder, with the best possible life for them as a 10 and worst possible as a 0”.

One of the key findings is that social connections in dire times, especially if we think about what the entire world had to endure following the pandemic, do make the difference.

“Now, at a time of pandemic and war, we need such an effort more than ever. And the lesson of the World Happiness Report over the years is that social support, generosity to one another, and honesty in government are crucial for well-being” says Jeffrey Sachs, one of the major “architects” behind the entire concept of measuring happiness worldwide.

This statement further validates the need to further think more broadly about the importance these social relationships and social bonds have in developing nations.

That’s why analyzing happiness across nations should be considered as a working progress and the goal should be to better picture the complex situations on the ground in many parts of the developing world.

These are all nations that have been experiencing hardships consistently, even before the Covid pandemic outbreak and, therefore, they should be acknowledged for having developed unique forms of social bonds and solidarity.

Instead, these social factors, these connectors and the levels of reliance stemming from them in these “unhappy” nations”, are overshadowed by some of the variables determining the life evaluations.

People in developing nations have less access to public services and they are more exposed to corruption and bad governance. Lack of health infrastructures or unequal job market do have a strong incidence in determining a person’s human development and quality of life.

Yet does the fact that their lives are tougher automatically means people are there are unhappy?

Moreover, should not we consider the stress and mental health often affecting the “prosperous” lives of the citizens living in the north of the world?

Probably the problem is the idea of having a ranking itself. Though desirable and useful, measuring real happiness is a daunting and complex job.

Trust, benevolence, real generosity (not just the extrapolated, like in the report, based on donations during the last month) are all key determinants of happiness.

Yet these same factors have always been strong in developing societies where people rely on mutuality and self-help rather than depending on governments unable to fulfill their duties.

As it is now, the World Happiness Ranking risks to become just a “plus” version of the Human Development Index.

There is still a long way to better decipher and understand the meaning of happiness in the so called South of the World.

There is also a great need for the authors to better explain in simpler terms their methodology of calculating the ranking especially the relationships between the six key variables analyzed and positive and negative emotions that are also taken into consideration.

The fact that the ranking and the science behind the report is still a working process, it is recognized in the report itself.

An option would be to re-consider the variables of “life evaluations” that, by default, underscore the concept of wellbeing from a western perspective.

On the positive side, it is encouraging to see how the report includes also a part on “cross-Cultural Perspectives on Balance/Harmony”, central if we want to have a less westernized approach to happiness.

The 2022 edition of the Report devotes also considerable space to the biological basis of happiness, the relationships between genes and environment, what the report calls “Gene-Environment Interplay”.

Such nexus, affecting a person’s feelings and emotions and all the intricacies coming from these interactions, should make us reflect if it is really worthy to continue pursuing the goal of having an annual global ranking on happiness.

The idea of a ranking on happiness risks defeating the purpose of the gigantic and noble effort of better understanding how we can be happier and how public policies can have a role or not in these unfolding dynamics.

Simone Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Opinions expressed are personal.

IPS UN Bureau

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Nurturing a New Generation of Food Leaders

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Food Sustainability

An European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (EIIS) programme focusses on production, distribution, and consumption issues of food systems. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

NAIROBI, KENYA, Sep 22 2021 (IPS) – Food security experts have raised an alarm that with as many as 811 million people the world over or 10 percent of the global population going hungry, the world is off-track to ending hunger and malnutrition.


More so, after a decade of steadily declining, the number of malnourished people grew by 161 million from 2019 to 2020 alone, a spike attributed to complex global challenges such as COVID-19, climate change and conflict, according to the United Nations.

Against this backdrop, the European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (EIIS) launched a three-month, challenge-based and solutions-oriented food sustainability certificate course in May 2021 to actively help countries fix their food systems.

“Our aim is to provide a comprehensive base for a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics of food, giving course participants the tools and insights to perform better at work, shift careers, and become even more conscious and responsible consumers,” says Sveva Ciapparoni, the Food and Sustainability course coordinator.

With a special focus on G20 countries, as they are most representative of the world’s population and economy, the EIIS food sustainability programme uses the Food and Sustainability Index (FSI) to help learners understand the dynamics behind food systems and their inherent power to promote or derail the attainment of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation, the food index collects data from 67 countries worldwide to showcase best practices and highlight key areas for improvement towards the production and consumption of sufficient, sustainable and healthy food.

The EIIS programme breaks away from traditional food courses solely centred around gastronomy, culinary management and hospitality to focus on production, distribution and consumption issues at the very heart of the SDGs.

Marcela Villarreal, the Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indicates that the “course directly addresses several SDGs. These include fighting hunger (SDG 2), promoting the health of both people and planet (SDGs 3, 13, 15), and encouraging conscious and responsible consumption (SDG 12).”

“The food system approach adopted by the course through specific challenges is particularly conducive to understanding the SDG agenda and proposing solid and interconnected solutions,” Villarreal, also one of the foremost experts from the Food and Sustainability course’s faculty, says.

As such, participants, who were part of the May 2021 cohort of learners, had an opportunity to intersect the three critical pillars of any food system, including sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges and food loss and waste, with the three areas where food experts say solutions to the broken food systems lie: innovation, education and policy.

Also unique to the course, the programme is taught through a Challenge Based Learning approach that “allows for the practical application of the concepts learned throughout the modules.

“How to feed 10 billion healthy foods, preserving the health of people and planet is the ambitious challenge tackled by the participants,” says Villarreal.

Participant Anant Saraf confirmed that being taken through online tuition combined with practical workshops enabled them to analyse food systems, understand the complexities of the food systems, and identify the most pressing problems facing specific food systems to provide solutions.

Importantly, Ciapparoni says that the course is an opportunity to interact with topics increasingly crucial to food production, distribution, and consumption in line with the SDGs and the UN’s first-ever food systems summit that kicks off on September 23, 2021.

Held within the UN General Assembly week in New York, the virtual UN Food Systems Summit will set the stage for global food systems transformation.

To do so, the UN will engage citizens from all over the world, including youth, researchers, food producers, indigenous people, civil society, and the private sector, in a discourse to transform how the world produces and consumes food.

As with the EIIS food sustainability course, the UN Food Systems Summit is a golden opportunity to empower people to understand and use the power of food systems to recover from COVID-19 and get back on track to end world hunger and malnutrition.

Ciapparoni indicates that course participants were aware that they would be contributing to the Summit.

The course challenge aligns with the UN Food Systems Summit agenda as it was developed in consultation with Martin Frick, deputy to the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, he added.

Therefore, at the heart of the EIIS course was an urgent need to build a generation of food leaders that can effectively transform food systems for food security, improved nutrition, and affordable healthy diets for all.

Towards this objective, Villarreal says that course participants were “divided into teams based on their backgrounds, diversity being the main criteria and that each team got assigned a G20 country to be analysed, with a specific focus on its food system.”

“After identifying the country’s key challenges, each team proposed possible solutions to improve their assigned country’s food system. The underlying idea is that, by proposing ways in which single countries can improve the sustainability of their food systems, participants will be able to suggest how to promote food sustainability globally – and thus address the course’s main challenge,” Villarreal adds.

Team South Africa, for instance, discussed the country’s rapid urbanisation and unfolding food production and security challenges in light of climate change and complex social, economic, and environmental challenges.

As for Saudi Arabia, the team concluded that the food system faces numerous challenges, as highlighted in the food and sustainability index of 2021 that ranked Saudi Arabia last compared to other G20 countries.

Saudi Arabia has the highest reliance on food imports among the G20 countries. The team aimed to identify how the country could overcome the food production challenges caused by its dry and hot climate.

Team India had the task of identifying how the country, ranked 13th among the world’s extremely water-stressed countries due to inefficient irrigation systems, groundwater depletion, and high production of water-consuming crops, can overcome these challenges.

With regard to the USA, the team analysed how the country, which has the highest food waste per capita globally, can address this problem.

Team Russia sought to fix the country’s faulty food production systems, processing, and transportation.

Team South Korea’s challenge was found in the globalisation of the country’s food system has increased consumption of highly processed foods leading to a food crisis.

Participants navigated through these challenges under the guidance of food and sustainability experts, including Villarreal. By providing solutions to fix broken food systems in specific countries, the EIIS course will have contributed towards practical solutions on how to feed 10 billion people by 2050 healthy food without harming the planet.

 

If Women Farmers were Politicians, the World Would be Fed, says Danielle Nierenberg

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Food Sustainability

Women produce more than 50 percent of the food in the world but are disadvantaged when it comes to access to resources such as land and financial services. Credit: Busani Bafana, IPS

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Sep 17 2021 (IPS) – Women, key contributors to agriculture production, are missing at the decision table, with alarming consequences, says Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg in an exclusive interview with IPS.


Giving women a seat at the policymaking table could accelerate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and keep the world fed and nourished. This necessitates a transformation of the currently lopsided global food system, she says.

Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg.

Nierenberg, a top researcher and advocate on food systems and agriculture, acknowledges that women are the most affected during environmental or health crises. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global food production, affecting women farmers and food producers who were already excluded from full participation in agricultural development.

“We still have a long way to go in making sure that policies are not gender blind and include the needs of women at the forefront when mass disasters occur,“ Nierenberg told IPS, adding that policymakers need to understand the needs of farmers and fisherfolk involved in food systems.

“I think it is time we need more people who are involved with agriculture to run for political office because they understand its challenges,” she said. “If we had more farmers in governments around the world, imagine what that would look like. If we had women farmers running municipalities, towns and even countries, that is where change would really happen.”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), women contribute more than 50 percent of food produced globally and make up over 40 percent of the agricultural labour force. But while women keep families fed and nourished, they are disadvantaged in accessing critical resources for food production compared to men. They lack access to land, inputs, extension, banking and financial services.

“Until we end the discrimination of women around the globe, I doubt these things will change even though women are in the largest part of the world’s food producers,” said Nierenberg, who co-founded and now heads the global food systems think tank, Food Tank.

Arguing that COVID-19 and the climate crisis were not going to be the last global shocks to affect the world, Nierenberg said women and girls had been impacted disproportionately; hence the need to act now and change the food system. Women have experienced the loss of jobs and income, reduced food production and nutrition and more girls are now out of school.

“It is not enough for me to speak for women around the globe. Women who are actually doing the work need to speak for themselves; they need to be included in these conversations,” Nierenberg said.

“What happens is that in conferences, there are a lot of white men in suits talking on behalf of the rest of the world. But we need the rest of the world, and women included, to be in the room.”

A food system is a complex network of all activities involving the growing, processing, distribution and consumption of food. It also includes the governance, ecological sustainability and health impact of food.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted invisible issues, like the interconnectedness of our food systems, she said it was urgent to invest in regional and localized food systems that included women and youth. Food Tank and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) work collaboratively to investigate and set the agenda for concrete solutions for resetting the food system.

Divine Ntiokam, Food Systems Champion and Founder and Managing Director, Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network Global (GCSAYN), agrees. While youth are ready to engage in promoting a just and inclusive transformation of rural areas, it was unfortunate they were rarely involved in decision-making, she said. They are excluded from the household level to larger political institutions and companies and need better prospects of financial security to remain in the farming sector.

“Young men and women need to be given special attention in formulating legislation to purchase land and receive proper land rights,” Ntiokam told IPS.

“International donors and governments need to invest in youth, particularly young women and girls, for their meaningful participation along with the food systems value network,” he said.

“Youth need to have a ‘seat at the table’, as they have at the Summit, in terms of decision-making on where governments and international donors invest their resources to make agriculture and food a viable, productive and profitable career.”

Researchers say current food systems are unfair, unhealthy, and inequitable, underscoring the urgency to transform the global food system. According to the FAO, more than 800 million people went to bed hungry in 2020, and scores of others are malnourished.

Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

For food systems to be just, there is an urgency to close the gender resource gap, says Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will, on September 23, 2021 host the UN Food Systems Summit during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. The Summit is billed as a platform to push for solid support in changing the world food systems to help the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while spurring the achievement of the SDG by 2030.

The Summit, the UN says will “culminate in an inclusive global process, offering a catalytic moment for public mobilization and actionable commitments by heads of state and government and other constituency leaders to take the food system agenda forward”.

“They (food systems) must also transform in ways that are just and equitable, and that meaningfully engage and benefit women and girls,” Njuki told IPS. She added that harmful social and gender norms creating barriers for women and girls by defining what women and girls can or cannot eat, what they can or cannot own, where they can go or not go should be removed.

“This transformation has to be driven from all levels and all sectors in our food systems: global to local, public to private, large scale producers to smallholder farmers and individual consumers,” Njuki said.

Leaders should enact policies that directly address injustices – such as ensuring women’s access to credit, markets, and land rights, Njuki said, noting that individual women and men need to confront social norms and legal prejudices and demand changes.

Njuki believes that current food systems have contributed to wide disparities among rich and poor.

“These negative outcomes are intimately linked with many of the biggest challenges facing humanity right now – justice and equality, climate change, human rights – and these challenges cannot be addressed without transforming how our food systems work,” Njuki told IPS.

“We are at a pivotal moment on the last decade before the deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This must be the decade of action for food systems to end hunger.”