An action-oriented Food Systems Dialogue

Colombia brings again to the table – this time virtually – leaders who seek to give a new boost to the development of an action plan on food systems in Colombia, but now under the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Colombia, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and FOLU-Colombia, with the endorsement of the Secretariat of the Food Systems Dialogues.

Credit: CIAT

The Food Systems Dialogues are an initiative promoting collective action to transform food systems at the local and global levels. They were created in 2018 under the leadership of David Nabarro, winner of the World Food Prize and special envoy of the World Health Organization (WHO) for COVID-19.

From their creation, more than 30 Dialogues have been organized around the world, with the participation of over two thousand relevant actors from all sectors, who always bring to the table a key issue for our future: how to produce healthy and sustainable food, how to guarantee food and nutritional security while conserving biodiversity, how to sustainably improve production, consumption, and food supply.

Colombia brings again to the table – this time virtually – leaders who seek to give a new boost to the development of an action plan on food systems, but now under the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The event ‘Food Systems Dialogue and COVID-19 in Colombia’ was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, FOLU-Colombia, with the endorsement of the Secretariat of the Food Systems Dialogues, and it aimed at identifying actions over the next three years with the strongest potential to contribute to the mitigation of COVID-19 in food systems, and to catalyze a recovery process to ensure their resilience to any kind of future threats.

This space, which brought together representatives of the National Government, private sector companies, NGOs, educational and scientific institutions, international cooperation agencies, and civil society, was grounded on the Roadmap for the New Economy of Food and Land Use – FOLU 2030, within the framework of the Food Systems Dialogue held in May 2019 in Bogotá, coordinated by the Food and Land Use Coalition – FOLU, the EAT Foundation, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Despite the government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the crisis, the pandemic is deepening further the inequalities within the Colombian agricultural sector and increasing the risks of greater food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly among the most vulnerable population groups. It is no longer about transforming food systems, but about orienting its recovery from the crisis to be much better than the ones we had before. Going back to the same would be missing a unique opportunity.”

— Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director General, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

Participants from more than 30 organizations were divided into five tables – this time, virtual rooms:

Room 1: Food Supply and Distribution
Participants: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR), Grupo Éxito, Procolombia, World Food Programme (WFP), Ministry of Health and Social Protection, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, RAP-E Central, and CAVASA.

Room 2: Consumption of Nutritious Food
Participants: Red PaPaz, Seguros Bolívar, Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), Universidad del Valle, Universidad Javeriana of Bogotá, Municipal Secretariat of Public Health of Santiago de Cali, and National Institute of Health (INS).

Room 3: Livelihoods of Farmers and Actors in the Food Chain
Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, Agrosavia, Bancolombia, USDA-FAS, CORABASTOS, National Planning Department (DNP), FAO, MADR, RIMISP, Proantioquia, and Mario Santo Domingo Foundation.

Room 4: Technologies and Innovation
Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, CORABASTOS, FAO, MADR, IFAD, WFP, Bancolombia, Agrosavia, Alpina, and USDA.

Room 5: The Role of Biodiversity
Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, CCAFS, Colombian National Association of Entrepreneurs (ANDI), E3-Ecology, Economics and Ethics, One Earth Future, FOLU, TNC, Paso Colombia, Unilever, Nutresa, WWF, and MADR.

After two hours of discussion, participants started drafting a concrete action plan to help recover, while transforming, food systems using perspectives from the public and private sectors, academia, and civil society. Here are some conclusions:

Right to healthy food and nutrition

The pandemic has shown the relationship between health and food. The quality of the food we are consuming during the current health emergency should not be mediated by calories supply, but by food quality. The access to healthy food is crucial, regardless of the household income, therefore donations should reduce the amount of processed and ultra-processed foods and include fresh and healthy food. Furthermore, the access to food should be promoted through self-consumption practices.

The trend suggests that we will have an increasingly plant-based diet, and recognizing the wealth of our biodiversity is the answer to healthier and more nutritious diets in the future. That is why it is so important to generate applied quick-impact research in public health and genetic biodiversity, to position healthy products in the daily diet.

In this sense, strengthening nutritional education during this pandemic is crucial, taking advantage of institutions and agreement spaces created before the health emergency to improve the communication and advocacy strategies for the consumption of nutritional and healthy food. This is why the front-package labeling being implemented by several actors in the food system will be paramount for Colombian consumers. This tool will allow the consumer to become acquainted first hand of the nutritional features of processed foods in a simple manner. It is possible to change the system from the demand side, and this is everyone’s job.

Connecting local products and their rural origin

It is essential that all nutrition programs have a regional and rural connection. Consumers should be connected with local products, with segmented food portfolios for the Colombian population. Similarly, economic activities in the rural areas should be diversified, turning household agriculture into a social brand to be distributed to short marketing circuits, based on guardians of local seeds that ensure the access to a varied and healthy diet.

The adverse effects of the pandemic should be mitigated and the impacts on farmers prevented, especially on women and youth; they should receive incentives for conservation, stabilize their income (through mechanisms in force according to the Colombian labor law), encourage the development of short marketing circuits to ensure the substitution of imports in the future, and analyze how has supportive income been distributed in the field.

Innovation in the field

The pandemic revealed the connectivity gaps in the field. This is why organizing distribution through digital platforms, such as “El Campo a un Clic” [“The field just one click away”] or the program “El Campo Emprende” [“Entrepreneuring in the field”], could represent an outlet for products from the field to the consumers’ table. The importance of logistics and information flow for local consumption and agro-exports, food safety, post-harvest, certifications, and importance of value chains should also be part of the digital integration required by food systems. Therefore, tele-extension was proposed for farmers to be able to access online advisory services on their crops and the subsequent supply chain.

For Jesús Quintana, Managing Director for the Americas of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, who was the moderator of this activity, “The pandemic has evidenced the fragility of our food systems, and it is urgent to prevent this from becoming a food and nutritional insecurity crisis in the country”. But the pandemic also opens a unique space for us to consider how food systems are configured, to rebuild them in a more resilient, inclusive, sustainable, and profitable manner. The Managing Director for the Americas emphasized the commitment of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT to continue its support to strengthening the Roadmap for the New Economy of Food and Land Use – FOLU 2030, and the new actions identified in this new version of the Dialogues, in close connection with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and key actors that joined this unprecedented challenge for the country’s agricultural sector.

Because there are multiple stakeholders involved in food system transformation, we can’t say there is just a single path to pursue. We can argue, we can debate, because each of us has different interests and we bring different scientific realities to bear on the issue, but we need to find ways also to accommodate each other’s perspectives; sometimes, to shift perspectives.”

— David Nabarro, Winner of the 2018 World Food Prize and curator of the Food Systems Dialogues

This Food Systems Dialogue denotes the two needs imposed by COVID-19. On the one hand, the health and integrity of human beings, and on the other, guaranteeing food security by ensuring the supply of our food. This space will provide us inputs to strengthen what the Government has called Together for the Countryside, which is a reactivation plan at a point in which the work on rural development is a priority for Colombia.”

— Juan Camilo Restrepo, Deputy Minister for Rural Development, Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development

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