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United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021: An opportunity for global leaders to make real change

In Balaka district in southern Malawi, mother-of-six Madalena Mangadzuwa (45) faces the daily struggle of providing food for her family. She is battling extreme weather events such as drought and flooding which have been plaguing her community.

Overton and Patricia with their children Chisomo, Victoria, Rebecca Unboni, Zisiya in Malawi. Photo: Karen McHugh. Overton and Patricia with their children Chisomo, Victoria, Rebecca Unboni, Zisiya in Malawi. Photo: Karen McHugh.

In the last 36 years, Malawi has experienced eight major droughts, affecting millions of people. In Madalena’s community, small-scale farmers have now started to adopt more viable agricultural practices to help them adapt to the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Madalena is among 750 farmers who have benefited from agroecology (applying ecological processes to agricultural production) training provided through the Climate Challenge Programme Malawi, the Scottish Catholic international Aid Fund and Trócaire.

“The whole family depends on me for food and everything. Before we joined Trócaire’s programme, our family used to experience food shortages every year after the harvest,” Madalena said.

Villagers in Zomba who are part of an agroecology project funded by the Scottish government with implementation from Trócaire welcome Trócaire staff to see an example of one of their thriving vegetable gardens. Photo: Karen McHugh/Trócaire. Villagers in Zomba who are part of an agroecology project funded by the Scottish government with implementation from Trócaire welcome Trócaire staff to see an example of one of their thriving vegetable gardens. Photo: Karen McHugh/Trócaire.

Climate change has made farming harder in Malawi, but for the past three years, Madalena and her family have increased their maize production by almost double from 300 Kgs to 550 Kgs through agroecological farming practices.

“The maize in the mulched field is not wilting and has good growth compared to other neighbouring fields with a conventional farming systemBy diversifying our maize farming with cow peas, sweet potatoes and pigeon peas this year we are again expecting to be food secure and have income from the sale of surplus pigeon peas despite the dry spell that has hit our area badly.”

“Just imagine the past 15 years I have been farming without the knowledge of agroecology, I have really missed a lot,” she said.

One-in-three in the world facing food insecurity

Alarming new figures from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation Food Security and Nutrition report 2021 reveal that one-in-three people in the world, that’s 2.37 billion men, women and children, did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million people in just one year due to the compounding effects of Covid-19, conflict and climate change.

The report also shows enduring and troubling regional inequalities. About one-in-five people (21 percent of the population) was facing hunger in Africa in 2020 – more than double the proportion of any other region.

The world now faces the unprecedented challenge of ensuring the right to adequate food for all on a planet where the population is estimated to increase to over 9 billion people by 2050, in ways that don’t breach essential ecological and planetary boundaries, while tackling poverty and extreme inequality.

United Nations Food Systems Summit

 

In recognition of these challenges, the UN Secretary-General is convening a Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) on September 23, as part of the UN Decade of Action to Deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UNFSS aims to serve as a turning point to achieve zero hunger and all the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 by ensuring we all work together to transform the way the world produces, processes, consumes and thinks about food.

Ahead of the summit, Trócaire has called on the Irish Government to play its part in tackling the spiralling world hunger crisis by become a global leader in sustainable food systems.

However, Trócaire is concerned that the UNFSS ambition to be a ‘People’s Summit’ will not be realised.

The reality is that hunger and malnutrition are the result of policy failures, rather than food scarcity. Climate change and the relentless assault on biodiversity are drivers of hunger, along with increased conflict over scarce resources, including water and land that are essential for food production.

To make any real progress towards delivering zero hunger the global challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and rising inequality need to be tackled. And food systems have a central role to play in addressing these interconnected challenges.

A food system is the entire set of political, environmental, social, technical and economic factors that influence how people get access to and consume adequate, nutritious food. Reforming food systems is complex, but crucial for human and planetary survival and wellbeing.

It is beyond time for a radical transformation of our industrial agriculture and food systems. World leaders must insist on change. If there isn’t agreement for decisive action the Summit will fail, and the world will be set up for a continuation of the status quo in food systems, and an increase in the millions of people who suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

Instead of promoting social, economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture and food systems, the proposed solutions on the agenda for the crucial Summit are concentrated on further privileging corporate/industrial farming interests.

For example the solution proposed for Africa, including by its own leaders at the African Union, is large scale industrialisation based on Green Revolution ideas that are no longer appropriate or sustainable. The vast majority of African food producers are peasant and small-scale farmers – and the majority of these farmers are women. They include indigenous peoples, fishers, pastoralists, and forest dwellers, all of whom play a key role in the continent’s food security.

Their experience and knowledge of regenerative farming that supports biodiversity, social equity and nutritious food production are not on the table at the Summit.  The resulting corporate flavoured menu exposes failures in the Summit’s claim to be “a Peoples Summit” or a “Solutions Summit”.

Pursuing a sustainable transformation of agriculture and food that is grounded in a human rights framework entitles people to meaningful participation in the decisions that affect them.

This sustainable transformation also requires the empowerment of people, particularly those who are being left behind, and giving them a voice in shaping policies.

Trócaire works in partnership with communities around the world who have been, and continue to be, marginalised by policies that hinder rather than enable a transition to more sustainable food systems.

An example of one such system being adopted by Trócaire with partners is agroecology, which applies ecological processes to agricultural production. This has the capacity to restore degraded natural resources, promote biodiversity and strengthen poor people’s resilience to climate and other shocks.

With member states’ support, the Summit can take a critical first step to developing a genuinely inclusive menu of transformative food systems options. And thus make some real progress towards achieving zero hunger by 2030.

Survival in drought-stricken Somalia

With the support of the Irish people, Trócaire is helping to generate change and hope for the people most affected by climate change and food insecurity. In 2020/21, Trócaire’s Climate and Environmental Justice Programme supported people in 13 countries and had a positive impact on the lives of 301,000 people.

Asli was forced to flee from her home to escape drought and conflict where she lived. Photo: Trócaire Asli was forced to flee from her home to escape drought and conflict where she lived. Photo: Trócaire

This includes Asli Abdikadir (30), who is one of thousands of Somali women who have endured endless struggles living as an internally displaced person (IDP) in the Gedo Region of Somalia. Severe weather conditions, food insecurity and infectious diseases have been relentless in the region the last 30 years.

A farming family, all their animals died as a result of the dry weather conditions due to lack of rain. With increasing conflicts within their community, and limited resources, Asli and her family were forced to flee their home and were settled at the Kabasa IDP camp.

Sadly, it is women and children who are most vulnerable during a crisis and face disproportionate consequences.

“After losing our main source of income and with the constant inter-clan clashes, we left everything behind. We had nothing except the clothes we were in when we reached the IDP camp in Dollow. We had no shelter, no food or no water,” said Asli.

“We made a small makeshift Somali traditional house from sticks and rags we found. This was our first house when we arrived and for the following year.”

‘’We had no food and we relied on food donations from humanitarian agencies, one of it being Trócaire.’’

Through the support of humanitarian programmes in the area, Asli was employed as a Community Health Nutrition worker with a team providing integrated health, nutrition, protection, and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Health) services to highly vulnerable IDPs, host communities, and hard-to-reach populations living in various districts in Gedo.

Asli’s daily work involves identifying malnourished children and linking under-fives with childhood illnesses to the Trócaire supported Dollow Referral Health Centre.

‘’Working as a community health worker made it possible to assist my community, understand basic health needs and prevention of diseases as well nutrition concepts. Besides helping my community, the income given to me every month gradually helped me to move forward with my life. It empowered me economically, and I was able to build a semi-permanent house and contribute to my family’s daily food basket,” Asli said.

Covid-19 forcing families to go to bed hungry

Trócaire’s work in 2021 also included working with families who are facing hunger and malnutrition due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trócaire helps families like Janvier and Sandrine’s who are in need of emergency support in Rwanda. Photo: Trócaire Trócaire helps families like Janvier and Sandrine’s who are in need of emergency support in Rwanda. Photo: Trócaire

Janvier and Sandrine both lost their jobs in the hospitality sector due to the Covid-19 lockdown in Rwanda. With no income and their food running out, they began to skip meals to keep their two daughters aged 10 and 7 fed.

“We started hating ourselves and our children were complaining to us about food,” says Janvier. “My wife and I felt no hope.”

Without any income, they had to ration out their supplies – eating porridge at 10am and having nothing to eat again until the next morning. Some days they ate nothing at all, and eventually Janvier and Sandrine stopped eating completely, so they could provide something for the children. “The little we could get was reserved for children and the two of us would sleep hungry,” said Janvier

Sandrine and Janvier’s two children show the washing bucket they have received as part of the emergency supplies. Photo: Trócaire Sandrine and Janvier’s two children show the washing bucket they have received as part of the emergency supplies. Photo: Trócaire

Thankfully, hope has returned to the family due to food supplies being provided by Trócaire. The family has received maize flour, beans, soap and other non-food items. They can now feed themselves and their two daughters. They have also been informed about hand-washing and information about how to prevent the spread of the virus.

“My family is very happy for these items we received, particularly for the food,” he said. “I thank Trócaire for the relief support they have given to me, and pray for whatever they do”.

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