IIED and partners urge citizen involvement in international food policy debate

News, 5 February 2019
IIED and Hivos will highlight the importance of listening to citizens' voices at an international conference on sustainable food systems this week.

A cook serves up the daily soup at the Achumani market in La Paz (Photo: Mauricio Panoso)

The 2nd Global Conference of the Sustainable Food Systems Programme takes place in Costa Rica from 5-7 February 2019. This top-level conference aims to gain political commitment for policies that will support a transition to sustainable food systems.

The conference has been organised by the One Planet Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme, an international partnership working to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production in all areas related to food. 

The NGO Hivos, one of the co-leaders of the SFS programme, is working with IIED on Sustainable Diets for All (SD4All), a project that supports civil society organisations to advocate for better food production, trade and consumption. SD4All emphasises the crucial role played by citizens in shaping local food systems, and aims to bring together low-income communities with policymakers to generate collective understanding of how local food systems function and what can be done to improve them.

IIED senior researcher Alejandro Guarin says it is critical for people who consume and produce food to be actively involved in national and international policy forums on food.

Speaking ahead of the Costa Rica conference, Guarin said: "Reflecting on the work we have done in the Sustainable Diets for All programme, it is clear that international policy reform and political commitments will benefit from the insight and lived experience of the actors that make the food system tick.  

"We need to reverse the trend of hosting big events without the vendors, the producers, and the consumers who must take centre stage."

Listening to local people is how we'll improve the food systems of the poor, a food system that currently feeds at least half of the global population.

SD4All supports civil society organisations in Bolivia, Indonesia, Uganda and Zambia to work with low income communities to gather evidence and undertake 'change labs' – multi-stakeholder dialogues for innovation.  

Guarin says the key to transforming food systems lies with the vendors, producers, cooks and consumers whose daily actions shape the dynamics of how food systems function.

At the conference project partners will share evidence on food systems that has been generated with or by citizens, as well as advocacy tools that have been used across the programme. 

Presentations on SD4All's work

 These sessions will showcase project activities:

  • 4 February: at a preparatory regional meeting for Latin America, Marcelo Collao from the Hivos office in Bolivia will talk about the role of the informal sector in the food system, presenting joint IIED-Hivos work with women cooks in informal markets in La Paz
  • 6 February: Hivos advocacy officer Nout van der Vaart will participate in a session talking about “Sustainable and healthy gastronomy as a key driver for sustainable food systems”
  • 7 February: María Teresa Nogales, from Bolivian partner Fundación Alternativas, will talk about its work facilitating municipal food security councils in La Paz and Sucre.

A related exhibition will include showings of the award-nominated film 'A turn for the better'. This short film, also below, shows how in Bolivia people eat poorly and more of the same. Local old grains as canuhua are about to be forgotten, but three Bolivian women show why they believe food diversity is so important.

A whole systems approach

Guarin emphasises the importance of taking a systems approach to finding solutions. He said: “Solving the many problems associated with food production and consumption – from rural poverty to hunger and malnutrition in cities – requires a systems perspective: this is the recognition that agriculture, food trade, retailing and diets are all closely linked. This food systems approach is now widely used by donors, governments and civil society organisations. 

"But for us to really understand what how this food system works for the majority of people, and what needs to be done to improve it, we need to listen to the voices and experiences of the poor.”

SD4All programme manager Frank Mechielsen added: “Governments, particularly local level officials, need confidence that the solutions they are proposing to make food systems greener, fairer and accessible to all are the right ones: this is where local voice is crucial.”


Alejandro Guarin, senior researcher, Shaping Sustainable Markets research group

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