Farmers in Asia and Africa gather to share their perspective on food system transformation


How can farmers and food companies collaborate to transform the global food system: to produce more and more nutritious food for the growing world population, while at the same time reducing the environmental impact of agriculture? That was the central question of two roundtables the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) organized in Kathmandu, Nepal and Nairobi, Kenya, in collaboration with Agriterra and local partners. They worked with NACCFL in Nepal and EAFF and SACAU in Kenya. 

The roundtable in Kathmandu bought together 14 farmers from 6 different countries in South and Southeast Asia (Nepal, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh). The Nairobi roundtable gathered 12 farmers from 8 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa (Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Madagascar, Uganda). At both occasions they were joined by over 20 company representatives to enter into a dialogue about the challenges of food system transformation. 

WBA was created to develop benchmarks to track how the private sector is contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the first benchmarks of this kind was the Access to Seeds Index. The second edition was published in the beginning of 2019 and evaluated the activities of 62 seed companies active in sub-Saharan Africa and South and South-East Asia on their efforts to make quality seeds of improved varieties accessible and affordable for smallholder farmers. 

The development of the Access to Seeds Index was kicked off in 2013, also with a Farmer Roundtable that Agriterra organized in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in collaboration with the Access to Seeds Foundation, one of the predecessors of the World Benchmarking Alliance. At that roundtable, farmers from Asia, Africa and Latin America discussed how they thought seed companies should improve access to seeds. In 2016, when the first Access to Seeds Index was published, three more roundtables were organized, in Hanoi, Ouagadougou and Johannesburg, to discuss the performance of seed companies with farmers and to identify areas where companies should step up their efforts. 

Even after only two editions of the Access to Seeds Index, the benchmark proved to be effective. A company like Bayer has now pledged to empower 100 million smallholders by 2030. Strong performance by some of the regional seed companies in Eastern Africa in the Access to Seeds Index has helped them to attract new investors. Governments from Nigeria, India and Thailand have developed new strategies and programs to support their seed companies improve their performance. The International Seeds Federation has changed its position on smallholder farmer productivity from ‘none of our business’ to ‘one of our key priorities’, also triggered by the Access to Seeds Index. 

As benchmarks have been proven to be successful instruments to influence the agenda of industries and the strategies of companies, WBA taken up the ambition to develop a ‘Food System Transformation Benchmark’ to track how companies in the global food chain are contributing to transforming the food system. As with the Access to Seeds Index, such a benchmark cannot be developed without input from farmers. And although many conferences about food system transformation are currently been organized all around the globe, at these events the farmers’ voice is hardly heard. 

That is why WBA reached out to Agriterra again to consult farmers and gather their perspectives. The outcomes of the roundtables in Kathmandu and Nairobi will be used to develop indicators for the food system transformation benchmark. The first benchmark is scheduled to be launched at the Global Nutrition Summit in Tokyo in 2020. After the launch, a new series of farmer roundtables will be organized to discuss the outcomes of the benchmarks and identify the areas where farmers want to see companies improve their performance. 

Ido Verhagen
World Benchmarking Alliance

Links to:
Photo gallery Kathmandu
Photo gallery Nairobi

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