Dear Friends and Colleagues
Agroecology a Critical Element in the Transformation of Food Systems
Ensuring the sustainability, security, and equity of our food systems is one of the most defining issues of our time. The predominant industrial food system is too dependent on fossil fuels and non-renewable inputs that result in pollution and environmental damage. Transformative change is needed. Around the world myriad people and organizations are working toward sustainable food systems and seeking transformative change.
“Beacons of Hope: Accelerating Transformations to Sustainable Food Systems” is a new publication aimed at amplifying the power and potential of transforming food systems to address critical global issues such as climate change, biodiversity, equity, and health. It features 21 Beacons of Hope; stories from an extensive network of people and initiatives building sustainable food systems, which provide inspiring evidence that transformation is possible.
Climate change is called out as the predominant overriding challenge facing agriculture. Food systems can be a key driver of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. A majority of Beacons of Hope places agroecology at the core of their vision and transformation pathway. They articulate a range of ways by which agroecological approaches increase food systems resilience, and uphold the broad benefits of agroecological activities and holistic approaches, such as yields, livelihoods, ecological restoration, food security, and community well-being.
The following approaches were found to be at the heart of transformation processes: protecting, promoting, and supporting family farmers and Indigenous communities producing food using agroecological and diversified approaches and principles; co–creation of knowledge, and knowledge exchange and dissemination; developing cooperative ownership models; emphasizing ideas of circular and solidarity economy; reinforcing the importance of culturally relevant and place-specific sustainable diets; establishing participatory approaches and inclusive governance; identifying new market mechanisms; and adopting new metrics.
We reproduce below the Key Messages and Conclusions and Recommendations of the report. The publishers have also developed a Food Systems Transformation Toolkit that includes the Food Systems Transformation Framework and a Discussion Guide. This can be downloaded from: https://foodsystemstransformations.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BeaconsOfHope_Toolkit_082019.pdf
With best wishes,
BEACONS OF HOPE: ACCELERATING TRANSFORMATIONS TO SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS
Baker, Barbara Gemill–Herren, Fabio Leippert
The Beacons of Hope initiative aims to amplify the power and potential of transforming food systems to address critical global issues such as climate change, biodiversity, equity, and health. There is an urgent need for systems transformation, and this work contributes to the important conversation about how to accelerate transformations to truly sustainable, equitable, and secure food systems now and for future generations. The Beacons of Hope featured in this work provide inspiring examples and evidence that the transformation we collectively seek as a global community is possible. Ten key messages from this work have been distilled to both summarize the key findings and point to next steps.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development and the Global Alliance for the Future of Food believe that food systems transformations require a diversity of approaches, each reflecting its own unique context. We sought to connect across Beacons of Hope and identify the factors, approaches, interventions, and challenges that hinder or contribute to the systemic transformation required. The key themes, conclusions, and recommendations for supporting and accelerating food systems transformations that emerged from the Beacons of Hope analysis are outlined in the following pages.
1. Seize Opportunities in Drivers of Change
Climate change is called out as the predominant overriding challenge facing Beacons of Hope, and is identified as a key driver of change across food systems. Food systems are both vulnerable to the changing climate and can be transformed to provide nature–based climate solutions.
Awareness of the health impacts of current food systems, and the opportunity to build healthy communities, emerged as an equally important driver and an opportunity for transformation pathways that link different aspects of the food system. The positive health benefits of the Beacons of Hope are well documented in their communities.
Migration and immigration emerged as important drivers of change across many Beacons of Hope. The movement of people from rural to urban areas, as well as across borders, impacts food systems, and in particular agriculture and health outcomes.
Strengthening the image of farming and showcasing that farming can also be a promising pathway to the future, resulting in sustainable livelihoods and prosperity, is key to supporting food systems transformations. The Beacons of Hope highlight the need to support young farmers so as to avoid further migration to cities.
RECOMMENDATIONS While challenging, there are opportunities inherent in the global drivers of change: a) work with the climate community to acknowledge and understand food systems as a key driver of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies; b) connect agriculture and food policy and practices more directly with health policy and health care, and build on increasing health awareness to promote holistic community health and well–being; c) augment and support research on the under– explored links between migration, immigration, and sustainable food systems.
2. Accelerate Agroecological Approaches and Principles as a Transformation Pathway
A majority of Beacons of Hope placed agroecology and agroecological approaches and principles at the core of their vision and transformation pathway. Linkages between agroecology and health were one of the most salient pathways by which food systems were holistically addressed. Beacons of Hope articulated a range of ways by which agroecological approaches increase food systems resilience, and uphold the broad benefits of agroecological activities and holistic approaches, such as yields, livelihoods, ecological restoration, food security, and community well–being.
In particular, interviews surfaced the value of: farmer–to–farmer shared experiences and farmer field schools, highlighting the importance of “seeing is believing”; building the capacity of farmers and communities over time given the knowledge– intensive nature of agroecological approaches; alternative transfer of knowledge and technology practices challenging top–down approaches via conventional agriculture extension; finding innovative ways to present agroecology “in the court of public opinion;” and developing new metrics and evidence by which sustainable food systems are measured and documented that get us away from a focus on single crop yield alone.
RECOMMENDATIONS Amplify and build the evidence base for agroecology: a) We understand that most Beacons of Hope collect information that is useful to their own evaluation and development process. Through a participatory process that engages Beacons of Hope, this evidence should be compiled and integrated into a holistic impact valuation dashboard. True cost accounting could be used to holistically value the externalities of this work, both positive and negative. Beacons of Hope partners should work together to build the evidence base and amplify the positive benefits of food systems transformations. b) Governments, extension agents, and the private sector should acknowledge that agroecological systems are replacing external inputs with knowledge and skills, shifting the emphasis to peer–to– peer training, capacity building, education, integrated research and knowledge dissemination. c) Investors, policymakers, and private–sector actors need to find new ways to incentivize more sustainable ways of producing food.
3. Influence Policy and Decision–Making
Beacons of Hope are influencing policy development and engaging with political stakeholders as a key lever to catalyze change — indeed it’s one of the main stages of the transformation process as initiatives move toward stability and legitimacy. Many seek to do so through collaborations with scientists and by providing evidence to decision–makers. However, science alone may not be enough to influence policy and decision–making or to effect the systemic transformation sought. Recognizing other levers such as promoting diverse knowledge or encouraging new ways of gathering and promoting evidence (such as participatory research) could be more locally relevant and result in locally adapted, place–based, sustainable solutions. Engaging Beacons of Hope in the global policy agenda is of central importance as climate, biodiversity, health, and sustainable development agendas are defined by national governments and other stakeholders.
RECOMMENDATIONS When engaging new Beacons of Hope, work to mobilize diverse evidence from Indigenous knowledge to peer–reviewed science through creative strategies as a way to influence policy. Support diverse Beacons of Hope leaders to participate in global policy processes.
4. Support New Market Mechanisms based on Economic and Social Inclusion
Beacons of Hope are creating new market mechanisms and economic models based on solidarity, cooperation, and social inclusion. Several fairly small–scale initiatives have devised their own innovative measures to build supportive markets, such as a commitment to pay farmers in advance. A consistent theme and leverage point throughout the Beacons of Hope is ownership of resources and the inclusion of farmers (farmer–to–farmer sharing, participatory research methods, devolution of authority to local governance, cooperative models of ownership). The discussion around true cost valuations of negative and positive externalities, and how this might be addressed through policy and practice, is highly relevant here. It has been noted that governments are unlikely to lead on true cost accounting, therefore co–creation of true cost accounting applications and methodologies between private sector, civil society, and governments are needed.
RECOMMENDATIONS New market mechanisms should be identified, developed, and supported by policy and practice. Existing markets should be reformed to address issues of equity, inclusion, and ownership. Environmental and social externalities should be internalized by policy and markets in order to balance the playing field on which initiatives addressing sustainability are currently disadvantaged. Innovative, long– term thinking and creative partnerships and investments are required across the private sector, civil society, and government to transform food systems so that negative externalities are minimized and positive benefits — economic, social, ecological, and cultural — are enhanced and valued.
5. Invest Time and Resources in the Transformation Process
The Beacons of Hope illustrate that food systems transformations are dynamic, non–linear, and include feedback loops of learning as well as adaptive and creative iteration. In the early stage of the transformation process, initiatives operate in protected spaces where they can develop their interventions, respond to local needs, build networks, and establish their approach and interventions. The transformation process takes time, requires support in early stages, and usually involves multistakeholder engagement. The Beacons of Hope take advantage of systemic opportunities and respond to challenges at the local and global levels. The initiatives use anchoring mechanisms to establish stability, including cooperative ownership models based on mutual trust and collective decision–making that involve a broad number of stakeholders. Institutionalization was also identified as an anchoring mechanism, embedding initiatives in government, in local institutions, or through new or existing policies. Significant investments are needed to scale the work of Beacons of Hope up and out.
RECOMMENDATIONS Food systems transformations are unique and have not been adequately documented over time and across contexts and scales. There is an opportunity to both learn from past initiatives as well as apply those learnings to facilitate and accelerate food systems transformations. Identify and systematically engage more Beacons of Hope to better understand food systems transformations, levers, opportunities, challenges, pathways, and indicators, as well as probe the non– linear and circular dynamics of transition processes. Invest more resources and funding in Beacons of Hope globally over the long term. Finance and investments need to be significantly shifted to accelerate systems transformations.
6. Test and Refine the Toolkit and Framework
Building on the literature reviewed and the Beacons of Hope interviewed, we developed a Food Systems Transformation Toolkit that can be applied by other food systems initiatives. The Toolkit includes the Food Systems Transformation Framework and a Discussion Guide. The Framework identifies principles, key factors, patterns, barriers, opportunities, and key questions relevant across dynamic, complex contexts, and can be used for discussion, sharing, and movement–building. The Toolkit can be used and tested by powerful agents of change throughout food systems, including farmers, policymakers, corporate leaders, citizens, and donors seeking to analyze and accelerate food systems transformations.
RECOMMENDATIONS Support the process of using the Toolkit and testing and refining the Framework with different stakeholders. Document what is learned through this process and refine the Framework, Discussion Guide, and principles. Share the results of these applications, tests, and refinements.
7. Build a Movement of Beacons of Hope
Our research found that the following approaches are at the heart of their transformation processes: promoting agroecological approaches and principles; co–creation of knowledge, and knowledge exchange and dissemination; developing cooperative ownership models; emphasizing ideas of circular and solidarity economy; reinforcing the importance of culturally relevant and place–specific sustainable diets; establishing participatory approaches and inclusive governance; identifying new market mechanisms; and adopting new metrics.
We recognize that the current suite of 21 Beacons of Hope is not statistically significant. However, adding other Beacons of Hope from different sectors, geographies, scales, and with different food systems foci will allow us to deepen our analysis of the patterns of transformative elements of these initiatives. Throughout the Beacons of Hope initiative, the Beacons of Hope did not have opportunities to exchange information or share their experiences among themselves. There would be great value in fostering linkages between Beacons of Hope, strengthening connections and interconnections.
RECOMMENDATIONS Increase the Beacons of Hope sample size (e.g., from 21 to over 50) in order to better understand the approaches, patterns, qualities, and characteristics of food systems transformations globally. Refine the suite of tools supporting food systems transformations. Enhance, deepen, and broaden interconnections and synergies among Beacons of Hope as a strategic action in support of transformational change.