Creating viable rural futures is essential to food security and national stability
Today marks the start of the Global Food Security Symposium, a platform for discussion about the international community’s achievements in addressing global food insecurity. Organised annually by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the theme for this year’s Symposium “Stability in the 21st Century”, resonates with the work of GFAR. On 29 and 30 March, visionaries from every sector, from both the US and the international community, are coming together to generate productive dialogues and actions to help ensure steps forward in global food security and agricultural development.
Partners in GFAR consider that convening multi-stakeholder dialogue is fundamental when addressing food insecurity. The symposium’s sub-theme of the role of food security in “Warding off instability and conflict” resonates particularly with the series of dialogues around the Mediterranean region that GFAR organised in partnership with the Foundation for South-North Mediterranean Dialogue in 2014-2016. Centred on the changes and innovations required to revive rural communities across the Mediterranean, a series of regional dialogues has demonstrated the potential of collective responses in addressing food insecurity in protracted crisis environments.
As a unique multi-stakeholder forum, GFAR is directly able to facilitate encounters between different sectors and institutions that perhaps otherwise would not have shared their experiences in an equitable and transparent way. We work actively to create space for cross-sectoral dialogue so that we together can stand up to the challenges that rural communities face in achieving food and nutritional security.
On both sides of the Mediterranean, rural communities have lived through years of protracted crisis. The demand for social change that caused the political upheavals of the Arab Spring were in large part a result of the long-term devastating effects of rural poverty, crop failures and ensuing high food prices. Rural poverty is still leading many people to migrate to urban areas in search of new opportunities. If no such opportunity is found, the result is often urban poverty, despair, and over time, break-down of social structures. To avoid this downward spiral in the first place, it is essential to address the needs of rural populations at an early stage, creating opportunities for growth and of a sustainable future, especially for youth and for women.
A series of four sub-regional meetings (Greece, Egypt, Morocco and France) were held to identify viable futures for rural communities in these sub-regions as well as the drivers of change and possible factors that may interrupt those changes. Participants discussed what they considered the most effective pathways to achieve the changes they wanted to see happening in their communities. Improved conditions and possibilities for women and youth were among factors that emerged as important in all four sub-regions; participants from a wide range of sectors recognised the crucial role of these two groups to the stability and prosperity of rural societies.
GFAR’s involvement enabled a range of civil society, farmer and youth organisations and local industries to participate in the discussions, as well as national agricultural research and extension institutions and universities across the region. Agricultural organisations with regional focus such as AARINENA, Agropolis International, CIHEAM, EFARD, FAO and ICARDA were also strongly involved.
The sub-regional meetings culminated in a Congress held in Milan in October 2015 under the theme Mediterranean Rural Communities: No Longer Left Behind. In a joint declaration adopted at the Congress, four areas of action were identified as crucial to rebuild a future in rural areas in the region: innovation, investment, women and youth. While working to foster innovation and investment, collectively, partners agreed to promote both women’ and youth’s ability to re-appropriate their own future, in particular through education and job-creating initiatives.
Further meetings have since been held in Montpellier, France, principally to build a collective response to the challenges, and in Rome, Italy, to review the progress, share ideas and identify specific initiatives to be mobilised. Concrete take-aways from the Rome meeting have been pointed out by YPARD, one of GFAR’s partners. They include different ways in which countries have addressed the problems of young people’s limited access to land and finance. In Italy, Coldiretti Giovani Impresa facilitates funding for young people who want to take up agriculture. In Tunisia, youth have received plots of land. However in both these cases barriers to success have been identified in securing additional technical support and capacity development.
I firmly believe that it is crucial to share experiences and prepare common responses in a cross-sectoral setting, as GFAR has done through the Mediterranean Dialogues. Agricultural research cannot alone provide solutions; rather, the insights of advanced research must be coupled with the experiences and views of those living the reality, if they are to be successfully applied.
GFAR was constructed to bridge the gulf between science and society in the agriculture and food sectors, and we continue to foster common action that includes stakeholders from all affected sectors. By working together, we can achieve durable development and build truly resilient rural societies.
As Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the UN stated to the UN Security Council on 11 March: more than 20 million people across countries in Africa and the Middle East, all of which have one thing in common – conflict, are at risk of starvation and famine. “We stand at a critical point in our history. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.”
GFAR seeks to explore and establish with rural communities what they desire of their own futures and then help them to define and understand what innovations are required to help achieve those aims. This means going well beyond agricultural technologies to determine and address the underlying drivers of change in rural communities and societies themselves. It means processes of agri-food innovation that are effective, relevant, equitable and accountable to those they are intended to benefit. It is only through cross-sectoral collaboration and locally-owned processes of change that we can hope to eradicate hunger and achieve global food security and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals.
by Mark Holderness, GFAR Executive Secretary
GFAR is the world’s agri-food research, development and innovation community working together to share information and ideas, to dialogue, and to build partnerships for collective action.
Photo credits: 1&2-Ami Vitale-FAO; 3-ICARDA