Diversified Agri-food Systems: Bastions of biodiversity, nutrition and resilience
According to The State of the Food Security and Nutrition in the World released last year (SOFI 2018), global hunger and malnutrition has increased considerably since 2016, reaching 821 million undernourished people – approximately one person out of every nine in the world. This means that the number of people suffering from hunger has returned to levels from almost a decade ago.
The increased number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition has been the result of climate variability and exposure to complex, frequent and intense climate extremes. Climate variability and extreme climatic conditions have repercussions for food utilization as they harm agricultural productivity and food production and cropping patterns. This leads to food availability shortfalls and negative repercussions on nutrient quality and safety of food.
SOFI 2018 noted that hunger is worse in those countries facing excessive rainfall and drought, and where the livelihood of the majority of the population depends on agriculture. The Report strongly recommended that, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on food security and nutrition by 2030, it is imperative to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems.
Experts highlighted that access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food must be framed as a human right to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, particularly for the most vulnerable. Policies promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems are needed. They also recommended implementing and scaling up interventions ensuring access to dietary diversity and nutritious foods, in order to break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.
SOFI 2018 identified the use of underutilized species, also called orphan, minor, neglected or forgotten crops, as a possible solution to these complex challenges. These genetic resources, cultivated for centuries by rural communities according to traditional knowledge, innovations and practices, occupy important niches and can adapt to local conditions. They can therefore serve as a safety net for indigenous and local farmers whenever staple crops fail during periods of stress or following disasters. Experts noted that crop diversification is an important adaptation strategy that can benefit food security, health and nutrition, as well as adaptation to climate variability and extremes.
But more efforts are needed in making information and good practices accessible on the use and value of underutilized species to adapt to climate change, and contributing to food security and nutrition to different stakeholders, particularly to vulnerable households and local communities. The Report mentioned the need to implement knowledge-sharing mechanisms that enable people to participate in the design of interventions to enhance climate resilience, and smallholder farmers’ participation in decision-making processes is stressed as crucial by the experts.
Concerned Partners in GFAR are now seeking to identify opportunities which could respond to some of the recommendations of SOFI 2018 through multi-stakeholder engagement. Lexicon of Sustainability is leading an online survey which focuses on the following issues in food and agriculture:
Plant forward diets
All Partners in GFAR are encouraged to participate in the survey, as the results—especially regarding plant forward diets and biodiversity—will be valuable input to an innovative project of Lexicon, Google and Globescan. The feedback may also prove relevant to a proposed new global strategy on diversified agri-food systems to achieve food and nutrition security. The strategy would bring together organizations from different constituency groups celebrating their existing work, capacities and impacts towards the conservation and sustainable use of traditionally propagated plant genetic resources, and foster further work to reduce poverty and increased food security and nutrition globally.