Potential game-changing systemic solutions for the UN Food Systems Summit: Advancing equitable livelihoods

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Potential game-changing systemic solutions for the UN Food Systems Summit: Advancing equitable livelihoods

©IFAD/Francesco Cabras

The UN Food System Summit’s Action Tracks offer a space to share and learn, with a view to fostering new actions and partnerships and amplifying existing initiatives. Each of the five Action Tracks is aligned with one of the Summit’s five objectives. Individually and collectively, the Action Tracks are designed to identify solutions that can deliver wide-reaching benefits and to address potential trade-offs with other tracks.

Advancing equitable livelihoods requires building the agency of the underrepresented: those who lack the space or the enabling environment in which to exercise their power and rights. It implies protecting and strengthening their capacities, along with the knowledge, resilience and innovation that they possess.

It also requires transforming the power relations within food systems: both those that take place in formal spheres (e.g., market negotiations, group membership) and in non-formal spheres. We must confront the barriers within institutions and policies, with the aim of achieving lasting change so that food systems can lead to equitable, sustainable livelihoods, rather than just temporary or seasonal increases in opportunities. We must also make adjustments to the regimes that regulate access to, use of, and control over resources, especially those involving land distribution, labour division, and decision-making power.

Central to advancing equitable livelihoods in food systems are the nearly 500 million small-scale food producers around the world, many of whom work in fragile and vulnerable terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Their production choices, technologies, natural resource management, and connections to value chains determine not only the sustainability and resilience of their livelihoods and their capacity to overcome poverty and food insecurity, but also the diversity of food that will be available to their communities and to consumers and the prices they will pay for it. Similarly, the choices made by consumers and by the processors, wholesalers and retailers who supply them with food affect the opportunities available to small-scale producers. Livelihoods in food systems also include those who work for wage labour and those who operate businesses along food value chains, as well as international migrant workers who often have less access to services or support due to their nationality or immigration status.

The role of the agricultural private sector (encompassing everything from corporations to small businesses and women’s self-help groups) also needs to be recognized and leveraged to improve equitable access to livelihoods. The private sector holds the potential to generate much-needed investment in agriculture and food systems and to ensure responsible and culturally appropriate supply chains that can benefit small-scale producers, workers and consumers. However, irresponsible and inappropriate business and financial sector operations can undermine this potential. Responsible investments in food and agriculture require the proactive engagement and commitment of all partners. It is imperative that global financial institutions and organizations cooperate towards responsible investment in agri-food value chains.

Barriers that hamper access to financing for the private sector also need to be addressed. Increasing investments and improving access to finance is critical for achieving rural transformation, especially for small-scale food producers and rural micro-, small and medium agri-food enterprises. In this context, public finance can play an important role in supporting rural transformation and investment in food systems, mitigating risks and attracting more private investment.

Whose livelihoods?

Discussing food systems means going beyond the classical value chain approach to appreciate the multifunctionality of food and agriculture systems. The UNFSS Action Track 4 has identified the most vulnerable actors in food systems both in urban and rural areas, with a view to ensuring their human and labour rights and promoting their livelihoods. Action Track 4 seeks to address how food systems can contribute to sustainable development, especially in terms of their ability to address the various economic, social and environmental issues at play. It recognizes that livelihoods in agriculture and fisheries encompass both those working in agricultural production and those involved in the production of non-agricultural commodities.

The livelihoods of the one billion people who make up the workforce in agriculture, fisheries and food production – the farmers, waged agricultural workers, fishers, food processing and manufacturing workers, transport and distribution workers, shop and market workers, and food preparers and servers – need to be improved to ensure equity and social justice.

Read the initial ideas submitted to the UNFSS Secretariat by Action Track 4.

Action Track 4 is a diverse and broad group, representing varied perspectives and opinions. The ideas presented are emerging from an interactive and collaborative process. Over the coming months, additional solutions will be developed and the ideas presented here will be further shaped and contextualized. The inclusion of a solution in this initial document should not be interpreted as an endorsement of that idea on behalf of all Action Track 4 members or their institutions.