On May 25th, IISLA came together to host its very first Independent Dialogue for the UN Food Systems Summit joined by an array of experts, advocates, civil society and policymakers. In preparation, we set out to construct a landscape that was both inclusive and diverse. For us, it was important to include people whose voices aren’t typically heard in food system discussions, especially at the international level. Focused on natural and organic agriculture, we invited smallholder farmers and MSMEs into small focus group discussions to hear the challenges and issues they face in the current food system and what systemic interventions they could suggest. We see them being at the epicentre of conscious innovations, working towards revolutionising the food system through sustainable means.
To build on our own knowledge and understanding of the Philippine food system, our team curated this event with the purpose to gain perspectives from all food chain actors. Four pressing topics were thought-out and put into place, these were: food production; food processing and consumption; food distribution; and rural financing. IISLA mindfully attributed each attendee to a focus group session that suited them best. An astonishing amount of planning went into conducting these discussions in an informal, transparent and inviting atmosphere for participants to speak freely. The results of these focus group discussions then formed the basis of the dialogue itself.
To kick off this momentous occasion, we had the Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary Leo Sebastian providing us with a message on behalf of DA Secretary William Dar. In his message, he presented one of the DAs core pillars – inclusive growth. He assured us that the DA is making it their priority to incorporate farmers and fisherfolk in their policies for food system change. Asserting that they are crucial actors to support and that facilitating their livelihoods can spur economic growth within the agricultural sector. In fact, in an effort to stabilise food production systems the DA implemented a ‘Plant, plant, plant’ programme. This programme urged farmers to plant more areas by providing them with seeds, fertilizers and technical assistance. In his final words, Leo Sebastian said that the DA is “striving for a food secure landscape where no one is left behind”. It is, however, unclear as to whether the DA is seeking to improve factors of sustainability and nutrition throughout mainstream food chains.
After our message from the DA, we had Dr. Glenn Gregorio from SEARCA, one of the champions for the UN Food System Summit. Dr Gregorio presented to us his findings from SEARCAs very own UN Independent Dialogue on transforming agricultural education and research. He informs us that everybody has a role to play in conceptualising, designing and implementing food and nutrition system innovations. To transform the system there must be a balance between economic, social and environmental concerns. Issuing that, civil society, the state and the market all play a crucial role in change within the food system. He urges for the promotion of responsible consumption and production through societal education. SEARCAs key strategy in food system change is to promote initiatives that increase production efficiency and income diversification across the value chain.
Before we broke out into small breakout sessions, IISLA’s Founder and CEO, Jennifer Viloria, presented to the participants an analysis of the situation of the food system in the Philippines based on the focus group discussions, backed by the extensive research that our team has been unearthing over the past few years. To read our working papers on the Filipino food system, click here. A whole hour dedicated to break out sessions was followed by a plenary discussion where all participants were invited to comment and interact with one another. Overall, it was a fruitful dialogue with a lot of action points for all stakeholders involved. IISLA now hopes that as we convey the result of this important dialogue to the UN, that they will be considered and finally put the smallholder farmers and MSMEs at the heart of all initiatives.