Mobilising cities to tackle the climate crisis through food system change for the Climate Summit – COP26

GlasgowDeclarationGrpahicCities and local governments can play an essential part in enabling the transformation of food systems needed as part of tackling the climate crisis, says Pete Ritchie of Nourish Scotland. In this interview, he explains how getting cities, local and regional governments to sign up to and act on the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration can influence the outcome of the climate change summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021. He also discusses a parallel farm to fork set of dialogues around the world to build an on-going process to underpin this necessary change.

The aim is to build upon much of the work that is already being done and work with the many different networks that exist – Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, c40, rikolto, ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), Under2Coalition, Mayors for Peace, Healthy Cities Network – to encourage their members to sign up to the declaration and act on it. Nourish Scotland is working with many partners on the Declaration and farm to fork dialogues. If you want to get in touch e-mail 

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We need a small farm future argues Chris Smaje

SmallFarmFuture229In this interview, Chris Smaje discusses his book ‘A Small Farm Future: making the case for a society built around local economies self-provisioning agricultural diversity and a shared earth’. He argues that multiple connected crises facing humanity require a rethink of farming models. We discuss the focus on cereals, the role of human labour and livestock, the disparity between urban and rural incomes and access to housing and land as well as the complexities involved in commons

If you want to hear more from Chris then he has a blog. You might also want to check out The Ecological Land Co-op, Flatpack Democracy, and the Land Workers’ Alliance 

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Seed sovereignty under threat – time to reform seed laws, nationally and internationally, says Dr Clare O’Grady Walshe

Dr Clare O’GradSeedSovereigntyy Walshe studies politics and international relations and wanted to understand the power and political dynamics inherent in changing seed laws, policies, and practices inside countries in the face of globalisation. After a careful study of how the laws were changed in Kenya and Ethiopia, her book, Globalisation and Seed Sovereignty in Sub-Saharan Africa, gives a detailed account of these changes and what they say about the nature of globalisation. Today, she is a Research Fellow in the School of Botany at Trinity College Dublin, and directs the new seed sovereignty group. Here she explains more about what she found and the lessons to be drawn.

You can find the article on food and security by Louise Sperling that she refers to here and download the HLPE issues paper on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security and nutrition here and the HLPE report on ‘Food security and nutrition: building a global narrative towards 2030’ here. Click here to download the 2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report on Agriculture at a Crossroads and here for the report of IAASTD 10 years on: ‘Transformation of our food systems – the making of a paradigm shift’. If you want to know more about Conservation by Use listen to this talk by Dr Melaku Worede

As she notes the international mix of organisations and treaties affecting seeds is increasingly complex and gives rise to a confused policy space with competing regimes. My talk ‘Seeds of contention, control or diversity’ on the Food Systems Academy website explores 5 of these regimes further. She believes this confused space “best serves predatory forces capitalising on such ambiguity and uncertainty with impunity”.

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Real Defence Spending Ensures Good Food for All

Here, I’m reposting a blog I wrote for the Rethinking Security website last week. I argue that there is no security without food security. Meeting the real security needs of humanity necessitates the progressive redistribution of military budgets toward ending hunger and achieving sustainable development.

DSCN4348.JPGAs Covid-19 exacerbates inequalities nationally and globally, more and more people are becoming food insecure in both richer and poorer countries. According to the UN’s 2020 report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019. And the number of hungry people has been rising since 2014, well before the pandemic hit. COVID-19 could push over 130 million more people into chronic hunger, it says. That means one in every nine humans going hungry most of the time.

This matters for both human security and physical security. Last month saw the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”.

The second of the Sustainable Development Goals, a range of objectives adopted by the UN in 2015, is for zero hunger by 2030 and to promote sustainable agriculture. Yet the heads of the five UN agencies behind the report warn that “five years after the world committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off track to achieve this objective by 2030.”

The price of food security

Ceres2030, a research group headed by Cornell University, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), estimate that to reach the zero hunger goal by 2030 some $33bn/year is needed, with $14bn from donors and the rest from affected countries.

Seems a lot? Not really. Especially when the world’s governments spent almost £2 trillion on the military in 2019, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In the UK the departmental budget for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs for 2020 is some £4.3bn, while that for Defence is £39.2bn.

It seems blatantly obvious that defending people’s fundamental needs cannot be achieved through devoting such huge amounts of resources to military spending. It cannot defeat the COVID-19 virus. It cannot deal with the other great long-term, slower-acting threats to human security – climate change, biodiversity loss and growing inequality. It is also clear that arms spending and exports help fuel conflicts that in turn increase food insecurity.

Food security and conflict

SOFI-2017As the UN’s 2017 report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition noted: “Exacerbated by climate-related shocks, conflicts seriously affect food security and are a cause of much of the recent increase in food insecurity. Conflict is a key driver of situations of severe food crisis and recently re-emerged famines, while hunger and undernutrition are significantly worse where conflicts are prolonged and institutional capacities weak.” Violent conflict is also the main driver of population displacement.

The Nobel Peace Prize announcement also noted, “The link between hunger and armed conflict is a vicious circle: war and conflict can cause food insecurity and hunger, just as hunger and food insecurity can cause latent conflicts to flare up and trigger the use of violence. We will never achieve the goal of zero hunger unless we also put an end to war and armed conflict.”

To reach the SDGs, not just in food but across the board, we need new approaches. There are calls for fundamental change to our food systems after we get through the current pandemic – for example, see IPES paper COVID-19 and the Crisis in Food Systems. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to progressively redirect spending from that which cannot defend humanity from these threats, military spending, to that which can.

Cooperation in complex systems

Everyone, everywhere needs food – produced in fair and resilient food systems that respect people, animals and planet, as we say in the Food Ethics Council. And everyone has multiple identities, mother, father, son, daughter, belief system, a community, a nationality, etc. But the core identity that we all need is to see ourselves as Earthlings, spread across different cultures and continents but with common needs, even if expressed differently. These are clearly shown in the various farming systems and cuisines that have developed around the world. We have to get beyond a focus on competition to realise that the mark of any successful social species is the ability to cooperate. Successful social species have to cooperate to survive as they make complex systems.

To do this, we need to put our resources to work in the right direction. This then is the time to seek a worldwide commitment from every country to progressively redirect its military spending away from mechanisms and machines with which to better kill each other into life enhancing and environment sustaining activities. By doing so we will achieve the sustainable development goals, conquer hunger, poverty and make a fairer, healthy and sustainable world for this and future generations.

Food security in the UK

hungryfro-change-pngDefending us Earthlings, in whichever country we live, rich or poor, against the real existential threats to our food security requires unprecedented cooperation between countries and peoples. In the UK, as I write, the issue of avoiding children going hungry in school holidays is hitting the headlines, with a variety of short-term immediate solutions being discussed. But this is symptomatic of a much deeper problem of growing levels of food insecurity and poverty, as were highlighted by the Food Foundation, footballer Marcus Rashford and others and as we found in the independent Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which I chaired.

This challenge, compounded by the need to restructure farming systems and dietary patterns along more ecologically sound, healthy and sustainable lines, is about beginning to understand what true defence spending means for people’s security in the 21st century. For the UK there is an opportunity for government to engage in such a rethink as it embarks on an Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. This “will define the government’s vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade”. The review provides a real opportunity to lead in redefining what defence and security mean and progressively redirect domestic resources to address the existential threats to people’s well-being, which sadly have been highlighted by the pandemic.

On April 16, 1953, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is Fmade, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.”

It is time to stop that theft. Time to bring together a wide range of constituencies campaigning for this, such as The Global Campaign on Military Spending, Tipping Point North South, Stop Fuelling War, with businesses and NGOs across a wide range of fields to develop positive programmes, such as the Business Plan for Peace, to enable humanity to truly defend itself from hunger and food insecurity, climate change, biodiversity loss and inequality.

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How do you measure the number of hungry people in the world – and why did the numbers drop by some 130 million between 2018-19?

sofi2020Although the number of hungry people in the world has been rising for the past 5 years, reaching 690 million in 2019, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2020, that total number shows a significant drop on the previous year’s estimate of 820 million. Why? That’s the first question I put to Carlo Cafiero, Food Security and Nutrition Statistics Team leader Focal point for SDG indicators 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. These concern both the prevalence of undernourishment and also moderate or severe food insecurity in the population.

Carlo is also Project Manager of “Voices of the Hungry” project at FAO. This project developed the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) to provide timely information on the adequacy of people’s access to food by asking them directly about their experiences. The FIES can be used to produce estimates of the prevalence of food insecurity at different levels of severity, key information for implementing policies aiming to realize the human right to food.

Measuring the prevalence of food insecurity in the UK was one of the key recommendations of the independent Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty which reported in 2015 and which I chaired. The Food Foundation (download 4 facts report), EndHungerUK campaign and many others have been working to achieve this since and in 2019 the Department of Work and Pensions announced that food insecurity questions will be added to the Family Resources Survey, which covers all four UK nations and samples 20,000 households (download Food Foundation release).

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The Olympics maybe on hold, but Japan’s food policies are still worth a watch.

a guest blog by Tessa Tricks*

We are amidst a major moment for UK food policy. The pandemic has pushed longstanding issues up the agenda; dietary ill-health has become a medical emergency, school food provision has made the PM’s radar and over five million Britons have become food insecure. Working out how to provide access to healthy and sustainable diets for all is more important than ever. It’s a time for change. A time when many, including the Government are asking about the key ingredients for a more successful food system. What I saw in Japan gives reassurance that policies which affect the dietary health of a nation can be done a radically different way. Here I discuss two health policies, the ‘Metabo’ law which aims to control the waistline of an aging population, and the Shokuiku law which gives each school child a basic food education. Will either win Japan the gold medal for dietary health?

School food matters 

According to UNICEF’s 2019 report, The State of the World’s Children, Japan tops the charts for childhood health indicators and has the lowest incidence of childhood obesity among the 41 developed countries in the OECD and EU.

Kyushoku, Japan’s school lunch programme, and its supporting food education scheme Shokuiku, receive international acclaim for their contribution to such chart-topping child health. Kyushoku began in the 1950s shortly after the introduction of school food standards in the UK. While Thatcher abolished the UK System, the Japanese system remains.

The government-subsidised Kyushoku extends to all government primary schools and many junior high schools. The Basic Law of Shokuiku was introduced in 2005 to make food education a part of school curriculums. Combined, Kyushoku and Shokuiku culminate in across-curricular programme which has the long-term health and wellbeing of children at its core.

Under these programmes each school has a nutritionist who plans the meals using seasonal and fresh food, oversees the preparation, and in many cases supports the procurement of local produce. They also facilitate food learning within lessons and outside of the classroom, through activities such as local farm visits. 

From their first year in school, children turn their classroom into a lunch hall for an hour a day. They take it in turns to serve food to their classmates, introduce the meal, and clear away. The process normalises a sense of shared responsibility and highlights the table manners, gratitude and community dining which are all considered essential parts of ‘teaching food.’

This is supported by a daily broadcast to explain the nutritional elements of the day’s lunch. Regular discussions around lunch and food are also part of the curriculum. 

Japanese friends say pudding was not a part of Kyushoku. “Maybe jelly on special days, but not really.” My memories of UK school lunches revolve around a thick syrupy sponge drowning in custard. No complaints on my part, but it did little on the nutritional front.

On the contrary, each Kyushoku meal has 600-700 calories balanced between carbohydrates, meat or fish and vegetables. A meal might include rice with grilled fish and a spinach and sprout dish, served with miso soup with pork, alongside milk and dried prunes. A splash of custard wouldn’t go amiss but credit is due for the incorporation of at least three portions of fruit and veg into lunch alone.

School lunch example Image source

There are no concessions for those who have special dietary requirements or are vegetarian, let alone vegan. Each child gets the same. This is hard to conceive of in the UK where we have a greater number of ethnicities, pressure for schools to go ‘meat-free’ during certain days of the week, and a crippling fear of allergies.

In Japan, “individual choice” (in an increasingly obesogenic environment) happens outside of the school gates. This one meal a day is seen as an opportunity to level the social determinants of diet-related health which are starker within the UK and sow the seeds of adult diseases in early childhood. School lunch is designed to provide nutrition that tends to be lacking in meals at home. I think it contributes to the nutritional balance necessary for children.”says Education Ministry official Mayumi Ueda.

Although Japan’s childhood obesity rates are low in comparison with the international community, they have risen in recent years due to the increasing infiltration of ‘Western’ high-fat sugar salt (HFSS) foods. Recent data suggests they have begun to stabilise. While it remains to be seen if Shokuiku’s joined up approach to health and food education will help it to buck the global trend long term, these results show promise.

A weighting game

Things are also happening outside the school gates, since Japan’s diet-related adult health has equally come under strain due to a rise in Western-influenced foods. The burden that this places on national healthcare is increased by an ageing population, and a diminishing pool of young taxpayers. In response, the government has made policy moves which shape the nation’s food choices long after they leave school. 

Introduced in 2008, the Metabo aims to prevent obesity in old age by penalising bulging waistlines. It requires men and women between the ages of 40 and 74, (amounting to nearly half of the population) to have their waist circumference measured annually. Men with waistlines larger than 33.5 inches and women with waistlines larger than 35.4 inches are seen as  a cause for concern.

Those spilling over the threshold may be required to go to counselling sessions, converse with a dietician or attend exercise classes. Meanwhile, in the UK, the NHS advises that men with waistlines larger than 37 inches and women with waistlines larger than 31.5 inches should ‘try to lose weight’. 

Japanese citizens aren’t penalised if their weight loss efforts go awry. The companies and local government who have such citizens in their charge are. At the time of Metabo’s introduction, NEC, Japan’s largest maker of PCs, told the New York Times that it could incur as much as $19 million in penalties if it failed to meet its targets.

‘Metabolic syndrome’ is a collection of factors that heighten the risk of developing vascular disease and diabetes, including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Shortening technical and potentially alienating terminology to the jovial ‘Metabo’, has worked wonders. The term has entered daily conversation as shorthand for both ‘overweight; and ‘body fat’. 

Witty advertising campaigns compliment up-beat ‘Metabo’ music played at specific exercise classed. The lyrics joke about the prospect of buttons flying off trousers and invoke camaraderie as the nation fights the pesky Metabo together.

“Goodbye, Metabo. Let’s get our check-ups together. Go! Go! Go! Goodbye, Metabo. Don’t wait till you get sick. No! No! No!” (When sung to the tune of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab, this really has the potential to stick).

It’s an understatement to say the social disapproval is stronger in Japan than in the UK. The number of Japanese who are afraid to say that they do not want to eat meat for fear of going against the grain serves as one example.

As such, many people felt the approach would have legs. “It’ll have the same effect as non-smoking campaigns where smokers are now looked at disapprovingly,” a company nurse Kimiko Shigeno, told the New York Times.

A decade on Tokyo university worker, Makiko, has mixed feelings about the scheme. “Measuring waistlines isn’t enough to prevent lifestyle related diseases and I’m not sure what impact it’s had. However, Government intervention has made Japanese people more aware of lifestyle diseases. We are all aware of Metabo.”

Official studies on the success of the law have yet to be published. However, Metabo is not just a paternalistic strategy. It highlights an understanding of the role of government in personal health, but also an appreciation of the role of social pressures and norms in shaping dietary behaviour. 

Whether or not you agree with Japan’s strategy for obesity management, their approach to education on the health risks associated with modern food, combined with a healthy food culture from childhood is worth watching. Will it keep them in the running for global health leader? Stay tuned. 

In this guest blog, Tessa Tricks, Creative Partner at Environmental Charity Hubbub, reflects on her recent time in Japan, before it was cut short by Covid-19.

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Food Justice – Time to deliver

Ten years ago, I was one of 14 people to sit on the Food and Fairness Inquiry, a year-long investigation into social justice in the food and farming system. This was an innovative and inclusive process resulting in the Food Justice Report. Half the people on the Inquiry were from the Food Ethics Council and the others from various parts of the food system – from retail to farming to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

FEC-RoadtoFoodJusticeA decade later, the Food Ethics Council has revisited the report and reflected on where we are now, resulting in a short new publication ‘On the Road to Food Justice’. In short, we’ve still a long way to go to ensure fair shares, a fair say and fair play in our food systems. Urgent action is needed to address the many injustices in food and farming.

Sharing my experience of the Food Ethics Council

Last year, I spoke at the second International Congress on Agricultural and Food Ethics, reflecting on the 2O years I’ve been a member of the Food Ethics Council. Building on the Food Ethics Council’s approach and core concepts of respect for fairness, wellbeing and freedom, I reflected on lessons learned from its work over the past two decades in a paper entitled ‘Food ethics in the UK – from small beginnings to food citizenship and beyond.’ This experience highlights the importance of taking a systemic approach and the need to transform rules, incentives, and mindsets to achieve ethical food systems. Treating each other as food citizens, rather than just consumers, is central to this. I discussed some of the ways the Council seeks, alongside others, to empower people to shape a better food system and address controversial issues in the face of climate destabilisation, biodiversity loss, changing trading relationships and growing inequality.

Fair and open access

I was encouraged by the editor of Food Ethics journal, who also spoke at the conference, to revise the paper and submit it for publication. When I’d revised it and looked at submitting it, I found I’d have to assign copyright to Springer, who publish the journal, and pay a lot to enable it to be open access. I wanted to make my work freely available, not locked behind a paywall. Despite peer reviewing for free for the journal, when I enquired about waiving the open access fee as neither the Food Ethics Council as a charity nor I could pay the fee, this was refused. So instead of publishing the paper ‘Food Justice -Time to deliver’ in an academic journal, the Food Ethics Council is publishing it on its website and I’m making it available on mine (download link below). Please share it widely with anyone interested in food ethics and the work of the Food Ethics Council. Do sign up to the Food Ethics Council newsletter (scroll to the foot of the page) to keep up to date.

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Slavery lies behind today’s diets says historian James Walvin

Jameswalvin-TradeEtcBk214What we eat and drink has a history. And when it comes to some ubiquitous things like sugar and coffee, as well as plantation-based commodities, slavery lies at the heart of that history. From his first book ‘A Jamaican Plantation: The History of Worthy Park 1670-1970’ co-authored with Michael Craton in 1970 through his many books including ‘The Trader, The Owner, The Slave’, and ‘Sugar: The World Corrupted: From Slavery to Obesity’ to the one he is working on now ‘A World Transformed – slavery in its global context’, historian, professor James Walvin, has researched the impact of slavery on food, farming and society. In this interview, he discusses the role slavery has played in creating today’s food and plantation farming systems and dietary patterns.

We also discuss whether this history is sufficiently acknowledged in education today, as some in Universities work to see how to decolonise their teaching and structures, for example in Lancaster.

For an article about modern slavery in the UK food system see this article in Open Democracy

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Trade Policy, The Right to Food & COVID-19 – and that’s just starters for Michael Fakhri, 4th Rapportuer on the Right to Food

Michael Fakhri was appointed as the UN’s 4th Rapporteur on the Right to Food in May 2020. In this conversation he talks candidly about his initial plans and the impact of COVID-19 on them. His first report, due in September 2020, deals with the importance of trade policy, the need to change the way trade in food is managed and the institutions responsible. He reflects on the impact COVID-19 has had on our understanding of key workers, schools’ role in caring for children, and his future plans. The first of these is to focus on the planned UN Food Systems Summit in 2021 to promote an inclusive, rights based approach.

As we end our conversation he draws an analogy with the BBC TV series character Dr Who, who is periodically reborn in a new body – like the UN rapporteurs – each building on their predecessors work but in their own way as each defines how they fulfil their role. For Michael, one need is to be a fearless organiser connecting those different constituencies that need to work together – from health, environment, civil society, government and business – to ensure the right to food for all now and into the future.

You can find the annual thematic reports of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food here.

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Over 50 countries spent over $700bn/year on farm support in 2017-19 says OECD. How? And what have responses to COVID-19 been?

Some 54 countries* collectively spent, on average, over $700bn a year supporting agriculture between 2017-19 according the over 500 page Agricultural Policy Monitoring and Evaluation 2020 from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – see Figure 1 below. In this interview, Martin von Lampe, lead for the report, explains what’s happening. He also discusses how things have changed over the last 30 years, what they believe would make the spending more effective in addressing the health, environmental and livelihood challenges in the future and the early impact of COVID-19 (see Figure 2 below which summaries the types of responses to Covid-19).

The OECD Monitoring and evaluation page here, provides access to the underlying data as well as to the related policy brief for the 2020 report. To compare your country go here.

The Agricultural Outlook 2019-2028 has also just been published. Its projections cover consumption, production, trade, and prices for 25 agricultural products for the period 2020 to 2029. In its view “The weakening of demand growth is expected to persist over the coming decade. Population will be the main driver of consumption growth for most commodities, even though the rate of population growth is projected to decline. Per capita consumption of many commodities is expected to be flat at the global level.
The slower demand growth for agricultural commodities is projected to be matched by efficiency gains in crop and livestock production, which will keep real agricultural prices relatively flat. International trade will remain essential for food security in food-importing countries, and for rural livelihoods in food-exporting countries. World agricultural markets face a range of new uncertainties that add to the traditionally high risks agriculture faces. The most significant source of uncertainties relates to the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacts on consumption, production, prices and trade. Other uncertainties relate to changes in consumers preferences, plant and animal diseases, and the heightened uncertainty with respect to future trading agreements between several important players on world agricultural markets.”

Figure 1. Agricultural policies across 54 countries have generated transfers to the agricultural sector worth more than USD 700 bn per year on average for 2017-19


Figure 2. Inventory of close to 500 agricultural and food policy responses to COVID-19


*The report includes the 37 OECD countries and the five non-OECD EU Member States, as well as 12 emerging economies: Argentina, Brazil, People’s Republic of China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Ukraine and Viet Nam.

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