The Blue Marble Evaluation Network (BME) has been commissioned to synthesize the reports of Independent Dialogues as part of preparation for the UN Food Systems Summit in September. Through June more than 700 Independent Dialogues have been registered. It is helpful to locate the contributions of the Independent Dialogues in relation to the other workstreams of preparation and planning for the Summit. The Action Tracks for the Summit are focused on solutions to food systems problems: ensuring access to safe and nutritious food, shifting to sustainable consumption patterns, boosting nature -positive production, advancing equitable livelihoods, building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress, and governance. The Food Systems Champions Network is mobilizing leaders of institutions and networks to advance food systems transformation and provide thoughtful leadership on substantive issues and proposed solutions. The Member State Dialogues are highlighting the concerns, needs, and commitments at the national level. The Global Dialogues are aligning food systems transformation with global issues like climate change, economic trends, and humanitarian needs. The Scientific Group is ensuring that proposed solutions are science-based. What, then, is the particular niche and contribution of the Independent Dialogues?
The Dialogues have value in bringing diverse people together on a variety of issues to think about and build momentum for the Summit. People connecting together and interacting around food systems issues and the future of food and agriculture has value in and of itself quite apart from the substance that emerges from the Dialogues. That said, important substantive themes have emerged.
The Dialogues provide important and thoughtful guidance about how food systems transformations should be undertaken and how solutions coming out of the Summit should be implemented. For example, Dialogue reports have identified the need for better use of existing technologies and development of new technologies to address challenges like greater access to food, climate change, scaling education initiatives, achieving more equity, reducing food waste, and supporting health and nutrition. Dialogue participants anticipate the need for policy and regulatory reforms to support and enable solutions. They expect the Summit to support partnerships, synergies, and alliances to change food systems collaboratively and strategically. This will mean creating platforms and networks to facilitate multi-stakeholder engagement. In generating solutions, Dialogue participants have identified fundamental premises that should undergird Summit deliberations:
- Food systems and climate change are interconnected.
- Solutions must be consistent with scientific evidence.
- Solutions will require education about food and food systems.
While the Dialogues offer great diversity of perspectives on a wide range of food systems issues, our synthesis analysis has identified 10 cross-cutting themes that offer guidance as overarching considerations during the Summit.
Ten Guiding Themes for Summit Solutions
- Transform food systems to be equitable and sustainable
Dialogue participants expressed and shared visions of food systems transformations that will lead to a more just and sustainable world. This was articulated as major, significant systems innovations and reforms, rather than small, incremental changes around the edges.
- Apply systems-thinking
A significant pattern across many Dialogues was the emphasis on the need for all actors to acknowledge to the high-level of complexity and interdependency in a food system and therefore, to engage in systems thinking when designing, implementing, and evaluating transformational initiatives and solutions. Attention to systems thinking arose as Dialogues addressed the Summit Principles of Engagement which include a principle on recognizing complexity.
- Adapt solutions to diverse local contexts
Different solutions will be needed for different contexts. Dialogue participants were leery about overly broad, standardized, and top-down solutions that are insensitive to local contexts, both in regard to environmental and socio-cultural contexts. Tis applies not just to traditional agricultural and rural landscapes, but to cities, including the role of urban residents in not just consuming food but also growing it, for example, in community gardens.
- Shift perspectives and change mindsets
Systems thinking involves seeing and understanding interconnections among elements of food and agriculture (for example, the farming ecosystem, production, markets, consumption, culture, and human and environment health).
- Value diversity and engage inclusively
A corollary to the importance of sensitivity to diverse local contexts is exercising sensitivity to diverse people through intentional and authentic inclusivity. Guidance offered in the dialogues included diverse forms of communication, developing collaborations, and building bridges amongst diverse groups, e.g., scientists, producers, consumers, youth, women, indigenous people, farmers, and policymakers.
- Ensure equity
Valuing diversity and exercising inclusivity are processes necessary to achieve greater equity.
- Integrate what is already working into innovations
Transformation is recognized in the dialogues as requiring the disruption of existing systems and acknowledging that existing systems all too often privilege the few over the many, harm the environment, and are neither sustainable nor healthy. That said, many advised building innovations on strengths and what is working in existing systems. A related theme was valuing traditional and indigenous knowledge and local wisdom.
- Facilitate conflict resolutions and negotiate trade-offs
The Dialogues generated long lists of complicated trade-offs that will have to be dealt with and negotiated in designing, implementing, and evaluating food systems transformations.
- Mobilize engaged and accountable actors collaboratively
Dialogue recognize that actions require actors and solutions require problem-solvers. Virtually every dialogue includes some discussion of the need for clarity about different roles and responsibilities played by different actors in different organizational and sector positions – and the importance of their networking, collaborating, and partnering together. Governments are identified as having major responsibilities for large-scale change, but the private sector and civil society actors also need to be engaged collaboratively.
- Be open and transparent
Transparency is a major and consistent concern across Dialogues and applies to all aspects of food systems transformation decision-making.
This is not a mere checklist of themes to address one by one. Dialogue participants caution that isolated and siloed solutions will not achieve transformational impacts. Thus, solutions need to be examined for their cumulative, interactive, interdependent, interconnections that, implemented together in mutually reinforcing momentum, can transform food systems.
As these themes illustrate, the Independent Dialogues offer thoughtful guidance for Summit deliberations. The full report that provides detailed discussion and documentation of the Independent Dialogue themes can be found here.