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Food and Agriculture Systems: A Blue Marble Evaluation Perspective

In writing about transformation in Blue Marble Evaluation, I quoted Million Belay, coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, who said: “At last there is a realization that change, fundamental change in the way we are living, is needed.” I met Million at an international conference on Transformation hosted by the University of Dundee in 2017. Forward to the present, Million Belay opens a new publication entitled Surviving Covid-19: The Forgotten Remedy with the following:

“The emphasis in this Guide is on the use of natural fertilizers and biopesticides instead of nutrient-limiting agrochemicals, the value of a diverse diet, as we find in our traditional African meals, and the connection between microbial diversity in the soil with the microbial diversity in our stomach. In this way, this Guide is groundbreaking. AFSA feels that agroecology, with its emphasis on diversity, natural ways of farming, traditional ecological knowledge and a farmer-centered approach is the best way of countering COVID-19 and future pandemics, as well as other diseases. This Guide is a much- awaited response to the call for the best diet in these times of COVID-19 in Africa, and a further testimony that agroecology works for Africa.

“We cannot predict what will happen with this virus but whatever happens, we will be better off if we eat healthy food. A drive across Africa to eat natural, diverse, wholesome food, using our traditional diets as a basis for what we eat, will bring many benefits. Apart from helping to cope and recover better from COVID-19, it will also lower the number of new cases of many modern diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancers. Let us not forget that growing our own food and buying from local growers supports food and income security, strengthening the local economy. It also reduces plastic packaging waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and higher transport costs that usually come with imported food and the damage the plastic packing does to the environment. COVID-19 is a wakeup call to us all. Let’s turn the tide away from over- processed foods that are often grown using chemicals and instead build a healthy norm, by eating a great variety of nutritious, locally produced natural foods, including indigenous crops and vegetables that we have often dropped from our diets. We (the writers) have created this Barefoot Guide to help us all better survive COVID-19. It includes topics on what COVID-19 is, why food is the best medicine, and how to obtain and prepare the food to maintain its medicinal value and what you can do to promote this marvelous gift from nature. Enjoy and share with your families, neighbors, students, friends and colleagues. Good health!”

This quotation, and the full Guide, illustrate several Blue Marble Evaluation principles. In particular, the Guide connects the local with the global (the GLOCAL principle) and provides cross-silos connections between food, climate change, soil health, indigenous seeds, health, culture, and agriculture (agroecology). One of the prime contributors to the Guide is John Wilson, a founding member of the Blue Marble Evaluation network also quoted at length in the Blue Marble Evaluation book. John Wilson is a Zimbabwean free-range facilitator and activist working with organizations across Africa, from community based to large continental networks such as Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). His focus is on strategic and collaborative initiatives that can help grow the agroecology and food sovereignty movement in Africa. He has worked in the agroecology field in Zimbabwe and Africa for over forty years.

In September John contributed to the American Evaluation Association blog (AEA365) on Blue Marble Evaluation, cash cropping and labor in an African context. He offers an important and insightful analysis of the relationship between food crops, cash crops, and the economics that affect small farmers in Africa. Cash crops like cotton are cultivated as mono crops that are extremely sensitive to price changes in the global marketplace. He offers an integrated, agroecological perspective:

“What if the Blue Marble Evaluation glocal principle (glocal + local = glocal) was practiced: trees interplanted with the cotton, along with food crops, ongoing research into organic practices, a farmer-owned gin. The cotton could feed into the global market but in a way that creates sustainable, healthy development for local farmers.”

Transformation of our food systems: The making of a paradigm shift

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is a comprehensive evaluation framework for doing true and full cost accounting of systems by integrating economic, social, and ecological dimensions and factors through a multi-dimensional systems approach. TEEB likely constitutes the most advanced, state-of-the-art model for comprehensive systems evaluation that exists — a multi-dimensional, integrated, systems-based, and complexity-informed approach. If widely applied, this just might be the framework and set of methods that open the pathway to evaluations addressing global challenges of sustainability and equity.

True Cost Accounting is a method for measuring all costs and benefits of a system, like a food system. Applying TEEB to food systems is designated as TEEBAgriFood, which involves identifying, making transparent, and quantifying, when possible, all costs of food across the value chain: production, processing, and consumption. Such calculations include the prices farmers receive, the affordability of food for consumers, and externalities like impacts on the environment and human health.

Now, just published at the end of September, is an evaluation framework for implementing TEEB: The TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework: Overarching Implementation Guidance.  Also just published is a true cost accounting inventory (The TCA Inventory) — a free-to-use collection of methodologies, case studies, and valuation approaches that is useful to researchers, civil society organizations, policymakers, farmers, and the private sector, when conducting a true cost assessment in the field of agriculture and food systems. In my view, the framework and assessment tools can be applied to any system. These publications significantly advance methods for carrying out comprehensive evaluations aligned with Blue Marble Evaluation principles.

Principle 6: GLOCAL

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