Can innovative financing advance livelihoods while building resilience for small-scale producers in Central America?

Man in Nicaragua pouring beans

At MEDA, we believe that small-scale producers are at the heart of our food systems. We recognize the necessity of sustainable food systems in building strong communities, equitable livelihoods, and meeting the dietary needs of a growing population.

On May 28th, in preparation for the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UN-FSS) in September, MEDA facilitated a (virtual) Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue based in Nicaragua. In partnership with RIKOLTO, an international NGO, the dialogue focused on UN-FSS Action Track 4: Advancing Equitable Livelihoods. The dialogue encouraged stakeholders to engage in discussions that were forward-looking, fostered new connections, and enabled the emergence of ways to move forward collectively and creatively.

A diverse cross-section of stakeholders came together for the dialogue, including government, business, civil society, and research. Participants emphasized that urgent action is needed to transform food systems, while recognizing and embracing the complexity of the issues within food systems in Nicaragua, and Central America more broadly.

“It is not possible to discuss food security and resilience in Central America without addressing underlying inequalities and reinforcing the nexus of gender and climate,” explained Jessica Villanueva, MEDA’s Technical Director of Impact Investment and dialogue host.

Discussions centered around barriers that prevent inclusive and equitable food systems from being widely adopted, how investment can be utilized to promote equitable and sustainable food systems, how interactions within food systems and value chains generate resilience of smallholder producers, and practical steps to help strengthen the resilience of smallholder farmers.

Main findings that emerged from the dialogue included:

Partnerships and Linkages

  • “Strengthening local investment ecosystems rather than focusing on individual investments, and establishing collaboration between all stakeholders, will improve the success of entrepreneurs in their ecosystems and ensure long impact” (Jessica Villaneuva)
  • Strong partnerships are essential to resilient and inclusive food systems and value chains.
  • Prioritize strengthening business strategies to establish alliances and cooperation between various stakeholders.
  • Strong partnerships between financial institutions and producers help producers adapt to external pressures and stressors.

Gender Equality and Social Inclusion

  • “Investment can be used to create change if we integrate a gender lens to shift power, transform gender dynamics and increase equitable participation in these market systems, while supporting women and men to sustainably manage natural resources and address climate change.” (Jessica Villanueva)
  • Participants identified gender equality and social inclusion as key aspects of resilient food systems.
  • Prioritize approaches with gender and environmental lenses in investment and market systems development work, including in all stages of food value chains.
  • Increased youth advocacy and involvement is a practical next step for increasing the resilience of smallholder farmers.

Producer Agency in Investment Decision Making

  • Prioritize producers’ needs and increase producer visibility in agri-food systems.
  • Indicators that measure and evaluate investments and results are necessary for sustainable food systems.
  • Increased investment in financial education for market actors to develop strong financial fluency, including teaching producers the importance of creating business models.

MEDA strives to be a recognized leader in improving decent work in agri-food market systems. We value opportunities such as this that allow us to convene diverse stakeholders to learn from one another and to discuss solutions to entrenched problems in the food system.

This dialogue serves as a contribution to broader discussions and other dialogues happening globally, leading up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit in September. We are grateful to our team, RIKOLTO, and participants for helping to make the dialogue possible.

If you are interested in learning more about the dialogue, you can find the full summary report here: Can innovative financing advance livelihoods while building resilience for small-scale producers in Central America?

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  • Jennifer King is MEDA’s Technical Director of Market Systems. As an economic development professional with strong technical and programmatic expertise in market systems and private sector development, women’s economic empowerment, and gender lens investment in Canada and around the world, Jennifer provides valuable expertise in inclusive market system development to MEDA’s leadership team. Before becoming a Technical Director, Jennifer focused on women's economic empowerment, agricultural market systems, and gender-inclusive private sector development at MEDA. During this time Jennifer was a Senior Project Manager of a six-year project in Myanmar, and consulted internally and externally on projects in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Nicaragua, and Indonesia. Prior to MEDA, Jennifer was the founding Executive Director of Social Venture Partners (SVP) in Waterloo Region and helped establish Capacity Waterloo Region (now Capacity Canada). Jennifer's background also includes work in regional economic development and ecosystem development, and work in Sri Lanka strengthening the organizational capacity of the Rural Enterprise Network, a Practical Action social enterprise facilitating training and market linkages to micro-scale rural producers, most of whom are women, as well as those affected by the tsunami.