Transforming agri-food systems to benefit small-scale producers

Woman in Nicaragua holding a bucket in a field. Text overlay: UN Food Systems Summit Dialogues

Our global agri-food systems are in need of transformation if they are to continue supporting the seven billion people on our planet.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, food production and its vast network of supporting functions, such as transportation, processing, and packaging, was vulnerable – often failing to meet some of our most basic needs such as adequate income and nutrition, and environmental sustainability.

The pandemic has only exacerbated food systems vulnerabilities and stressors, such as climate change, political instability, and inequality, creating immediate threats to people’s wellbeing, wealth, education, rights, and security.

Our food systems, and the policies on which they are built, require collective attention. They will only be sustainable when communities are fed and nourished, our economies are growing equitably, and the environment is thriving.

As we move closer toward September’s UN Food Systems Summit and together generate bold actions to achieve food systems transformation, we believe we must urgently:

  1. Prioritize the role of women and men small-scale producers and small businesses.
  2. Generate positive economic as well as social and environmental impact.
  3. Build long-term and local partnerships.
  4. Address deeply held attitudes and beliefs that limit gender equality and social inclusion.
  5. Influence actors whose policies, decisions, and ways of doing business affect the growth of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and producers.
  6. Leverage multiple forms of capital to generate real systems change.

Economic, environmental, political, and cultural shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the inefficiencies and inequalities within our global food systems. If we fail to address these issues, our world is at risk of rising levels of poverty, inequality, food insecurity, and environmental degradation. This is a direct threat to the health, wealth, education, rights, and security of everyone, most seriously the world’s most marginalized.

But transformative change is possible. We must recognize the inherent value of small-scale producers and advocate for food systems that generate economic, social, and environmental impact. To ensure markets are inclusive and equitable, we must address deeply held convictions that limit gender equality and social inclusion. Systems-level change requires multiple forms of capital be deployed in combination to address inequality and injustice. It requires us to influence those in power to change policies and laws to benefit MSMEs and help producers to grow and thrive and remain in rural communities if they choose.

Finally, we must approach system-level change in the spirit of collaboration and partnership rather than competition and separation. All sectors and voices are needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The solutions to global poverty and inequality are available to us. By operating from a perspective of sufficiency rather than scarcity, we can work together to create sustainable, transformative change that truly benefits everyone.

For close to 70 years, MEDA has specialized in inclusive economic development to address poverty reduction. As an organization, we believe in – and work to create – business solutions that generate positive economic, social, and environmental impacts. We do this by leveraging and combining multiple forms of capital to support small-scale producers while addressing detrimental attitudes and beliefs, influencing the private sector and governments, and creating long-term partnerships with local organizations and businesses.

Read our full position on transforming agri-food systems in English and Spanish.

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  • MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

    MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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