During a panel discussion organized by Food Tank, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), experts argue for a participatory, inclusive, systems-based approach to public research.
The event is part of a series of panels with themes inspired by Global Alliance’s Seven Calls to Action to transform the food system. Moderated by Ruth Richardson, Executive Director of the Global Alliance and Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg, each conversation features members of the United Nations Food Systems Champions Network.
The second Call to Action and the focus of the conversation is public research for the public good. Panelists include Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, CGIAR Special Representative to the U.N. Food Systems Summit; Claudia Martínez Zuleta, Co-chair of the country programs of the Food and Land Use Coalition, and Director of E3 – Ecology Economics, and Ethics; and Dr. João Bosco Monte, President of the Brazil Africa Institute.
With an introduction to the second Call to Action, Richardson explains that much of current research focuses exclusively on productivity with little regard for the environmental, nutritional, and social repercussions of the food system.
“This has the potential to undermine the long term ability of our food systems to do what they are intended to do and what we need them to do,” Richardson says. “We need to instead focus public research on addressing these complex issues in a holistic and transdisciplinary way.”
The panelists address the need to change the way research is conducted, beginning with a more inclusive approach.
“There is a lot of knowledge in the people,” Zuleta tells Food Tank. She and the other panelists argue that unless research engages women, youth, Indigenous groups, and other communities that are most impacted by the food system, transformation is not possible.
Involving these different groups can also address another need that Monte emphasizes: ensuring that research focuses on practical needs and benefits the most vulnerable.
“At the end of the day, the research that we have should be very precise and pragmatic. It should be able to change people’s lives,” Monte tells Food Tank. He continues, “If we do not have any change, it’s a waste of money, a waste of time.”
Zuleta agrees, arguing that it is essential to speak with communities to identify problems and understand what changes are needed. Too often, she says, research results in published books and papers, but does not serve the needs of communities.
To facilitate these changes, the panelists call for new strategic alliances that encourage information sharing and holistic solutions.
Monte underscores the Brazil Africa Institute’s approach, which encourages knowledge sharing between partners in Brazil and African countries.
Nwanze also promotes CGIAR’s work, which utilizes partners and networks to engage everyone from government bodies and research institutions to civil society organizations and smallholder farmers.
“Until we work with them in such a way that there is end to end to end activity going on, our results will not be relevant,” Nwanze says.
Of equal importance, Zuleta says, is the dismantling of silos. She explains that researchers are doing important work around agriculture, diet, and climate change, but not enough of this research takes a systems based approach. This integration will be essential.
Finally, the panelists agree that education and communication have a large role to play.
Zuleta believes that education systems must teach students how to develop their own research and work toward solutions that address the world’s most pressing issues. But even as more people embark on these projects, they must be able to communicate their findings in accessible ways.
Monte builds on this, arguing that unless “people know about results, the results won’t be recognized as something tangible. We need to be smart enough and to bring people on board and explain what was found.”
To begin to implement these changes, Nwanze believes that the Champions Network can also help change the future of research. “As Food System Champions and advocates,” he tells Food Tank, “it is up to us to activate our own networks and to ensure that their voices are heard in identifying priorities and devising solutions.”
Register for upcoming panels in this series here.
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Photo courtesy of Shayan Ghiasvand, Unsplash