Economía Agroalimentaria

Development partners experiment novel processes and approaches to scale up sustainable agrifood systems transformation


Accelerating the transformation of agrifood systems depends crucially on the capacity of decision-makers and societies to leverage effective and innovative policies, mobilizing the potential of stakeholders to rapidly face interconnected challenges such as food insecurity and malnutrition, conflicts and the climate crisis. Committed to pursue this goal, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognizes governance and innovation as strategic “accelerators” that can unlock and facilitate development opportunities.

With that view, policymakers, experts, researchers and practitioners have unveiled fresh perspectives on catalysing agrifood systems transformation through governance and policy innovation, exchanging concrete country experiences from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malawi and Uzbekistan, in a webinar organized by FAO on 9 November 2023.

“We need new and comprehensive evidence that will guide decision-making. We need to create new capacities to make sure that actors understand, master and feed tools to use them constructively in negotiations and decision-making,” said David Laborde, Director of FAO’s Agrifood Economics and Policy Division, who also pointed out the importance of governance and innovation for the Organization to be included in all programmatic interventions.

Throughout the event attended by over 200 people, discussants emphasized the need to include the different experiences in multi-stakeholder dialogues to ensure that all actors are represented, empowered and heard. They also underlined the importance of addressing the interests, needs and power asymmetries to enforce a whole of society approach.

“Inclusivity matters. Governance and policy need everyone’s voices from smallholder farmers to small- and medium-size enterprises, from local leaders to scientists and extension workers,” stressed Vincent Martin, Director of FAO’s Office of Innovation. “Especially crucial is hearing from those often overlooked like youth, women, Indigenous Peoples and minorities, both in rural and urban areas. Their exclusion is a barrier to innovation. This is why when we engage in such a process, we must always ask the question ‘who is not at the table?’”, he added.

Nevena Alexandrova-Stefanova, Agricultural Extension Officer at FAO's Office of Innovation, moderated the panel discussion and pinpointed, from the various contributions, key words related to governance and policy innovation: multi-actor, evidence-based, entailing forward and system thinking. She concluded by saying that they revolve around policy cohesion and require time, resources, engagement, pragmatism, and a mindset change.

Experiments and lessons learned

The webinar was an opportunity to elaborate on what policy and governance innovation looks like in practice, including successes, challenges and lessons learned to incorporate relevant approaches into projects, programmes, and policies towards a systemic transformation.

Jarot Indarto, Director for Food and Agriculture at the Ministry of National Development Planning (BAPPENAS) in Indonesia, presented a fiscal transfer system that his central government put in place to assist the country’s very culturally and socially diverse sub-national administrations in tailoring the food systems transformation agenda to the local contexts. “Since we are by default a decentralized country, it is important for us to facilitate local governments to develop their food systems based on their local foods, cultures and governance,” highlighted Dr Indarto. A planner at the same ministry, Ifan Martino added that food systems has become a priority topic in the overall framework guiding the development agenda for the country.

Indonesia’s journey to transform food systems was also presented by Sean Woolfrey, Leader for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). He described the cutting-edge approach that models stylized scenarios combining possible policy mixes in the country’s agrifood sector, which provided the Indonesian government with state-of-the-art analytical insights pointing to options to select the optimal and actionable mix of policy interventions. This unique modelling approach has been developed by IISD and other research institutions under the Governance innovation for sustainable development of food systems subprogramme, funded by FAO’s Flexible Voluntary Contribution, and will be replicated in other countries.

Presenters emphasized the key role of multistakeholder dialogue processes for agricultural innovation systems (AIS) through the work carried out by FAO’s TAP-AIS project. In Malawi, the initiative has identified a series of institutional bottlenecks curbing agricultural innovation, which has led the government to seek strengthened mechanisms to improve effective participation in policy decisions and strategic processes.

In Cambodia, the same project has supported the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) in the organization of an inclusive multistakeholder policy dialogue process at national and sub-national levels to accelerate the promotion of conservation agriculture. Choulong Heng, Chief of Information and Communications Technology at MAFF, explained that this process resulted in the publication of a policy brief with concrete recommendations, encouraging policymakers to assume a stronger commitment to conservation agriculture, including a target to expand the area under it to be added to the country’s Agriculture Development Policy (2023–2030).

In Uzbekistan, where FAO is supporting the Ministry of Agriculture in strengthening the Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System (AKIS) and digitalization at national and regional levels. The labs, where diverse actors of the AKIS assisted with data, foresight and behavioural science insights, sit on the driving seat of the policy innovation. They have helped formulate the regional AKIS strategy in Fergana Valley and define and implement actions on smallholder, women and youth empowerment to participate in AKIS, and on interface of digitalisation and AKIS in the region. In this way, the spatial, time and relevance gap between policy formulation and implementation has been shortened and transformative impact achieved faster.

Looking ahead

The webinar introduced new ways of thinking the agrifood systems transformation agenda. Drawing from insights and concrete cases, speakers mentioned the need for a more conducive environment for innovation as a critical steppingstone in the desired transformation, triggered by governance and policy innovation.

“Innovation is not the ‘what’, but the ‘how’. We need all to get out of our comfort zones,” pointed out Anna Rappazzo, Project Officer at FAO, who also shared her experience coordinating the FVC-funded subprogramme in Indonesia. “Accompanying a process as a neutral broker means much more than putting people around the table: it’s about ensuring that all these people have a common understanding and are able to contribute to commonly agreed priorities.”

Delgermaa Chuluunbaatar, Agricultural Research Officer at FAO, spotlighted underrated perspectives from the local level to advance knowledge and policymaking processes: “We often talk about science-based policies, which is very important, but we also need to look at the diverse sources of evidence: not only traditional science based, or programme based, but also capitalizing on the local and indigenous knowledge.”

“When you talk about governance and policy innovation, you start with an understanding of how we innovatively come up with policies that should help us govern better,” summarized Sarah Tione, Research Ethics Secretariat Administrator at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi. “To achieve any transformation, the only way is to innovate, and this innovation starts with deep understanding leading to a mindset change.”