Agrifood Systems

Inter-country learning dialogue on multistakeholder governance for agrifood systems transformation


Bringing a diversity of voices together to collectively implement a long-term vision

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A total of 57 participants from 14 countries around the Mediterranean and beyond gathered in an online dialogue on 7 March 2024 to share a collective and interactive learning experience in which different perspectives were presented and discussed.

Stories of multi-stakeholder governance from Morocco, Egypt and Montenegro served to anchor the exchange in concrete experiences. This was followed by an open dialogue between participants, which included country governments, regional and global bodies, farmers, and NGOs.

The dialogue was organized by FAO’s Agrifood Systems and Food Safety Division (ESF) in the framework of the SFS-MED Platform, a multi-stakeholder initiative to advance sustainable agrifood systems in the Mediterranean region, financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Italy and co-led by FAO, the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA) and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).

The dialogue was part of the Systems Change Learning Programme, a new ESF initiative that aims to build capacity for and commitment to agrifood systems transformation through collective learning.

Laura Aghilarre, Deputy Director General for Development Cooperation from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation remarked: “There is today a clear momentum and interest by countries in boosting collaboration and overcoming fragmentation. Italy, therefore, reiterates its support to advance sustainable agrifood systems in the Mediterranean, and to doing so by enhancing cooperation.”

Participants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Egypt, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Montenegro, Morocco, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, and Türkiye took part in the online dialogue.

Insights from practice

Agrifood systems transformation can accelerate multiple agendas. Countries need to navigate multiple development objectives, from decarbonization to ensuring resilience in the face of desertification, as emphasized by Morocco. Leveraging the agrifood systems agenda means realizing that it is important and urgent to team up and coordinate efforts across sectors, so that this transformation becomes an accelerator of existing multiple agendas.

“Everyone wants to leave fossil fuels behind; everyone wants their people to be healthy and well-nourished. But how do we navigate these multiple agendas? One way to do this is to leverage food systems transformation: telling the other ministries and sectors that, if we coordinate our efforts, this transformation can be an accelerator of your agenda. It is key to work together, without overcomplicating governance.”
Redouane Arrach, Secretary-General, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests of Morocco and UNFSS National Convenor 

Shared clarity and trust start by bringing people together. Communication, open dialogue, and informative data serve as a basis to recognize a common problem, increase clarity, and mobilize stakeholders around addressing that specific problem. The need for complementary actions united stakeholders and motivated them to act jointly towards curbing non-communicable diseases and child obesity in Montenegro.

The collection of data as a basis for the situational analysis served to familiarize the various sectors and sensitize our partners about the importance of taking a systems approach to address the challenge of malnutrition. Their role in this joint endeavour became clearer as well.”
Enisa Kujundžić, MD, Head of Food and Nutrition Department, Institute of Public Health of Montenegro

“Data is crucial for a food systems strategy. Through the Regional Cooperation Centre for Sustainable Food Systems of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC-CSFS), we developed country-level food system analyses, but we realized that most of the countries in our region did not have the necessary data to put the right strategy on the table.”
Özge İmamoğlu, Head of Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Türkiye

Start from what is already available. To achieve good governance, countries must avoid red tape as much as possible. Experience from countries shows that creating new bodies is time-consuming and can delay taking concrete action to bring about change. Rather, steering committees should work within the existing ecosystem and structures that are already in place. Funding for transformation is also key and partnering with bodies whose strategies are already funded can be a useful strategy.

Know where the boundaries are. A formal strategic framework that sets out the objectives, a calendar, a funding plan, and financing mechanisms must be in place and agreed upon by the various stakeholders. It is also important to clearly define the responsibilities for implementation.

“We believe in democracies where citizens play a key role in how we transform our food systems. However, the process of convening citizens and experts to make recommendations is quite a huge endeavour. It must be anchored in official policies, it needs financial support, and structures need to be in place to follow up and implement the recommendations.”
Daniel Seifert, Policy Advisor, Biovision

Time and dedication need to be factored in. Transformation is a process that must be built up over time, and it must be well organised. It also takes a specific set of professional competencies, as highlighted by Egypt’s experience. To be effective, a governance committee might need a lean and agile core group of skilled full-time staff, as suggested by Morocco.

“An area that needs strengthening is operationalisation. Coordinating many agencies to achieve shared goals takes time, skills, and dedication. It is also important to clearly define the mechanisms and responsibilities for implementation, and to build trust and raise awareness about the aim of the multi-stakeholder committee, which is to coordinate complementary actions towards a shared goal.”
Dalia Yassin, Agribusiness and Programme Development Specialist, FAO Egypt

“The process of transformation has a longitudinal dimension. It does not happen overnight. There are a wide range of diverse actors and stakeholders in the system who all have legitimate expectations and agendas that they need to advance. Trying to achieve consensus, complementarity, and developing trust are key tasks.”
Harry O’ Crowley, Head of International Development, UN and SDGs Unit, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine of Ireland

Transformation must be inclusive and participatory. There is a recognition that transforming agrifood systems requires engaging a diversity of voices. However, challenges remain as to how to meaningfully engage some key, but less powerful players in governance and decision-making: this is often the case for small-scale farmers, small private businesses, consumers, and youth. In the absence of representative bodies to be invited to the table, engaging local authorities closer to the issues on the ground (e.g. municipalities) or using alternative communication channels (e.g. radio programmes) could be considered to bridge these gaps.

De-risking the transformation for stakeholders on the ground. A clear call to action was made on the need for multistakeholder mechanisms to accompany stakeholders on the ground on a balanced pathway to transformation – for example, by enabling farmers and consumers to adopt more environmentally sustainable practices without compromising their livelihoods and household finances.

“I will transform my business immediately to any sustainable pathway you suggest, if I can see my financial benefit in that. It should be market-driven, and consumer driven. But the reality is that there is no de-risking of this transformation. I would take on 50 percent of the risk, but somebody needs to come hand in hand with me so that I can transform in a balanced way.”
Afef Tlili, Farmer, Tunisia

“We want to know how to transform the collected data into language the population can understand, in a way that will ultimately result in changing habits.”
Enisa Kujundžić, MD, Head of Food and Nutrition Department, Institute of Public Health of Montenegro

Country experiences

Morocco: building consensus and seeking investments

Morocco started building consensus and raising awareness about agrifood systems transformation among various target groups by conducting two cycles of multi-stakeholder dialogues. During the second cycle in 2023, four national agencies were involved in the discussion respectively on food production, value chains, consumption, and the social dimension (i.e. inclusion of women and youth, social protection, etc.). The process fostered consensus around the formulation of a national roadmap for agrifood systems transformation, building upon a series of national strategies (including Génération Green, the National Nutrition Strategy, and the upcoming National Strategy for Waste Reduction and Valorisation). The country has now entered the action phase to implement the priorities identified collectively by establishing a National Food Systems Coordination Hub or Steering Committee, and by identifying investment opportunities and financing gaps.

Egypt: rotating leadership for a concerted vision

In Egypt, the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) served as stimulus for several ministries to come together for the first time to talk about transforming the country’s agrifood system. This collective process led to the drafting of a Food Systems Transformation Vision Document, which contains several solutions along five action tracks. In another first, in 2023, the government established a National Committee for Food and Nutrition as a coordinating entity for food systems transformation. It is made up of several ministries. The coordination of the Committee is rotated between the Ministries of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Health, Environment, and the National Food Safety Authority (currently hosted by the Ministry of Health for the period 2023-2025). The Committee, with technical support from FAO and other UN agencies, is currently defining an action plan to implement the priorities in the Vision Document.

Montenegro: alarming data boost a systems approach to malnutrition

In Montenegro, the process was sparked by the recognition that the country had a problem with malnutrition and a food environment which does not encourage healthy food choices, as highlighted by alarming statistics. Data showed a 50 percent incidence of non-communicable diseases, with hypertension in the lead, followed by type-2 diabetes. Over the past seven years, surveys on childhood obesity have shown that Montenegro is in the top ten European countries. This led to the realization that existing programmes and strategies were tackling the issue only partially. In response, Montenegro collected broad-based data and conducted a situation analysis of the food system, assessing the existing legal framework and the effectiveness of programmes and strategies currently in force. Strong political buy-in led to the creation of a national multisectoral body to steer the process of changing the food system as a whole. This process helped raise awareness about the urgency of concerted action among all sectors and stakeholders. Looking to the future, Montenegro sees the establishment of legal and monitoring frameworks as crucial.

Ireland: leveraging long-term strategy processes that engage diverse voices1

In Ireland, rolling ten-year strategies published by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been a key policy instrument. The strategies are developed every five years by committees consisting of sector and stakeholder representatives, who are given a mandate to negotiate the vision, objectives, and actions for the coming period, under an independent chair. A high-level committee is formed, supported by the Ministry, which drafts background documents, runs public consultations, commissions a mandatory environmental impact analysis, and provides secretarial support to the committee. Much of the real debate takes place in the committee and subcommittees. The process is facilitated by the Irish Government, and all the strategies developed have subsequently been endorsed by government. Keen on inviting diverse viewpoints, more recently Ireland included the president of the Young Farmers Association as a full member of the Strategy Development Committee. In March 2024, Ireland also launched the National Youth Food Forum which will provide opportunities for young people to engage in policy development.

Switzerland: piloting a citizens’ assembly

In 2022, Switzerland supported a consortium of NGOs that piloted a citizens’ assembly on food systems transformation to gather insights about how people envision the country’s trajectory towards a fair and sustainable way to produce enough food for the future. An independent organization randomly selected 80 citizens of different ages, genders, educational backgrounds, and professions. For six months, these citizens listened to insights from scientists, met with stakeholder representatives (farmers, environmentalists, consumer protection agencies, etc.) and had hands-on visits at farms, kitchens and other places along the food supply chain. Throughout this process, the citizens deliberated among each other in a professionally-facilitated setting and made recommendations on what a more sustainable Swiss food system should look like. The level of commitment and financial support for these bottom-up processes should not be underestimated. It is also important that structures are in place to ensure a follow-up to the recommendations. Collaboration with state agencies to anchor the process within Switzerland's contribution towards the fulfilment of the SDGs was also key.

Read more:

  • Brouwer, H., Guijt, J., Kelly, S. and Garcia-Campos, P. 2021. Ireland’s journey towards sustainable food systems – The processes and practices that made a difference. Rome, FAO.

  • FAO, CIHEAM and UfM. 2021. Food systems transformation – processes and pathways in the Mediterranean: A stocktaking exercise. Rome, FAO.

  • FAO & IFAD. 2023. A learning framework for inclusive, integrated and innovative public policy cycles for family farming. Rome.

  • UNEP, FAO and UNDP. 2023. Rethinking Our Food Systems: A Guide for Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration. Nairobi, Rome and New York.

[1] Most of the information is taken from the publication: Brouwer, H., Guijt, J., Kelly, S. and Garcia-Campos, P. 2021. Ireland’s journey towards sustainable food systems – The processes and practices that made a difference. Rome, FAO.