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Enhance collaboration with consumer organizations to transform food systems

News - 28.06.2021

28 June 2021, Rome- Consumer organizations of francophone Africa and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sat together on 22 June at a virtual roundtable to exchange experiences on their efforts to better the impacts for the realization of the right to food, the role of consumers and how to step up joint initiatives.

With the need to change towards more sustainable and equitable food systems, greater collaboration between different actors is key. Consumer organizations can make a huge difference. Their outreach to diverse and multiple consumers as well as their strengths in consumer protection and the right to adequate food can help towards securing better nutrition, better production, a better environment and better lives, leaving no-one behind.

This webinar brought together the heads of three leading consumer organizations -the Fédération Comorienne des Consommateurs from Comoros Islands, FCC; the Fédération Nationale des Associations des Consommateurs from Côte d'Ivoire, FAC; and the Association pour la Défense de l’Environnement et des Consommateurs from Senegal, ADEC-, with representatives from FAO national, regional and headquarters offices, in a collaborative session where information was exchanged to drive potential alliances and raise awareness around a broad range of themes.

In showcasing their work, consumer organizations highlighted the challenges they encounter affecting food security and nutrition in their countries. Increased food prices and weakened food safety practices and controls, as well as the dangers posed by toxic pesticides, were just some of the issues raised. Addressing them is more urgent than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and impacted especially those already most vulnerable.

Harnessing agroecology, building resilience and increasing diversification and local agricultural production, to reduce dependence on food imports and overcome trade restrictions, were discussed as potential ways to drive greater food rights and the sustainable transformation of food systems. The value of private sector alliances, for example in tackling food loss and waste in Cote d´Ivoire, illustrated how private sector can engage towards more sustainability in food systems.

Nasrat Issa Mohammed from FCC (Comoros Islands) raised concerns about the rates of overweight and obesity, and discussed how nutrition awareness and consumer outreach can help support consumers with food choices. However, there is also a need to build more sustainable and resilient local production for greater supply of nutritious foods.

Yves Kouakou Aka from FAC (Côte d'Ivoire) highlighted food safety concerns related to pesticides, production techniques and weakened food safety capacity. The pandemic exacerbates challenges, and has led to a spike in food prices. Consumer awareness, particularly in relation to food health, is an important part of their work.

Maguette Fall from ADEC (Senegal) underlined the work of his organization on national committees such as CODEX and Food Fortification, as well as with women heads of household for local production in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. Stronger food safety systems and systems for domestic food production will build resilience.

In representation of Blaise Ouattara, FAO Food Safety and Quality Officer, Mamadou Ndiaye underlined the importance of reinforcing national capacities for food control and trade facilitation, governance, monitoring and data for advancing food safety in Africa.

Sami Gaiji, FAO Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, noted how many FAO projects and programmes find resonance in the work of consumer organizations. Makhfousse Sarr from FAO Senegal and Ediamine Bedja from FAO Comores, also recognised the value of the exchange of information and experiences. Some FAO initiatives underway can be accessed and disseminated by consumer organizations, including on nutrition education, local markets and sustainable production, with further details provided on nutrition and sustainable markets by FAO officers Darana Souza and Marcello Vicovaro. Sharing these experiences can be a powerful lever for transforming food systems.

Consumer organizations were called to engage with the UN Food Systems Summit, set for September 2021. The Summit is an opportunity for everyone to connect, including civil society and consumer organizations, noted FAO officer José Valls.

Closing the meeting, Juan Carlos García y Cebolla, FAO Right to Food Team Leader, reminded all that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda can only be achieved with strong global cooperation. A successful development agenda requires inclusive partnerships such as these, he added.

Exploring paths leading to consumers’ empowerment

Organized by the Right to Food Team, the webinar is the second in a series of virtual discussions on human rights and food issues, which were kicked off in February 2021 with English-speaking African countries and experts from across FAO, including the divisions on Food Systems and Food Safety (ESF), Food and Nutrition (ESN) and Rural Transformation and Gender Equality (ESP), as well as the Regional Office for Africa, the Subregional Office for West Africa and national offices in Côte d’Ivoire, Comores and Senegal.

This activity is part of broader efforts to empower consumers. Among them, two publications exploring the linkages between the work of consumer organizations and the right to adequate food will be released in the third quarter of this year. It is framed within the Memorandum of Understanding signed between FAO and Consumers International, renewed in 2020.

For the Right to Food Team at FAO, recognizing the work of consumer organizations and connecting them to other stakeholders is essential for building capacity and raising awareness on FAO priorities, such as inclusive and sustainable transformations of food systems, food security and healthy diets.

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