Food and Land Use at the GEF 6th Assembly

Da Nang, Vietnam

“Food and Land Use systems are essential to delivering on the SDGs given their close links to biodiversity, agriculture, emissions, health and climate change. We don’t need to rehash the problem. We need to use the time we have to constructively share the solutions we need to find and scale action.”

With these words, Paul Polman (CEO, Unilever and FOLU Chair) opened an insightful and action-oriented roundtable at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) 6th Assembly in Da Nang, Vietnam in June. Moderated by FOLU’s Jeremy Oppenheim, the session focussed on the huge opportunity offered by the GEF’s recent allocation of $500 million to the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program.

Through this programme, countries can receive support under three broad themes: promoting sustainable food systems to tackle negative externalities in value chains; promoting deforestation-free agricultural commodity supply chains; and promoting large-scale restoration of degraded landscapes for sustainable production and ecosystem services.

The panel brought together leaders from the public and private sector, academia and civil society to share their experiences of working in food and land use, providing examples of integrated and collaborative action that delivered social and environmental benefits while driving economic growth. This mirrors the approach taken by the Coalition in pioneer countries Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Australia.

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“We need to build rural prosperity to find a way for smallholder farmers to move up or move out.”

Shenggen Fan (Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute and FOLU Ambassador)

Participants emphasised the need to revitalise rural areas – beyond increasing farmer productivity. Increasing productivity is not sufficient to improve farmer livelihoods. Training in sustainable practices and access to markets are essential to create lasting, independent income streams for farmers. Moreover, rural areas offer an opportunity to tackle some of the biggest social and environmental challenges, including smallholder income, environmental damage and biodiversity loss. To drive change, four broad actions were discussed. Firstly, investment in rural and agricultural areas – shifting away from governments’ current focus on industry. Secondly, an integrated governance approach that brings together stakeholders from across government ministries, communities and local business at international, national and state levels. Thirdly, diversification of farmer incomes. Fourthly, policy reform to address huge inefficiencies in the sector.  

Investment is required in people and systems, as well as hardware. Speakers highlighted the importance of knowledge as a building block for driving change. This includes teaching farmers about the impacts of climate change and training them in climate smart agricultural practices, as well as providing them with technologies. Knowledge platforms play an important role in supporting decision-making and sharing learning, for policy-makers, business people, civil society leaders and farmer organisations. Policy planning benefited from applying new tools and metrics. The Agrobiodiversity Index, for example, enables governments and businesses to make better informed investments to improve agricultural outputs, support healthy and economically prospering populations and conserve biodiversity. The importance of legal rights was acknowledged, empowering farmers and vulnerable groups improve their lives.

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“A collective approach is essential to translate public and private sector commitments into keeping landscapes intact.”

Carter Roberts (President and CEO, World Wildlife Fund USA)

Partnerships and collective action across sectors is key to scale and sustain projects. No organisation can single-handedly transform food and land use systems at a significant scale. Multiple companies need to come together with governments and NGOs to deliver change beyond each participant’s individual footprint. Speakers highlighted the role of collaboration in the soy and beef moratoriums in the Brazilian Amazon, one of the greatest global success stories of avoided deforestation. Cross-sectoral collaboration is essential to create the enabling conditions for investment in sustainable landscapes, but each sector brings different strengths and capabilities to the transformation. The private sector is an essential driver of innovation and can build the business case for other stakeholders to act. Collaboration with cooperatives and communities builds confidence and trust with and between farmers, and ensures vulnerable groups are given the voice and support that they need to participate. 

Unusual partnerships strengthen the connections between productivity, land conservation, farmer income, health and more. Programs to transform food and land use must recognise and strengthen the deep connections between these systems’ building blocks. Conserving and restoring biodiversity does not mean compromising on productivity. Instead, biodiversity can improve agricultural quality and yield, as well as providing farmers and consumers with a range of underutilised, nutritious crops to grow and consume. In Burkina Faso, agroecology is being used to improve farmer incomes while conserving the natural environment. In Vietnam, the Sustainable Trade Initiative is working with actors across the supply chain to innovate and create more sustainable products.

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“Collaboration is key. Either we come together or we choose to lead the world irresponsibly.”

– Sunny Verghese (Co-founder and CEO, Olam International and FOLU Ambassador)

There is innovation everywhere: now we need to scale it. Innovation in technology, policy and finance is enabling Ethiopia to regenerate degraded land and improve smallholder incomes. Equipping farmers with the appropriate technology and tools is resulting in Kenyan maize farmers seeing productivity increase by 5 – and precious ecosystems being restored. In Bangladesh, IFAD is working with farmers to use biogas to generate the energy levels they need for post-harvest facilities. Actors in food and land use systems need to identify and bring to scale the programs that will deliver the greatest impact. This will require committed investment, strong business cases, collaboration and an integrated approach.

The GEF Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program offers a huge opportunity for ambitious countries to transform their food and land use systems for the benefit of all. FOLU stands ready to work to support countries in applying for funding, drawing on its expertise in science, business, policy, economic and its experience in developing integrated programs in Ethiopia, Indonesia and Colombia.

Participants in the session included:

Africa and Latin America Panel: Paul Polman (CEO, Unilever), H. E. Ato Kare (State Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ethiopia), Agnes Kalibata (President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), Carter Roberts (CEO, World Wildlife Fund USA), Maria Helena Semedo (Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources, FAO), Ann Tutwiler (Director General, Biodiversity International) and Angelica Mayolo (Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia), Batio Bassiere (Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change, Burkina Faso) and Dr Rurema Déo Guide (Minister of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock, Burundi)

Asia Panel: Sunny Verghese (CEO & Co-Founder, Olam and Chair, WBCSD), Cristiana Pasça Palmer (Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity), Ajay Jakhar (Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj), Shenggen Fan (Director General, IFPRI), C.K. Mishra (Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, India), Margarita Astralaga (Director, Environment and Climate Change, IFAD), Steven Collet (Operational Director, Executive Board Member, The Sustainable Trade Initiative), Guido Schmidt-Traub (Executive Director, UNSDSN), Annette Cowie (Advisor on Land Degradation, Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel, GEF) and The Anh (Vice-President of Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS)