AP

FOLU Champions: Jessica Fanzo

“We need to establish rural-urban corridors with decent infrastructure, roads that aren’t washed out for half the year, and markets all along the way. You talk to any rural farmer, they’ll talk about roads and markets.”

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FOLU Ambassador Jessica Fanzo, PhD, is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Food Policy & Ethics at Johns Hopkins University and Director of the University’s Global Food Ethics and Policy Program. She is also Editor-in-Chief of the Global Food Security Journal, served as co-Chair for the Global Nutrition Report and contributed to the EAT Lancet report.

Through extensive experience in academia and research, as well as 15 years working in the field in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and East Asia, Dr Fanzo seeks to promote equitable, sustainable and nutritious diets. Her research is focused on the linkages between agriculture, water and health and places importance on the rebuilding of food systems in post-conflict regions.

What originally inspired you to get involved in nutrition?

I started my education and career in nutrition: all my degrees were in nutrition, with a particular emphasis on biology. Nutrition was viewed much more clinically then and wasn’t as popular as it is now – no one was instagramming their dinner!

After my doctorate I became fascinated by global health, which offered a broader scope, incorporating social, academic and political perspectives. Since then, nutrition has developed to encompass these fields, but it didn’t so much at the time. I focussed on molecular immunology, in particular around HIV, which took me to Africa to work on the Millennium Villages Project with Jeffrey Sachs.

The places I worked on the Millennium Villages Project were deeply rural and the geographical diversity was striking – you didn’t have to travel far to see agricultural systems very distinct from one another. Seeing the huge burden of malnutrition, the isolation from lack of roads and lack of access to markets really illuminated the connections between nutrition, agriculture and rural prosperity. With renewed appreciation for the importance of food, I returned to the nutrition field, but this time from the perspective of agriculture and food systems.

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Work in the field seems to have been an influential part of your career – how does this experience compare and interact with your work in research institutions?

Research is so important and the reach of reports like the Global Nutrition Report and the EAT Lancet has been great – they are contributing to science and equipping people to drive change across the globe.

But my field experience is what reignited my passion for nutrition and when I reflect on my work over the past twenty years, I miss those days of working ‘on the ground’. The happiest I’ve been is talking to farmers, young mums and other members of local communities.

Moreover, my fieldwork has had a significant influence on my research, highlighting the importance of rural communities in wider food systems. There’s a big focus on the urban agenda at the moment – but someone needs to feed those urban populations. We need to establish rural-urban corridors with decent infrastructure, roads that aren’t washed out for half the year, and markets all along the way. You talk to any rural farmer, they’ll talk about roads and markets.

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Infrastructure is often at its weakest in post conflict zones, where you have spent a significant part of your career. Tell us about the key links between conflict and nutrition.

Countries that have dealt with high levels of conflict tend to have increased prevalence of malnutrition, stunting and wasting. This is unsurprising given conflict’s direct impacts on agricultural production and the natural assets upon which food production depends. The subsequent food insecurity has huge downstream effects and there’s a real lack of coping mechanisms as the instruments of state are weakened or destroyed altogether. So the end of conflict does not mean the end of all associated problems – the damage done takes generations to rebuild.

Crucially, the impacts of conflict aren’t limited to the country where it’s happening. What is on paper one conflict in one country can destabilise a whole region, as we’ve seen for example in the Middle East. Meanwhile, climate change will increase the likelihood of conflict: climate-induced migration and increased inequalities will have destabilising effects.

So, while there is interesting and cheering research on the world becoming less violent, there is still cause for concern. I worry about the long-term impact of conflict and of the ricochet effects on wider regions. That’s why getting nutrition and food systems right in post-conflict zones is so important. 

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How do we get it right – what are the key elements to rebuild food systems after conflict?

It’s a really complicated problem. How do you rebuild multiple systems that have all been dismantled? And these systems - from water to health to food - all interact with each other. The burdens of conflict last a long time and run deep. It’s hard to know where to start and what to prioritise. The immediate issue is to make sure that people are fed and kept alive, meaning that long-term development is always the back-burner issue and actors fail to build up the capacity of local communities. For example, Timor Leste was in a state of conflict for so long that it has limited governmental capacity and has depended on foreign engagement to restore political stability.

How do we get it right? We could look to Nepal for some answers. It has been able to recover more quickly from its conflict – child stunting fell from 68% in 1995 to 36% in 2016. In addition to a huge international aid effort, the Nepalese government instituted strong governance around nutrition, underpinned by a plan that brought stakeholders from across sectors together. Preventing and dealing with conflict situations calls for multiple actor responses, hopefully coordinated. This was a key part of Nepal’s success.

Despite these troubling trends, in many ways the world is better equipped than ever to nourish both people and planet. What makes you most excited about the future?

The research agenda has come a long way, equipping us with the evidence and knowledge to make better decisions. The EAT Lancet Report demonstrates that there is the theoretical potential for a sustainable and healthy diet, and pathways to achieving it.

There are promising examples of government action happening. In 2014 Mexico introduced a 10% soda tax that saw an average reduction in consumption of 7.6% in 2 years. Initiatives in Bangladesh have gone a long way in improving water access and sanitation. Chile have introduced labelling regulation that marks any products deemed high in calories, sugar, salts or fat with a black ‘stop’ sign Those products marked with a black stop sign cannot be sold in schools and their surrounding areas, and cannot be advertised at times when children are likely to be watching TV. There are huge opportunities to replicate these initiatives elsewhere to incentivise and enable more healthy behaviours.

Eileen Smith for NPR

Eileen Smith for NPR

There is also a clear role for the private sector to provide people with access to sustainable, healthy products that are appealing and affordable. External pressure on the market is really powerful. Frameworks like the Access to Nutrition Index create a race to the top. And it’s great to see consumer demand prompting companies to develop more sustainable ranges. For example, the private sector is developing exciting alternative proteins to meat in high-income countries where people are eating too much of it. On the other hand, in some parts of the world people aren’t getting enough protein and animal protein is the most efficient way to address this. This is a big challenge – we need to scale solutions to tackle a global problem, but we also need to maintain localised perspectives.

Governments and businesses seem to be grasping the opportunity to take sustainable nutrition seriously. But at an individual level, can we have an impact too?

Absolutely. We can make better choices about what we eat, choosing to go for healthier, more sustainable options. This has benefits not only for our own health, but also for our local community and beyond, by driving demand for better products.

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However, these better choices have to exist. The ability to be an effective citizen is not just an individual choice but depends on a food environment that’s conducive to health and sustainability: healthy products have to be available and affordable, while information on healthy diets has to be accessible and clear. At the moment, the deck is stacked against healthy choice freedom. Building a sustainable food environment is ultimately the responsibility of food system actors – that is, producers, retailers and policy-makers.

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Finally, we couldn’t have this interview without asking you: what’s your favourite food?

I’m from Seattle so it’s got to be steamed clams. They serve them with hot butter there, so you dip the clams into the golden butter. They’re delicious and clams are high in zinc! When I’m in Italy (where my family is from), I guess it’s spaghetti a la vongole!

FOLU Champions: Inger Andersen

The FOLU Ambassador network is made up of a wide range of leading experts, innovators and practitioners in food and land use systems. In this piece, we hear from Inger Andersen, Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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In her role as Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), FOLU Ambassador Inger Andersen works to equip public, private and non-governmental actors with the tools and knowledge to enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together.

The Danish economist and environmentalist has more than 30 years of experience in international development economics, environmental sustainability, and policy-making, as well as in designing and implementing projects and impact on-the-ground. Before joining IUCN, Inger was Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank and Head of the CGIAR Fund Council.


“We need to understand that it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable who will be hit first and hardest by climate change, and so development cannot be separated from environmental sustainability.” 


Your career has often combined social and economic development with environmental sustainability. Have you always seen these as linked? Where do you see the key intersects?

My career has been guided by the principle that environmental sustainability is inextricably linked with social and economic development. In fact, my first job out of university was with a non-governmental organisation in Sudan, where I worked on drought and emergency relief work for four years. We need to understand that it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable who will be hit first and hardest by climate change, and so development cannot be separated from environmental sustainability.

We hear a lot about the trade-offs between agriculture and biodiversity. What do you see as the key areas of tension – are these real or perceived?

Plenty has been written about the trade-offs between agriculture and biodiversity, not least the role of agricultural expansion in the clearance of grassland and deforestation. However, it is also important to look at common ground between agriculture and conservation in terms of biodiversity. For example, agricultural productivity is greatly influenced by soil biodiversity. Soil biodiversity determines soil fertility, including the level of organic carbon and nitrogen in the soil. Soil biodiversity also has a major influence over soil moisture. In many parts of the world, trees play an important role in maintaining soil productivity and in managing agricultural risks. Biodiversity in farming landscapes provides important habitats for pollinators, while the biodiversity of crop and livestock breeds can be crucial for diversifying risks and adapting to climate change.


 “Sustainable farming provides a number of external benefits and these may hold the key to getting agroecology practices to take off.”


What are the key benefits of integrating biodiversity into agriculture? What would it take for agroecology and other agricultural practices that integrate biodiversity to take off?

Biodiversity is integrated into agriculture to different degrees depending on the farming practices that are used. The solutions for more sustainable farming are well-known and they include practices like reducing soil disturbance, maintaining soil cover and practicing crop rotation and diversification. If we aim to conserve sustainable farming landscapes we can conserve both on-farm biodiversity and biodiversity beyond the farm boundary.

Sustainable farming provides a number of external benefits and these may hold the key to getting agroecology practices to take off. In addition to providing food, sustainably managed agricultural landscapes can protect water sheds, reduce the risk of droughts and floods, and mitigate climate change. These are services to society that are worth investing in and we can do more to support farmers as stewards of the environmental and providers of such public goods.


“… we need to do more to measure the conservation benefits of sustainable land management and to validate good practices. There are many trade-offs in land management and we need stronger evidence to handle these trade-offs more effectively.”


 Where have you seen the biggest successes in conserving and/ or restoring biodiversity?

If we are talking about biodiversity in relation to agriculture, then we need to look at regions where sustainable farming practices are being practiced on a large scale. In the Sahel region of West Africa, for example, millions of hectares of cropland are under agroforestry. Numerous countries, including the USA and Mongolia, have restored grasslands through improved herd management practices.

However, we need to do more to measure the conservation benefits of sustainable land management and to validate good practices. There are many trade-offs in land management and we need stronger evidence to handle these trade-offs more effectively. This includes better knowledge on the value of different ecosystems services that are influenced by farming practices and better assessment of overall ecosystem health. The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems is emerging as a useful standard for tracking changes in ecosystem health and for assessing where ecosystems are managed sustainably or where they are in need of greater protection.


“The most promising trend is that biodiversity conservation and restoration has become increasingly ‘mainstreamed’.”


What do you see as the most promising trend in terms of conserving and restoring biodiversity?

The most promising trend is that biodiversity conservation and restoration has become increasingly “mainstreamed”. Biodiversity conservation is important because we need it – healthy ecosystems provide services such as pollination for agriculture, water regulation and good air quality. Biodiversity conservation measures are now also part of the agenda across different sectors, often with a species management focus. People now realise that to preserve species such as tigers, snow leopards and mountain gorillas, they need to maintain vast landscapes and critical patches of natural habitat – with the ecosystem services they provide - whilst still helping local communities to develop and escape poverty.

FOLU Champions: Divine Ntiokam

The FOLU Ambassador network is made up of a wide range of leading experts, innovators and practitioners in food and land use systems. Here, we hear from Divine Ntiokam, Founder and Managing Director, Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network.

FOLU Ambassador Divine Ntiokam recognises the critical importance of the youth in building a resilient, sustainable and prosperous agricultural sector in Africa.

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“Youth are the leaders of today and tomorrow! Africa has the youngest youth population: energetic, innovative and creative in all they do. For these reasons, investing in the youth implies investing in the sustainable and productive future of a nation.”

Without an educated and ambitious future generation of farmers, the seeds of sustainability planted today will not bear fruits. Moreover, the youth have much to gain by developing more resilient and prosperous food systems.

“Climate Smart Agriculture delivers triple-wins across the key components of sustainable food systems: mitigation, adaptation and improving productivity. This enables smallholder farmers to increase resilience in the face of a changing climate. In this light, climate change should be looked upon as an opportunity because it prompts us to think more creatively to find mutual benefits.”

This passion drove Divine to start the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN) in May 2014, of which he is now the Managing Director. Teams in 37 countries work to raise awareness of Climate Smart Agriculture among young men and women, educating them in the benefits of sustainable approaches to increasing agricultural yields and resilience. Alongside his role in CSAYN, Divine was elected as the African Continental Vice President of Youth in Livestock, Fisheries and Aquaculture Incubation Network in July 2018. By providing business incubation and powerful networks of support, the Network aims to build an Africa in which youth-owned enterprises in animal resources contribute to poverty reduction and food security.

“I believe that advocacy and networking is key because in order to live in a hunger- and poverty free- zone, we must engage with experienced world leaders, development partners and most importantly donor agencies in food and land use systems to create jobs for the African youth.”

Divine’s entrepreneurialism and advocacy for greater inclusivity is nothing new. His background includes rich experience in youth mainstreaming, most notably in coordinating and facilitating the translation of the Sustainable Development Goals into over sixty local languages on the African and Asian continent to ensure that “No One Is Left Behind”. 

“There is a saying that he who wants to go far should connect and network with others; he who goes alone will not be able to meet the challenges he faces. Let’s think global and act local.”

Divine participated in the Food and Land Use Policy Symposium at the African Green Revolution Forum in Kigali, Rwanda on 7th September.