Agroecology as a means to transforming food systems for health, nutrition and equity in a climate changing world

Food and sustainability

Agroecology as a means to transforming food systems for health, nutrition and equity in a climate changing world

Agroecology as a means to transforming food systems for health, nutrition and equity in a climate changing world

In early May 2017, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food hosted its 2nd International Dialogue with over 250 food systems leaders from the local to the global, to gain deeper insights into the connections between climate change and food systems, to craft visions of the food systems we need today and tomorrow, and to chart potential pathways to get there. 

Global Alliance member Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) sponsored six of their youth alumni to attend the gathering. Alumnus Oluwafemi Ajayi sat down with Olivia Yambi, Co-Chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), to ask pressing questions about where food and agriculture systems can point to positive solutions to climate change.

Through the International Dialogue and all of its work, the Global Alliance aims to bring together diverse stakeholders from different sectors, geographies, and ideologies to facilitate genuine global dialogue on critical issues related to transitions to sustainable food systems. To that end, we are pleased to make these interviews available to contribute to thinking, discussion, and debate about food systems reform.


We need young people to be equipped with the necessary information, direction, and technology to look at agriculture, food production and climate change issues in their connectedness

Olivia Yambi

Q: Where does your work intersect with sustainable food systems and climate change? 

Olivia Yambi (OY): I am presently co-chairing the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) – an independent multidisciplinary group which came together to particularly look into food systems, holistically. The analytical approach across all areas of food systems from input, production, trade, distribution, and the resultant health and nutritional impacts are all areas that are embedded in the work scheme of the panel of experts. The panel periodically selects areas of research and synthesizes work, mainly using secondary sources of information, in order to contribute to policy dialogue and decisions around sustainable food systems.

Q: Why is it important to get food systems on the climate change agenda?

OY: In order for the food system to meet the goals of improved health and sustainable nutritional improvement, there is an obvious intersection with the agenda of climate change. Climate change as we see it now has negative consequences on health outcomes, changing patterns of diseases and illnesses, and deleterious implications on agricultural productivity. For example, the recurring drought in the eastern and southern parts of Africa had huge implications on agricultural food production resulting in near famine conditions, increasing rates of malnutrition, and stress on households in terms of healthcare and as family members go in search of food. All these elements generated by the food system are closely linked to changes in climatic conditions which could be abated if we focus on the right interventions and changes in our food production systems. 

Q: Where do you think the greatest opportunities are for transitioning to more sustainable food systems in a climate changing world?

OY: In IPES-Food, we pursued some analysis looking very much at the current food systems and what would be possible in food systems that are more supportive of good nutrition and health outcomes. One of the first reports looked at the issue in our food system - “From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems” - and the transition from the dominant industrial model of production (which contributes largely to the emission of greenhouse gases) into more diverse agroecological modes of production which will provide both climate change benefits and opportunities for access to more diverse diets, which are most needed in order to sustain good nutrition and health outcomes. Eight “lock-ins” were identified, as well as measures of success of the current food systems which, if adequately addressed, would provide opportunities for transformation. 


Q: What is the most important thing younger generations need to understand about how food systems and climate change are interconnected, and what can they do as individuals to support a shift in how we think about food systems? 

OY: We need young people to get involved in this agenda because there is an opportunity for them to influence change. What is it that they demand in terms of their own direct consumption and lifestyle? We need young people to be equipped with the necessary information, direction, and technology to look at agriculture, food production and climate change issues in their connectedness, so they can be champions of change to influence the agenda and also be demanding of their leadership for the types of changes and governance mechanisms that will help address the negative impact of climate change we are seeing today. 


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We are looking at their practices, access to knowledge and ability to use modern technology to acquire good information, and engaging in strategies that show young people as movers and shakers of the needed change. They should be a resource for change and not further contribute to the problem by consuming goods and items with negative consequences on sustainability. 

Q: What are good practice examples, where you or others are involved in leveraging or transitioning to more sustainable, secure and equitable food systems?

OY: Agroecological approaches to agricultural food production have shown great promise. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) has published collected case studies that have produced good results using agroecological practices where there was increased and improved productivity and substantial positive impact on health, wellbeing and nutritional improvement of the population when compared to the industrial mode of agricultural practices. A few examples from the publication include: from slash and burn to ‘slash and mulch’; agroecology for home and market; a winning combination for rural communities in Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe; reclaiming life in marginal areas and fragile ecosystems through innovative solutions; and Chololo Ecovillage - a model of good practice in climate change adaptation. The push for agroecological practices in these case studies have managed to show more yields than the modern industrial mode of agricultural food production that are dependent on heavy inputs that in some cases the people cannot even afford.  

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Such cases are available also from other regions of the world.  But we have to appreciate that achieving sustainable and equitable food systems entails struggle and transformations in the entire food system. Addressing bits and pieces of the system will not yield the needed results.

Olivia Yambi is Co-Chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and is a national of Tanzania. She holds a PhD from Cornell University, majoring in International Nutrition and Epidemiology. From 1992 to 2012 she served UNICEF in varying capacities around the world. She was UNICEF Representative to Kenya, UNICEF Representative to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Regional Nutrition Advisor to the UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Region, and the Chief of Child Development and Nutrition programme in the UNICEF India Country Office.


The vision of the BCFN Alumni group is to make the best use of the potential of young people involved with issues of agri-food sustainability around the world. The aim is to create a community of active and committed alumni that contribute to the development of a more sustainable food system, through projects and other activities.


More interviews with experts from the Global Alliance’s 2nd International Dialogue are available here.


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