Reflections from 2020 Conference on Strengthening Resilience

“[Food safety] is a crisis, but it’s a crisis with a solution.”

 

2020 Conference Plenary (IFPRI Images)

2020 Conference Plenary (IFPRI Images)

This is one of the many comments raised during A4NH’s moderated discussions at this year’s 2020 Policy Consultation & Conference, held in Addis Ababa from May 15-17th. At the conference, more than 700 global participants gathered together - ranging from researchers and implementers, to policymakers and decisionmakers. The conference built off momentum around the resilience concept (helping individuals and communities prepare for, cope with, and recover from shocks) by explicitly linking to the food and nutrition security context that is central to IFPRI’s work.

 

A4NH hosted two side events related to our research on agriculture’s links to human health, food safety, and nutrition. Our aim was to engage conference participants on how our research in two key areas, food safety and healthy systems, can contribute to strengthening resilience.

 

Our first event, Food Safety: Options for Addressing a Growing Crisis, addressed past food safety efforts and raised food safety challenges and priorities for A4NH to focus on moving forward. First, Delia Grace (A4NH Flagship Leader from ILRI) and John McDermott (A4NH Director) set the scene, for example, informing attendees that more than 80% of perishables are bought from informal markets, where we can have the biggest impact on disease burden. They also debunked the myth that poor people don’t care about food safety and emphasized the importance of ensuring that solutions not only reduce the disease burden, but also support the livelihoods of poor people.

 

Discussants from a range of countries and sectors shared perspectives from their experiences. Abigael Obura from CDC-Kenya offered a public health perspective, reminding us that food safety contamination does not discriminate between rich and poor. “We are all are at risk.”

 

Mweshi Mukanga from the Zambian Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), Ministry of Agriculture, talked about capacity gaps in food safety implementation, particularly with regards to operational research. He said, “The science is already there. We just need support to scale up.” He offered some food safety priorities to consider, such as consumption by farmers, who often keep the bad crop for themselves and sell the good, as well as lab capacity to test for aflatoxins, not just at the industry-level, but also for smallholders.

 

 

Hung Nguyen from the Hanoi School of Public Health in Vietnam shared a consumer focus, stating, “People are willing to pay more for better quality food, but having money doesn’t mean you necessarily have access to safer food.”

 

Lastly, Martha Byanyima from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) offered insight from an industry viewpoint. She offered optimism for the way forward, stating, “Even though it is a ‘silent killer,’ food safety is moving higher up in research and government agenda.”

 

Our second session, Healthy People, Resilient Systems, generated discussion on how health and nutrition can be better integrated into local food systems.  We posed tough questions on integrating nutrition and health elements or components into broader livelihood and agro-ecological system interventions. A series of presenters and discussants engaged in a dialogue on how to create a cohesive systems approach that offers solutions for improving human health and nutrition and enhancing resilience. Below are some highlights from panelists:

 

“People are as healthy as their soil”

(Alex Awiti, Aga Khan University)

 

“We can do better on cross-sectoral collaboration by consolidating a few key messages to policymakers.”

(Ann Tutwiler, Bioversity International)

 

A4NH is consolidating feedback from both of these sessions to help inform our research agenda and priorities for the coming years.

 

Additional 2020 Conference resources:

 

**A summary from the side event on food safety can be found here.  Video footage from the event is available below:

 

 

**A summary from the side event on healthy people and resilient systems can be found here.  Video footage from the event is available below:

 

 

** Blog-post on the way forward for building resilience available on the 2020 Conference website at this link.