Filling the Narrative gap at the Food Systems Summit
The first time I heard the word advocate was when I was training as a nurse. Above all else, we were the voice of our patients. To be their voice without compromise and act in their best interests at all times.
As an advocate for hunger, that ethos remains the same; as such, it is our duty to ensure that all voices and narratives are at the table. Due to our networks’ siloed nature, this is not always easy, not because we differ fundamentally in our aspiration to end hunger; instead, we have no standard narrative to achieve this.
This paper will outline how our narrative has changed over the past number of months, from advocating for a siloed set of food-based interventions to a more encompassing rights-based approach to food. In redefining our narrative, we have identified not only the narrative gap but critically the same voices that are missing. The paper will conclude by inviting you to fill this narrative gap in the Food Systems Summit public webinar tomorrow. This paper is a call to action, a call to raise your voices in a way that can be heard, documented, disseminated and understood.
Our evolving narrative
At the virtual Micronutrient conference in November, I, on behalf of Mothers First, asked Dr Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for the World Health Organization, whether nutrition-specific interventions would be part of the Food Systems Summit. He said, they were not part of the Summit and that it would be an uphill struggle to get them included now.
What his answer meant and our response
We view the systems approach according to our lens of experience. Having worked in the humanitarian sector for over 16 years, alarm bells were raised because it meant that direct nutrition intervention was not considered part of people’s food system.
In a series of four Think Tank Papers, we began to explore this through the lens of the furthest behind. Each week we set ourselves a blank page, and each week the narrative changed with the focused research we were undertaking.
In the first four papers, the most significant change was to move away from the narrow scope of direct nutrition-specific interventions to the broader narrative of nutrition-sensitive social protection programs. In doing so, we linked the furthest behind to social protection systems.
We attended all the action track webinars. In each of the webinars, we asked the same questions about social protection and the furthest behind. For us, the most significant aspect was that ours was always the only question related to social protection and the furthest behind. A lone voice, or so we thought.
In our fourth paper, called The Bodhran Players of the Food System Summit, we explored the narrative builders and decision-makers of the Food Systems Summit. We found that all their experience was based on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and market-based approaches. While no one discounts the validity of these approaches, they remain only part of the solution.
In the middle of January, we were finalising our fifth aper, which centred around The 42 Policy Recommendations for the Food Systems Summit, when we came across the interview by Lise Colyer from Quota with Micheal Fakhri, the UN Special Envoy on the Right to Food.
It is here that our narrative changed from social protection to the right to food. We quickly found Micheal’s papers to the Human Rights Council and the open letter to Dr Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit.
Studying these papers led us to Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CSM) and the robust, organised set of rights-based voices. This network’s depth quickly became apparent when reading the Letter signed by more than 500 organisations sent to the UN Secretary-General in March 2020.
In the CSM network in particular and those that support the ethos outlined by Micheal Fakhri in his papers, I have found my brothers and sisters. A central question is why it took over one year of sustained advocacy to get human rights even considered in the Food Systems Summit? The second interrelated question is, why has it taken six years for us to hear these voices in the arena of food and policy advocacy. While the answers are likely to be complicated, the solution may well be developing a standard informed narrative that is focused and targeted.
Merging voices and next steps
In order to merge voices, we must understand the silos that separate us. To name a few processes where we have felt that our voice was singular and where your support on the right to food would have been critical in developing a rights-based approach to food policy.
- The five Action Track public webinars
- The development process for SUN 3.0 strategy
- The Independent Expert Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (IAEG-SDG) process
- Nutrition For Growth
- Policy development for the global action plan on wasting
- The Global Nutrition Report
- World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline development process
If you have been involved in these processes, we want to join forces; if not, we would love to develop advocacy synergies with you.
We can see evidence that Michael Fakhri papers have begun to impact the Food Systems Summit. We have already noted stronger wording and discussion around social protection and the right to food within 3 of the Action Tracks. (AT1,AT4,AT5) Our concern is that it will be too little too late. The process is already well underway, and the momentum has garnered around production and markets.
Michael was very critical of the Food Systems Summit lacking any attention to the Right to Food, and it is here that we want to hear your voice. The next public webinar on the Food Systems Summit is tomorrow. The link to the registration for Action Track One is here.
We encourage you to register for this event and actively ask questions around the right to food, social protection and the furthest behind.
Centring our voices
We look for leaders in the hope that they will lead, that they will speak truth to power and that that truth will be listened to. In Michael Fakhri, I believe we have that leader.
Both his reports to the human rights council and the open letter to the Food Systems Summit represent an in-depth understanding of hunger.
He critically has the courage and knowledge to call out endemic structural weaknesses in our systems-based model of working. We know we are not reaching the furthest behind people in the world. Seldom, however, are we inclined, and rarely are we encouraged to look at our weakness. Michael Fakhri is different because he has spoken truth to power publicly and is in a position to be heard. His voice, however, is only as strong as the power which we give it.
Pat Mc Mahon is the founder and lead of Mothers First.