15 April 2013

Hurdling Fords in Dublin: Hunger. Nutrition. Climate Justice

One of Dublin's names is "town of the hurdled ford". 

Today was the first day of the 2 day conference on hunger, nutrition and climate justice, organised by the Irish Government, the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice and the World Food Programme. It is convened at Dublin Castle.

And fords are indeed being hurdled. There are two big disconnects that the Conference is trying to address: (1) getting the hunger, nutrition and climate justice communities making connections and (2) getting meaningful dialogue between practitioners and policymakers.

My highlights from the morning: a strong first set of speeches. Opening speeches can be real snooze fests, but these were great (if a bit long).

Michael Higgins, President of Ireland gave a real rabble rousing speech calling us to action (longest standing ovation I can recall at a conference); Ertharin Cousin on how WFP was working to support national food security systems; Mary Robinson ("shame on us if we miss this opportunity to act now"); Andris Piebalgs ("undernutrition is the worst form of poverty"); William Ole Seki Laitayock, Ngorongoro Pastoralist Development Organisation, Tanzania ("we are not troublemakers, we are pastoralists"); the impressive Simon Coveney, Irish Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine ("replacing small scale producers with large farms is a disastrous thought process"), President Joyce Banda (video) on Malawi's leadership on these issues (and Malawi is the top rated African country in the new Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index); William Chilufya, SUN civil society group, Zambia, ("Zambians know food, less about nutrition"); Alex Nallo, World Vision Youth ambassador ("2015 shall not be our limit") and Salah Hussien, another Youth Ambassador ("young people speak from the heart so it is important to listen to them".)

In the afternoon, we broke into "learning circles". This consisted of 2 case studies (Ethiopia and Malawi) presented by pairs of farmers and scientists/community organisers, followed by discussions in groups of 3, merging into groups of 8, merging into groups of 50. We discussed the 2 case studies.

I was in one on "Whose Knowledge Counts?"--a very IDS-like title.  It was refreshing to be able to listen to so many African farmers (with farms of 1-4 hectares). The Ethiopia and Malawi examples showed how farmers can be at the centre of knowledge systems--either through demand driven research priorities or through farmer group representation.

We were asked by the facilitator to generate 3 asks of those in power. 

To hurdle those those fords, mine were:

1. Training on knowledge generation. Bring nutrition, hunger and climate change together in schools, in universities and in on the job training. 
2. Research funding.  Design calls that bring the 3 themes together, but which also bring together different types of "expertise": formal and informal, inferential and deductive, tacit and explicit. Test whether these co-constructed methods yield different (and better) ways of navigating the policy space
3. Put farmers and households at the heart of these efforts: in prioritisation, design, and evaluation.

For me, it is a no-brainer: in an increasingly dynamic and fluid world whose challenges resist narrow silos, knowledge generation systems need to be pluralistic, adaptable and resilient--and that means more diverse expertise needs to be drawn upon and integrated.

I look forward to Day 2.

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