Today, World Food Day, marks the launch the 2020 Food Dialogues Report.
This comes six years after the first Food Dialogues took place in 2014, which we organised to begin an exchange of ideas that could sow the seeds of change to challenge ‘conventional orthodoxy’ relating to the food system.
In the years since we have seen many signs of change. We see it in how government is shifting its approaches to food, food and nutrition security, urban agriculture, and land use. We see it in the rise of thoughtful consumerism and ethical retailing. It is visible in the collaborations of farmers and social innovators to bring local foods to market, and in other entrepreneurial ventures. It is even apparent in the shifts among the major retailers and brand owners.
Within this, different groups continue to agitate for a deeper rethink of the food system. This call is coming from citizens, certain farmers, academics, faith-based group, and civic organisations alike.
Our plans to host the second Food Dialogues in 2020 pre-dated the pandemic. But the coronavirus shattered all our plans to host a conventional in-person series of talks, forcing us to host an all-virtual event.
This was new territory for us, as for so many, but we took on the challenge because it seemed more urgent than ever. We could all see what the consequences of our broken food system meant as millions of South Africans faced hunger and disease during the lockdown.
The response to the event was exceptional: 28 speakers and moderators delivered 51 recorded sessions comprising over 16 hours of content. 892 registered attendees signed up for a collective 8 100 talks. The SA Centre of Excellence in Food Security and the DG Murray Trust came on board and sponsors, while the African Centre for Cities, Oribi Village, the City of Cape Town, ICLEI and Derrick were our partners.
“The Food Dialogues provided a space to engage deeply in the complexity of the Cape Town food system,” says Jane Battersby of the African Centre for Cities. “They refused to have a single story. They refused to amplify a single set of voices. They provide the starting point, and not the end point, for many sets of complex, difficult and messy conversations about food.”
The 2020 Food Dialogues Report is a crucial legacy of this engagement. It weaves together common threads from the wide range of speakers, topics, themes, and talks. It elevates the deep insights reached in the dialogues, and consolidates the diverse and varied perspectives and recommendations offered throughout the engagement. While not a complete summary of all participants’ contributions, or a comprehensive overview of the state of the food system, nevertheless it aims to be a resource that others can draw upon for guidance in shaping policies, activism, projects, and programmes to make a difference in our food system.
Changes are underway. But the overall scale of the challenge remains vast. The shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the shortcomings in the food system. It has also showed up the level of urgency, resources, opportunities, and risks as never before. There is cause for concern as well as for hope, but even more cause for deeper engagement, greater persistence, and continued dialogue.
“The Food Dialogues are critically important because they provide a rare opportunity for citizens and other stakeholders to learn from grassroots activists alongside government officials, university professors, and business people,” says Prof. Julian May, director of the Centre of Excellence in Food Security. “Only by connecting these different perspectives and knowledges will we able to foster meaningful change in our food systems.”
The better the understanding we have of our food system, the more each one of us can understand where we have the greatest opportunity to influence change. We hope you will join us in taking the opportunity to make the most of this report and this moment.
Download the Food Dialogues Report.