A Taste of Change Through Participatory Dinners

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I had the opportunity to attend “Taste of Change,” a well orchestrated dinner that engaged farmers, NGOs, UN Officials, intellectuals and Swiss government officials. The dinner commemorated the partnership between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC, Biovision  and the Millennium Institute, which exists in order to bring about sustainable agricultural and development practices. The dinner was co-hosted by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), Shumei, the Sustainable Food Trust and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

In order to showcase the collaboration of the organizations, the hosting organizations brought together a celebrity chef and a local farmer to develop the menu.  One of the best organic food chefs, Chef Domencia Catelli, a Northern Californian who has cooked for celebrities like Julia Roberts and Lady Gaga, worked with fifth generation Japanese-Brazilian farmer, Flavio Fujita, who farms only organic produce. Together they developed a menu that was strictly vegetarian and with explicit local produce. The result was a mouth watering treat that would spoil any under-nourished student reporter.

The introductory speech by Hans Herren, World Food Prize Laureate, President of Biovision and the Millennium Institute, described the importance of these collaborations and the knowledge exchange they foster, particularly when our population and consumption patterns are increasing. As President of the Swiss Confederation H.E Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said, “we are essentially consumers of the food chain and we need to show new forms of politics, new forms of governments to assist the change in consumption patterns.”

Mr. Fujita who kindly provided the                  Biovision Dinner attendees
food from his local Rio farm

Biovision, the Millenium Institute and the WSPA are collaborators for an overarching principle, which is to transform agriculture and Food Systems to make our world more sustainable. Organizers of the event successfully brought relevant stakeholders to the high level dinner where they could reap and enjoy the benefits of quality, sustainability and dialogue. Hosting partnership dinners broadens the perspective on a given topic – in this case agriculture – and brings balance to a successful project outcome. As Sonja Tschirren, Biovision project manager, said, “in order to reach the right kind of policy making, you need to get through several layers of knowledge from farmer to policy maker.” Thus, a participatory dinner allows for the establishment of empowerment to farmers to be able to speak up and present their ideas and knowledge. This is a great way to get heard and make change.

The intrinsic success of NGOs’ collaboration with small scale producers is due to the fact that they are careful listeners. The critical point of the Rio+20 Summit is for major groups, delegates and organizations to have the ability to listen, ask questions and provide a platform for knowledge exchange. As I worked my way around the room to find more lively participants enjoying the delectable goods that were so kindly provided to us I stumbled upon a cheery pair of men swinging to the capoera entertainment.

As I approached the group, they were extremely receptive, and happy to talk to me.  It was to my surprise that I encountered leaders of the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Development (AFA).  They explained that this association includes many South East Asian countries, along with more developed countries like Japan and India. They are the quintessential formation of grassroots movements for sustainable development for change. They are sponsored by the World Society Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP).

They were invited to Rio+20 to strengthen the call to action towards sustainable agriculture and farming practices world wide. When I asked them about their expectations from the Summit, their leader Mr. Pan Sopheap, said, “What were seeking is to focus many of the efforts in agriculture to focus on agro-ecology, as it mainly focuses on health and the quality of soil, what we mean by agro-ecology is essentially a definition and method that takes care of sustainable agriculture and the planet.” He concluded by stating that they expect world leaders to support small scale farmers and the future of organic farming, as he believes that “the world will end much faster if private, chemical agri-businesses continue to dominate the sector.”

And that is precisely what Biovision, the WSPA and the Millennium Institute aim to do: foster partnerships by listening to farmers and associations in developing countries that support sustainable agriculture, while sharing knowledge. I hope that these types of discussions and partnerships inform the United Nations’ discussions on food security and consumption patterns in the future to come.

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