Three Priorities for 2024
The founders of the Shamba Centre for Food & Climate on what they would - and we should - be working on this year
Hello from a cold and crisp - but thankfully sunny - London. Yes, I’m still stranded here. No, I have no idea when I will get home.
I have good days and less-good days - I finally broke down a week after the theft, which reminded me of the power of a good cry.
I’ve been beating myself up for not being as productive as usual but decided - with the help of friends and even work contacts - that it’s ok not to always be 150% ‘on the go’.
I’m trying to make the most of my stay in London - like meeting friends I hadn’t seen for a long time and experts and academics I’ve long admired and interviewed but never met in person, or going to interesting exhibitions - but also cutting myself some slack.
So please bear with me if this and the next issue or two are briefer than usual. It is taking a little longer than expected to get myself up and running.
This week, I’m publishing an op-ed from the three awesome ladies who set up the Shamba Centre for Food & Climate. It’s that time of the year when a lot of people gaze into the crystal ball to make predictions and I thought it would be best if I leave it to the professionals like Oshani, Francine and Carin who are in the thick of it.
It’s a pithy, clear-sighted piece and who can resist an article that starts with a quote from Jane Austen? In case you need more introduction about Shamba, here’s an interview I did with Carin in Oct 2022 when the organisation was launched. Enjoy!
By Oshani Perera, Francine Picard, and Carin Smaller
"There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me." ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
There are many reasons to be pessimistic about 2024. The world is confronted with regional conflicts, geopolitical tensions, the rise of populist parties, and the increased severity and frequency of extreme weather, from floods and fires to cyclones and droughts. Unsustainable sovereign debt levels are decreasing the fiscal capacity of wealthier nations while increasing the default risks of poorer ones. Systemic shocks are deepening food insecurity and threatening to reverse decades of progress in sustainable development.
Yet, we must not surrender to pessimism. At the Shamba Centre for Food & Climate, we believe that difficult times force us to reconsider our assumptions and routines. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to challenge the status quo, to create impact, and focus on doing more and doing it better.
Here are three areas where we can collectively generate the greatest impact towards achieving sustainable development goal (SDG) 2 over the next 12 months:
First, we must continue to advocate for blended finance for small producers and enterprises.
Donors, funds, domestic investors and development banks are experimenting and innovating new solutions to help finance the millions of small enterprises that form the backbone of agriculture and food value chains.
These enterprises, typically serving the domestic food markets in low- and middle-income countries, and need loans valued between USD 50’000 and USD 2 million. They represent the missing middle: too big to receive aid and micro-financing yet too small to attract private investors and domestic banks.
A soon to be published report by the Shamba Centre and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (GDPRD) charts a course for donors to help the ‘missing middle’ access finance. For every US$1 of their investment, donors could generate a further US$4 in private sector finance.
Second, we must leverage the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for evidence-based policy making.
Through Hesat2030, a joint project between the FAO, University of Notre Dame and the Shamba Centre, we have reduced the time researchers need to provide high quality advice and solutions to governments and donors on the most effective interventions to prioritise.
Combined with economic modelling, we now have the capacity to deliver evidence-based and costed plans on agri-food transformation to donors and countries within months rather than years.
The Juno Evidence Alliance is building a cadre of researchers and training them in the most advanced AI and machine learning skills. This year, Hesat2030 will deliver a roadmap for donors on the most effective nutrition-sensitive interventions and their costs to transformation agriculture and food systems to achieve SDG 2.
Third, we must spread the emerging activist and reform-minded competition agenda in the US and EU to developing countries.
Lina Khan in the United States and, at the time, Margrethe Vestager in the European Union, have shone a light on the abuse of market dominance by digital platforms such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook.
The extreme levels of concentration in the food and agricultural sectors in Africa are a critically overlooked force driving up food insecurity and poverty. African competition authorities need to be supported with the resources, knowledge, and the mandate to act.
Regional competition authorities need to be strengthened to enable a regional response. We will work alongside competition authorities in Africa together with the University of Johannesburg, to provide them with the data, information, and knowledge to act. It is time for the development community to step in.
At the Shamba Centre, our mission is to disrupt global food systems to empower small producers and enterprises, make food value chains more equitable, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and restore nature. Making strides in these three areas is a critical step to achieving our mission.
Menu of Misery - The Kite Tales
For new subscribers, The Kite Tales is my other hat. It’s a non-profit storytelling project that chronicles the lives and ordinary people of Myanmar, where I am from. Since the coup in Feb 2021, we’ve pivoted a bit and have been financially supporting storytellers a year. Journalists write anonymous diaries of what life is like for them, their families, friends, and sources, and illustrators then come up with artwork that corresponds to these stories.
This piece, the first of 2024 and also the first by a new fellow we are supporting, recounts the meals she had eaten in Myanmar’s notorious Insein Prison where she was incarcerated for over a year for reporting on the military junta’s atrocities against its own people. Please read and share, so that what is happening in Myanmar is not forgotten.
The game of gastrodiplomacy - Vittles
From an accidental discovery of a small sushi restaurant in Athens that gets support from the Japanese government, Dan Hong traverses parts of Asia - Thailand, Malaysia (where his parents are from), Japan, Taiwan, etc - to document the rise and rise of this intriguing phenomenon where food is used to elevate a country’s status in people’s subconscious minds.
It’s a lovely read that will make you want to look for the nearest hokkien mee, nasi lemak, or a bento box.
Yacouba Sawadogo, African Farmer Who Held Back the Desert, Dies at 77 - The New York Times
A fitting obituary for someone known as “the man who beat the desert” in Burkina Faso, who passed away at the beginning of December 2023. Few people around the world would have heard of Sawadogo but his method to adapt to a changing climate, amid drought, famine and multiple coups d’état, is something that has rightly been celebrated.
If you don’t have access to the NYT, here’s an old piece from 2011 by Scientific American on Sawadogo’s work.