From farm to table, let’s talk food (systems)

September 21, 2021

From farm to table, let’s talk food (systems) 

Niyorugira Pascasin a member of the Twitezi Imbere group checks on the tomatoes in the group’s greenhouse. Photo credit: UNDPUganda/Natsuki 2018

The food we eat brings us together as families, communities, and nations. It underpins our cultures, our economies, and our relationship with the natural world. The world’s food systems touch every aspect of human existence, which makes them valuable instruments of change.

In light of this year's UN Food Systems Summit, which will bring together voices from every sector of society including civil society, nonprofits and NGOs, government, research organizations, and private organizations to drive impactful, meaningful change for food systems everywhere.

We at UNDP Accelerator Labs are working to better understand the various challenges of our world's food supply chain. From designing a portfolio of experiments to shorten food supply chains and provide local, nutritious, and affordable food to the most vulnerable, to finding local solutions to address the growing issue of food waste, food affordability and its impact on the climate. In addition, our Labs are using new data and new mental models to deeply understand the complexity of food systems while using collective intelligence to design a national dialogue where the voiceless and vulnerable communities finally have a seat at the table.

From fighting food waste to transitioning food systems, find out  how our Labs are working and learning by: 

Sparking digital transformation for small-scale fisherfolks in the Blue Economy of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

BlueDIGITAL is a pilot experiment from the UNDP Barbados Accelerator Lab that applies digital tools and solutions to improve segments of the Blue Economy ecosystem and value chains. This pilot is aimed primarily at fisherfolk, but also will involve the government, tourism industry partners and the public as consumers. The goal is to reduce the digital divides exposed by COVID-19 by introducing innovative, online measures within sectors of the Blue Economy in the Eastern Caribbean. Once the app-based network is established, it can improve the value chain for fish by introducing greater sustainability measures, providing accurate traceability, gathering, and sharing data, and more responsible and regenerative seafood purchasing. Learn more here.

Utilizing collective intelligence to combat food loss and food waste in Sarajevo

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, estimates show that about 500 tons of food per day ends up in landfills. This has multiple consequences, from financial losses of food producers to serious environmental problems. The UNDP Bosnia and Herzegovina Accelerator Lab is experimenting on and exploring ways to address food waste and find sustainable solutions that can strengthen the food systems in the country. In 2019, the Lab, together with the City of Sarajevo, conducted a series of sessions at the Regional Innovation Forum focused on mapping the food waste issue in the country with a range of food industry professionals. In 2020, the Lab also initiated the establishment of the Sarajevo Food Lab – an informal network of food enthusiasts, food regulatory bodies, legislators, restaurants and food outlets to reduce waste and loss and to design and implement good practices and innovative solutions. This year, the Lab launched an innovation challenge inviting innovative solutions to reduce waste and make communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina cleaner.

Community innovation at the intersection of gender equality and food security in Paraguay.

UNDP Paraguay powered by its Accelerator Lab is facilitating community innovation by bringing local groups and unusual partners together, to better understand the food security challenges in the country and co-create a sustainable model for a community-led agri-food system. In addition, the Labs identified that the ancient practice of the conservation of native seed varieties, passed down from one generation of women to another, is fundamental to ensuring sustainable agriculture practices and healthy diets in communities. To support this, the Lab provides technical assistance and certification programs in organic production techniques for the women of Semillas Nativas in San Ignacio, Misiones. This way, they have the best seed production to grow plants that will ensure more bountiful harvests.  Learn more about how women preserve this ancient practice here.

Working with local communities in Hushe Valley in Pakistan to improve their food system.

The UNDP Pakistan Accelerator Lab is working on a social innovation platform approach for the socio-economic development of Hushe Valley, focusing on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with local communities and through the Lab’s research and activities, the food economy  emerged as a focus. The Lab  identified how the food system in Hushe Valley overlaps with other thematic areas such as reverse migration, women's health, education, accessibility, connectivity and availability of clean drinking water (which is ironic considering the landscape is full of rivers, streams and lakes). The Lab is working on two opportunities: the abundance of apricots and herbs, and tunnel farming through hybrid seeds. The Lab supports building prototypes to derive sustainable products from apricots such as oil and seeds, and herbs while finding ways to reduce food waste. Stay tuned for more.

Designing a portfolio of experiments to shorten food supply chains and provide local, nutritious, and affordable food to the most vulnerable in the Pacific Islands.

In Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as Fiji, food security in terms of accessibility and affordability to food is a key challenge. In mid-2020, the UNDP Pacific Accelerator Lab with its partners identified three initiatives to co-create experiments targeted at the challenges of food security. The lab team designed a portfolio approach, which included experiments on hydroponics, institutional farms, and food supply chains. 💡Learn about all their experiments and the lessons learned along the way here as well as how they are repurposing food supply chains during times of disaster here

Supporting local innovators and their solutions to address the growing issues of food waste, food affordability and their impact on the climate in South Africa.

By launching a food waste innovation challenge together with the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in South Africa, the UNDP Accelerator Lab has identified and is supporting local entrepreneurs to build businesses with food waste solutions. These innovative solutions range from using solar powered dehydration for preservation, to forcefully inducted air to produce fertilizer; from small biogas digesters for home use, to industrial sized worm farms; from tech to get sell-by food to students, to producing insect protein for livestock feed. 💡Learn more about these local entrepreneurs and their solutions to address the growing issue of food waste and affordability here.

Using new data and new mental models to deeply understand the complexity of food systems in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, hunger is one of the major drivers of urban poverty. To better understand the challenges and complexity of the food systems in the country, the UNDP Zimbabwe Accelerator Lab team partnered with private sector companies to study how informal workers sell produce and to correlate these insights with 2.5 years’ worth of volume and pricing data. Results of this experiment led the team to a deep understanding of the informal market and how the food supply chain works. 💡Find out more about the experiment here and watch their youtube playlist to learn more about their portfolio of activities addressing the complex and flawed urban food system in the country. 

Using collective intelligence to design a national dialogue where the voiceless and vulnerable communities finally have a seat at the table in Peru

The UNDP Peru Accelerator Lab conducted a series of workshops as part of the Peruvian National Dialogues on Sustainable Food Systems, which took place on June 30th and July 1st, 2021 and had over 350 attendees. The Lab designed a toolkit enabling all actors in the Peruvian food system including national and local government, academia, small and large business associations, UN agencies and civil society groups to come together for an honest and open conversation around the five action tracks of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021. As a result, insights from the national dialogues were integrated into Peru’s National Roadmap on Sustainable Food Systems and Gastronomy, and informed Peru’s position at the UN Food Summit .
💡Here's a sneak peek of the Lab's Toolkit used in action using Mural.