In early May 2017, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food hosted its 2nd International Dialogue with over 250 food systems leaders from the local to the global, to gain deeper insights into the connections between climate change and food systems, to craft visions of the food systems we need today and tomorrow, and to chart potential pathways to get there.
Global Alliance member Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) sponsored six of their youth alumni to attend the gathering. Alumnus Benedetta Raspini sat down with Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director of Thousand Currents (formerly IDEX), to ask pressing questions about where food and agriculture systems can point to positive solutions to climate change.
Through the International Dialogue and all of its work, the Global Alliance aims to bring together diverse stakeholders from different sectors, geographies, and ideologies to facilitate genuine global dialogue on critical issues related to transitions to sustainable food systems. To that end, we are pleased to make these interviews available to contribute to thinking, discussion, and debate about food systems reform.
Q: Where does your work intersect with sustainable food systems and climate change? Why is it important to get food systems on the climate change agenda?
Rajasvini Bhansali (RB): Thousand Currents began 32 years ago and since then has funded many grassroots groups, many of which were led by women, youth, and indigenous peoples in the Global South, who work in the areas of food sovereignty, climate justice, and alternative economies.
We know their lives and livelihoods at this moment are threatened by the industrial global food system. This system is pushing out small-scale farmers and has dire economic and environmental consequences, creating massive inequality and leading to an environmental and climate crisis that threatens our planet, our collective futures, land, territories, culture, life, and human rights.
Our mission is to fund and support innovative initiatives at the community level that are transforming our food systems for the better, strengthening sustainable agriculture and locally generated economic growth, building wealth in local communities and fighting for right climate action.
“We need to support scientific evidence from the ground, from where the real practice of agriculture and preserving the diversity of cultures sits, so that we can interconnect scientific knowledge with traditional knowledge and increase collaboration between the two.”
Q: Where do you think the greatest opportunities are for transitioning to more sustainable food systems in a climate changing world?
RB: We need to support scientific evidence from the ground, from where the real practice of agriculture and preserving the diversity of cultures sits, so that we can interconnect scientific knowledge with traditional knowledge and increase collaboration between the two. We know this, but a lot of work has to be done to educate the scientific world and funders so they recognize that grassroots knowledge is necessary, even invaluable, knowledge.
Q: What is the most important thing younger generations need to understand about how food systems and climate change are interconnected, and what can they do as individuals to support a shift in how we think about food systems?
RB: I found that in many of the communities where we work, the younger generation is very involved in addressing this alarming reality. They already understand the impact of climate change, and are trying to do something about it and trying to learn from the generation before.
I think it is critical to increase the exchange of ideas among youth between various regions. New forms of agriculture-based enterprise coming from those young people is a vital force for innovation in local communities that puts land, soil and human well-being at the centre. Young people are transforming the agricultural sector by applying new technologies and new thinking, and they need to be connected.
All levels are involved in this change. Therefore, it would be great to involve more youth in both the science and politics of climate change. I hope that we will have a new generation able to recognize and honour Indigenous science knowledge, to reject top-down imperialistic thinking, and to look at this world with new eyes and treat it better than our generation is doing.
Q: What are good practice examples, where you or others are involved in leveraging or transitioning to more sustainable, secure and equitable food systems?
RB: I have so many examples from the countries where we work in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but one, in particular from South Africa sticks in my mind. Last year I visited an organization named Surplus People Project (SPP) that has been involved in the landless people’s movement for a long time. Here I met one incredible group of young people, Tyisa Nabanye, who are occupying land forcibly removed from urban dwellers by the South African state in the past. In these completely abandoned and borrowed lands, they have grown biodiverse, beautiful, amazing spaces of agrarian transformation. Because the land is public, they are under constant threat of their work being levelled. The amazing thing is that every time, they grow it again, and again.
They have grown a popular movement with an entire community that is following and supporting this continuous regeneration.
It’s an example of an inspired group of young people. When I said to them, “It must be devastating for you seeing your work destroyed every time.” They answer: “Absolutely not! We are growing a paradise here and at the same time we are feeding the people. That is itself beautiful, so we are not afraid. We are going to keep on growing paradise.”
Rajasvini Bhansali is the Executive Director of Thousand Currents, and a passionate advocate for participatory grassroots-led social change and movement building. In a wide-ranging career devoted to social, ecological, and economic justice, she has led a national social enterprise, managed a public telecommunications infrastructure fund addressing digital divide issues, and worked as a researcher, planner, policy analyst and strategy consultant. Rajasvini also worked alongside six community leaders as a capacity builder for youth polytechnics in rural Kenya for over two years, an experience she credits as motivating her to work to transform international development and philanthropy towards more people-centered practices.
The vision of the BCFN Alumni group is to make the best use of the potential of young people involved with the issues of agri-food sustainability around the world. The aim is to create a community of active and committed alumni that contribute to the development of a more sustainable food system, through projects and other activities.
More interviews from participants from the Global Alliance 2nd International Dialogue are available, here.