Why having a vision matters

In the first of our six-part series, Ruth Richardson sets out why having a vision matters to food systems transformation.

“If we haven’t specified where we want to go, it is hard to set our compass, to muster enthusiasm, or to measure progress. But vision is not only missing almost entirely from policy discussions; it is missing from our culture. We talk easily and endlessly about our frustrations, doubts, and complaints, but we speak only rarely, and sometimes with embarrassment, about our dreams and values.”

~ Donella Meadows in Envisioning a Sustainable World

When it comes to food systems transformation, we believe that multiple visions of the future need to exist across geographies, sectors, and scales, and that they must reflect the reality of local needs and circumstances. If we attempt to determine simple, linear “visions,” it will only lead to top-down siloed approaches to solution-making and leave broken food systems intact. As we anticipated this critical year in the decade of action on climate and the environment, we wanted to better understand what our peers, partners, and networks were thinking when it comes to charting the way forward for future food systems.

We initiated an open call, crowdsourcing project to gather informal submissions to a process called “Visions 2050.” We had some interesting replies and it bolstered our belief in why having aspirational, inspirational, and locally relevant visions for the future of food matters so much — perhaps now more than ever. We’ll be sharing some of these visions over the coming weeks. For now, here’s what I learned about why having a vision matters and what binded all the visions together.

First, taking a food systems perspective acknowledges the interlinked nature and complexity of production, consumption, trade, climate, urbanization, migration, economics, population growth, equity, etc. Developing a vision through this lens enables us to mitigate the potential trade-offs between different food systems outcomes, and facilitate systemic changes rather than islands of change. Second, we discovered that the principle of inclusion, public participation, and democratic control was one of the strongest, most vibrant threads that wove the Visions 2050 submissions together.

Inclusion featured in the submissions in a variety of ways, with references to the role of:

  • establishing good governance built on democratic principles and inclusive participation;
  • strengthening institutions that shape territorial food systems, in particular customary institutions, different forms of self-government, collective forms of managing the commons, social forms of accountability;
  • strengthening of accountable multi-lateral regional and international institutions with mandates rooted in human rights obligations;
  • ensuring collaborative and participatory ways / continuous public participation in policy and practices with those who produce, distribute, need, and consume food – in rural and urban areas, in poor and wealthy countries – at the centre of food systems and policies;
  • democratization of decision-making, placing priority on the participation of small-scale food producers and the constituencies most affected by hunger and malnutrition;
  • encouraging producers of food to be conscious of the ecological and health parameters of their produce and enabling them to make decisions in consideration of these parameters, facilitated by market, technology and information systems;
  • empowering local communities and ensuring democratic control and management of natural resources and local development, ecologically sound and sustainable production methods, social justice, as well as food, farming, pastoral, fisheries, harvesting and gathering, and other food production systems, and collective construction of alternatives;
  • autonomy, self-governance, and self-determination of local communities, grassroots social movements, and their organizations, and Indigenous peoples;
  • inviting people to exercise their capacity to organize and improve their conditions and societies together, as well as their ability to regain self-reliance and assert food autonomy.

Global, anthropogenic problems threaten the future sustainability of the planet and humanity and they are so severe that major and rapid systems transformations are needed. Faced with this complex, daunting reality, having a vision becomes one of the most critical ingredients of moving toward that transformation.

The Global Alliance’s vision is healthy, equitable, renewable, resilient, inclusive, and culturally diverse food systems shaped by people, communities, and their institutions. This vision directs us to view the world globally, holistically, and systemically, and examine interconnections of problems and solutions across the artificial boundaries of nation-states, sector silos, and narrowly identified issues. This vision also challenges us to engage in the urgency of this decade in a way that is consistent with the speed of transformations needed to realize a new, and better future.