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Multi-stakeholder platforms for sustainable food systems: scalable game-changing solutions from Dutch expertise and experience

Multi Stakeholders Platforms are key for achieving SDG2 and the 2030 agenda. Only together stakeholders can address the challenges ahead. Despite the difficulties they face, for instance, to level the playing field for each stakeholder to participate and contribute equally and meaningfully, Multi-Stakeholder Platforms can be a good vehicle for the much-needed transitions of food systems if they meet a number of conditions. These were among the key insights developed during an Independent Dialogue on May 18, which gathered 120 Dutch and international experts from various sectors. Seven roundtables concluded with recommendations on how to integrate working through multi-stakeholder platforms to achieve sustainable food systems.

Multi-stakeholder platforms are a recognized “game-changing solution” to achieve sustainable food systems, cutting across the 5 action tracks defined for the UN FSS 2021. The internationally recognized experience and expertise built for decades between Dutch and international partners on this topic could add value to the different UN FSS 2021 related ongoing processes. The multi-stakeholder approach is one of the 3 key Dutch priorities for the UNFSS 2021.

Key findings

In general, participants agree Multi Stakeholders Platforms are key for achieving SDG2 and the 2030 agenda. Only together stakeholders can address the challenges ahead. Despite the difficulties they face, for instance, to level the playing field for each stakeholder to participate and contribute equally and meaningfully, Multi-Stakeholder Platforms can be a good vehicle for the much-needed transitions of food systems, provided they respect a few crucial rules:

  • Representation and inclusiveness.
  • Political will and support.
  • Local ownership.
  • Transparency, continuous communication, openness, and respect.
  • Capacity building based on understanding each other's strengths and weaknesses.
  • Address asymmetries and unequal power relations.
  • Sufficient time and resources.

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Recommendations per roundtable

Roundtable 1: Seed systems

  • When implementing MSPs for seed systems in a particular country, a long-term vision needs to be created for the development of the seed sector in that country. As plant breeding is a long-term process, there is a need for long-term thinking and commitment. Funders need to acknowledge and cater for this as well, moving from project-based to longer-term programs-based funding.
  • Any collaborative initiative needs to start with an identification of needs, before solving the problem. Also, it is necessary to bring evidence to the table in policy-making and design processes.
  • Farmer breeding and seeds systems need to be recognized.
  • MSPs must move beyond controversies, building trust by having transparency and accountability mechanisms in place. There should be regular outreach to involved actors, especially farmers, and a neutral convening partner.
  • MSPs in developing countries need more and more diverse (Dutch) private sector involvement. Private sector branch organizations such as VNO-NCW and Netherlands Africa Business Council can play an important role herein, whereas possibly the legislative and regulatory bar for Dutch companies to step in should be lowered.
  • MSPs and investment by Dutch/international actors in local seed systems need to be aligned with existing national agricultural investment plans.

Roundtable 2: Food loss and waste

  • Some key conditions need to be in place for a successful MSP, such as having a strong and independent driving group of convenors/facilitators, and having a shared ambition and agenda, which creates a sense of community and participation in a joint social impact initiative.
  • Additionally, it needs to be clear what’s in it for partners in the MSP, and a clear set of incentives needs to be there, such as the ability to create synergies by working with partners that complement each other.
  • It is also important to create ownership especially among local actors - this is not easy, and will take time and energy - and to ensure political commitment to allow all actors to meaningfully engage. This entails setting robust standards for transparent engagement, to allow less powerful actors to be involved and give them a clear mandate. It is crucial to grasp opportunities for the alignment of powerful players with less powerful actors.
  • A clear scaling strategy is necessary to scale successful MSPs (also as a visual, based on an integrated view of the value chain), as well as identifying and engaging scaling partners. Such scaling strategy needs to follow a regional or national/local approach, as there is no one scaling strategy that applies to all.
  • Another key aspect for well-functioning MSPs is to provide quality information and data along the whole value chain, to improve measuring, monitoring, and learning.
  • To develop effective MSPs there is a need to guarantee the long-term funding, also for facilitation, and the (overhead) cost of a professional coordinating team.
  • Creating peer exchange networks between partnerships working towards the same goal can help to share learnings and scale up.

Roundtable 3: Digitalisation

  • Multiple actors working on digitalisation in agri-food should take responsibility to develop this sector further to deliver on food security outcomes. They can grasp opportunities to improve the performance of this sector through cooperation.
  • The Netherlands should invest in digitalisation as a contribution to food security, and Dutch actors can share their broad experience in this domain with LMIC actors.
  • Stakeholders working on digitalisation and mainstream organisations need to capitalize on their differences. Introducing technology and creating infrastructure is only one aspect, adoption of digital tools by farmers requires cooperation between different actors.
  • MSPs in digitalisation can learn from each other and from collaborative platforms in other domains. They may particularly benefit from dedicated support to balance interests and powers. As new partners are introduced to address challenges of MSPs, balancing interests is needed.
  • When there is competition around sharing data or open/closed source code, a middle way can be found by sharing some types of data or working with partly open/closed source. It is not all or nothing.
  • Actors active in the digital-for-agriculture domain need to document how food security benefits from digitalisation.
  • Digital industry standards of world regions should be aligned. Common standards and regulations can improve the enabling environment by creating a bigger playing field for digital for agriculture actors to scale and cooperate more easily.

Roundtable 4: Nutrition

  • When developing food and nutrition security initiatives, 'nutrition' should not be considered as a theme to choose, but rather as a topic that needs to be mainstreamed.
  • Approaches need to be about food AND nutrition security to prevent that it is food OR nutrition security.
  • Financing and investment for nutrition needs to be enhanced.
  • National and international donors and impact investors should improve on the conditions of their instruments, i.e. being more explicit on the nutrition outcomes they intend to achieve.
  • Monitoring and evaluation must pay attention to potential trade-offs that could occur as a result of project selection criteria: some criteria for effectiveness may limit the inclusion of certain farmers or consumers.
  • It is important to manage expectations of public-private collaboration for nutrition. In some cases, this may imply lowering certain expectations if some are not realistic.
  • Communication about healthy diets and nutrition with different stakeholders in different parts of the world could benefit from clearer messaging, and from integration as part of broader approaches.

Roundtable 5: Finance

  • To build a multi-stakeholder platform that incorporates or focuses on finance, it is important to involve specific key stakeholders: commercial banks, who have a local infrastructure; public and private investors; clients (traders, aggregators, producers, farmers), governments (local, global), academic institutions, NGOs. Clear roles have to be defined, and every stakeholder should have a stake in the MSP governance.
  • Ensure there is a business case for each of these MSP partners, be it through impact, financial returns, changing practices, and/or others.
  • Explore innovative financing mechanisms like blended finance, and simultaneously build knowledge and capacity through technical assistance allowing research engagements and sectoral analysis.
  • MSPs working on finance for SFS should take into account that digitalisation and sustainability are two key trends that are becoming more and more important for involved stakeholders and customers.
  • Use a local sector approach and/or landscape perspective to present common themes like regulatory improvement or to identify the sustainability agenda, developing research and finding sustainable business cases.
  • Share learnings within and beyond the MSP (i.e. with other MSPs and sector actors) to drive further change.
  • As many organizations tend to work in silos, MSPs may require a change in operating models individually and not only collectively.
  • Agility and diversity are important too: In changing circumstances, use the capacity of different organizations to create solutions and create value opportunities.

Roundtable 6: Responsible Business Conduct

  • For MSPs to be effective, both businesses and local communities need to be engaged from the beginning, as well as representatives of the government. All relevant stakeholders are needed to generate a successful initiative, develop incentives for action, and build political will.
  • MSPs on Responsible Business Conduct should include aspects of certification, standards, verifiability, shared accountability, incentives, living wages, as key ingredients for a multistakeholder approach to be successful.
  • Co-create new visions and stories about what is “sustainability”. Internalising external costs in prices will also provide new incentives for the farmers directly; while it will be motivational for them to know additional money will be spent on projects (e.g. restoring biodiversity).
  • Ensure an equitable share of costs and benefits.
  • Promote access to information for everyone, in particular for people at the beginning of the value chain, by applying, for example, open-source principles.
  • Improve land governance, by adhering to land tenure rights, including the gender dimension, as a framework.
  • Bring in the local voices - Focus on the vulnerable (e.g. legal aid) and include the community. Invest in empowering local representatives and other stakeholders, if needed to balance power asymmetries
  • Don't shy away from the elephant in the room: the critical perspective, also among friends, is needed for a successful MSP.
  • Global partnerships and coalitions are needed for scaling up MSPs.
  • Learn from others, share best practices, and act fast. Crises can create opportunities for multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Roundtable 7: Natural Resources Management

  • All MSPs need to have a clear purpose and respond to a clear need. They are not an end in itself or the answer to everything.
  • MSPs should be designed in such a way that they could be changed or dissolved. Scaling is not always necessary.
  • There is a lot of experience, also at the micro-level. Lessons and experiences need to be documented and shared.
  • At the actor level, the participation of actors should be needs-based. To involve all actors, the leadership and participation of local actors through a holistic approach can be facilitated using integrated landscape management.
  • The neutral facilitation can be organised for example using an online platform: actors can be connected to each other; companies can be connected to their clients.
  • The government needs to put a strong effort in scaling up, supporting the connections, and different actions. Their support is essential.
  • It is crucial to look beyond the value chain mentality and understand the system and system dynamics.
  • Additionally, we should work towards solutions; and we need the right stakeholders to find these solutions; in agriculture, this is often through multi-stakeholder collaboration. “We need to work as coalitions of change, agents of change that take actions!”

Multi-stakeholder approaches can be real game-changers

Independent MSPs can be a space for constructive and productive deliberation. Participants concurred that multi-stakeholder dialogue in MSPs is useful to make everybody ' s voices heard, change behaviors, and empower all actors. In other words, the outcomes of MSPs go beyond the concrete solutions adopted. Multi-stakeholder approaches can be real game-changers to advance food systems transformation. It’s important to note however that decisions taken within multi-stakeholder collaborations should be complementary to, and not substitute democratically accountable and rights-based decision making around food.

The Independent Dialogue on May 18 was convened by Netherlands Food Partnership, Rabobank, Wageningen University & Research, the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW), Oxfam Novib, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.