As a pre-cursor to the United Nations Food Systems Summit later in September, thousands of Small and Medium Enterprise agri-food businesses will sign a pledge before the the September Summit to allow them to forge towards, demand for, advocate for and be involved in a value chain with more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems.
The pledge is hinged on three powerful pointers:
- Pledging for the business to help forge food systems that are more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient.
- Asking governments, larger businesses, finance organisations, consumers, and other partners to urgently create the conditions for purpose-driven food SMEs to flourish.
- Actively contribute to the action coalitions and national pathways, where these are of strategic relevance to my business.
We need to stop treating SMEs as separate non-starter entities but as an established network of interconnected infrastructure across the globe.
Providing access to close to half of consumer nutrition needs, SMEs are the key drivers of the Food System. They integrate markets hence reducing poverty and hunger. SMEs create opportunities that improve equity by creating enabling environments for youth, women and other marginalized groups. SMEs integrate markets and strengthen supply chains where they are weakest and most importantly link small scale farmers to urban consumers. Most importantly, SMEs are the pivot for the looming food revolution especially in Africa.
The UN Food Systems Summit will therefore achieve its goal of seeing through SDG 2 if SMEs play a central role in the decade of action ahead. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, how can we boost the role of SMEs to enhance their capacity and scale their influence within society?
- Access to finance is a huge challenge for many SMEs. Large market players, finance institutions, multinational cooperations and even governments must use their massive buying power to lift small businesses.
- Incentivizing SMEs to produce more will allow them to maximize the consumer base which makes them more resilient to shocks like the one witnessed during the Covid19 pandemic and give them an impetus to play a leading role in the food systems transformation.
- We must increase the power of SMEs within sector planning. When food SMEs are organized together, they are better equipped to participate and respond when called upon to national planning. One voice is powerful in changing or driving a conversation with the relevant authorities.
- Success needs community organizing, political goodwill and strong international connections. SMEs need to be exposed to other SMEs in other regions to share, exchange and engage consistently, sharing experiences on what is good and what is bad is key to building a strong SME community.
Andy Zinger of EIT Food underpinned the interconnected nature of SMEs to daily life.
"With SMEs we are talking about the minute food systems decisions every second every day. If food systems were a web spanning across health, agriculture, climate, economy and much more, SMEs would be the pieces at the intersections that hold the entire web together. We cannot achieve SDGs without SMEs; that is how important they are.
He further called on actors in the global economy to give SMEs the recognition for the work they are doing. "We need to stop treating SMEs as separate non-starter entity but treat them as an established network of interconnected infrastructure across the globe. We need to invest in this infrastructure to make food systems more resilient, healthy, sustainable, affordable and accessible. We need to create a food systems in which SMEs thrive rather than survive."
The simplification of the hard language around trade will go a long way in enabling the growth and development of SMEs. For example the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCTA) which came into effect early this year will revolutionize what the markets can do especially with an open-barrier free platform for SMEs. How SMEs will access the knowledge in a straightforward way will significantly promote growth. The AfCTA will make it easier and effortless for SMEs to trade across the continent. Making them aware of such platforms is a key step in building sustainable and long-lasting SMEs.
Erin Fitzgerald, the Chief Executive Officer of The United States Farmers and Ranchers in Action meanwhile brought to fore the challenges farmers and ranchers who supply most of the agri-economy SMEs are facing when enabling the food system change.
The food systems cake being baked must have farmers at the centre as they are the producers who bring the food to the SMEs
"It is not enough to have a common co-created vision by both farmers and the value chain. Farmers and ranchers are facing difficulties with each passing harvest season and now that we have nine seasons left to the overall goal of zero hunger by 2030, it offers a chance for our farmers to get it right through relevant commitments. Farmers must be brought forth to the decision-making table and be made equal partners in business. The food systems cake being baked must have farmers at the centre as they are the producers who bring the food to the SMEs. They set the table and bring the ingredients."
She also called on simplification of access to data on climate change to farmers more rapidly and efficiently to allow them respond to the environment quickly. "Every farmer in every acre has the potential to unlock climate change. Farmers need risk mitigation and commitment by the supply chain to weather the storm."