The Power of International Collaboration Through Exchange
By Colin Blais, Senior Program Associate, International Visitor Leadership Program
On July 31, 2023, seven representatives from the United States Permanent Mission to the African Union arrived in Washington, DC, to begin their two-week exchange in the U.S. as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The “Best Practices to Improve Food Security” program focused on international food policy and convened networks of peers and professional counterparts in Sacramento, California and Detroit, Michigan.
Representing various offices and subdivisions within the African Union, African Union Commission and African Union Development Commission, the group shared goals of combatting food insecurity through strengthening nutrition policy, creating more sustainable agricultural production processes and promoting food science to create a more innovative food system, all while emphasizing global collaboration.
As the world works to advance towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating hunger by 2030, a key focus of the 2023 United Nations General Assembly, the international community must collaborate closely to deal with such a multi-faceted issue.
Creativity is needed to create nuanced solutions to food insecurity. Innovative ideas informed by cooperation between countries is a major bridge to reaching this goal, and the merits of international exchanges such as this one cannot be understated. Agricultural and food security problems require specialized solutions informed by local cultural knowledge, and Meridian’s exchange programs like this stand as an important conduit to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between the U.S. and the African Union.
Best Practices to Combat Food Insecurity – Perspectives
While in DC, the participants met with Dr. Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, a provost professor at American University, for a comprehensive look into the agricultural history of the U.S. Dr. Graddy-Lovelace provided a comprehensive look into the agricultural history of the United States and advocated for parity policy and price floors to combat a shrinking agricultural sector. Her detailed explanations of the need for small-scale agricultural production, parity pricing and an agrobiodiverse food system generated robust debate and discussion.
Participant Pierre-Justin Kouka emphasized the need for a more localized food system and spoke highly of policy that builds capacity and resilience so that individuals may become self-dependent in the food system rather than building a system where individuals rely on handouts for growth.
This sentiment was echoed by participant Priscilla Wanjiru Warui, who believes that African countries need to invest more in agriculture to bolster the many economies across the continent. She also spoke of the importance of adopting evidence-based planning and coordination across all levels and utilizing multiple stakeholders because this will ensure both efficiency and effectiveness across agricultural programs and projects.
During their meeting with Dr. Otto Gonzalez, Director of the Agricultural Economic Development Division of the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), nutrition policy in the African Union was emphasized as a clear priority in finding a holistic solution to food insecurity.
Food Security in Urban Populations
The group spent their exchange in three major cities, and urban food security presented itself as a major focus in their professional meetings. While in Detroit, the group visited key stakeholders in the operation to eliminate hunger in Southeast Michigan to exchange ideas on innovative urban hunger solutions, including Gleaners Food Bank. One of the first food banks in the U.S., Gleaners now operates with a network of over 400 partner soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, schools and other agencies across the region by offering direct service drive-up grocery distributions. In its 2022 fiscal year, it distributed more than 47 million pounds of food to neighbors in need.
Through meetings with representatives from Detroit’s Eastern Market, whose mission is to provide nutritious, fresh and affordable foods to the city’s population, participants emphasized the tremendous impact that well-implemented food systems can have on the community. The Eastern Market is a prime example of how food systems and value chains can significantly benefit a community. The visit inspired the participants to explore and promote similar practices in their own communities.
Advancement towards eradicating hunger, be it in the United States, the African continent, or in any location across the world, will require close collaboration between stakeholders in the food security field. This exchange stands as a powerful example of the merits of knowledge transfer.
Colin Blais is a Senior Program Associate who has worked with the International Visitor Leadership Program at Meridian International Center since 2022. He holds a master’s from American University’s School of International Service in international development, focused on environment and agriculture and a bachelor’s from Syracuse University in international relations, geography, and Chinese studies.