UN Food Systems Champions on the Importance of Public Sector Finance and Fiscal Policy – Food Tank - Food Tank

During a panel discussion organized by Food Tank, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), finance and farming experts call for stronger fiscal policy that can support a resilient food system.

The event is part of a series of panels with themes inspired by Global Alliance’s Seven Calls to Action to transform the food system. Moderated by Ruth Richardson, Executive Director of the Global Alliance and Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank, each conversation features members of the United Nations Food Systems Champions Network.

The fourth Call to Action and this conversation focuses on public sector finance and fiscal policy. Panelists include: Gabriela Cuevas Barron, Member of Parliament of the Mexican Congress and Co-Chair of the steering committee for UHC2030; Lasse Bruun, CEO of 50by40; and Vijay Kumar, Co-Vice Chairman of Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS). 

“Public finance is so central to food systems transformation and the potential to shift those systems so that they are more equitable, resilient, and sustainable,” Richardson says. 

She explains that public finance in the food system encompasses not just production and subsidies. It also touches on every part of the supply chain, externalized impacts of the food system, and taxes and procurement policies.  

Bruun begins by calling attention to the various challenges around public finance in the food system. He explains that while countries release dietary guidelines to encourage healthy and sustainable diets, government subsidies and sub-national procurement practices fail to support these same goals. And according to Bruun food systems are designed to support large-scale, commodity producers over smallholder farmers. Bruun also believes that multilateral development banks, including the World Bank and African Development Bank, are not yet invested in food systems that focus on resilience and sustainability.

Bruun argues that addressing these issues can help support equitable and sustainable food systems. And, he says, this shift also makes sense from a financial perspective.

“If you look at high-income countries, the current food policies are supporting a food regime that is leading to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, all kinds of ailments,” Bruun tells Food Tank. “The costs of treating those by far outweighs what it would cost to turn food production around to be sustainable, affordable, and available to everybody.” 

Cuevas points to several important tools that policymakers can use to change the food system for the better. She says legislation can be designed to work toward the long term health of food systems. And Cuevas says “parliamentarians and civil societies should take a closer look at how budgets are being designed” to support sustainable solutions. From there, she believes that it is possible to look at taxation schemes and subsidies to increase incentives for actors across the food system. 

Kumar agrees that these tools are useful, but warns that countries must conduct a thorough analysis of each budget, policy, or tax. He encourages stakeholders to ask, “Is it leading to climate positive actions, whether on the production or consumption [side]?” 

Bruun also emphasizes the idea of public procurement practices at the local level and their potential to drive positive change. “You should not underestimate the power of what kind of food you’re sourcing for schools, retirement homes, prisons, or any public institutions,” he tells Food Tank. He goes on to say that if municipalities, states, and other regions can successfully source that supports sustainable food systems, it is much easier to institute policies on a national level. 

The panelists agree that policies must center the people that they are meant to serve, particularly marginalized groups. 

“It is the women, Indigenous farmers, youth who can actually turn the world around,” Kumar tells Food Tank. “They are going to be the leaders.”

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