6th GEF Assembly: Food and Land Use Round Table

Da Nang, Vietnam

“Food and Land Use systems are essential to delivering on the SDGs given their close links to biodiversity, agriculture, emissions, health and climate change. We don’t need to rehash the problem. We need to use the time we have to constructively share the solutions we need to find and scale action.”

With these words, Paul Polman opened an insightful and action-oriented roundtable at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) 6th Assembly in Da Nang, Vietnam in June. Moderated by FOLU’s Jeremy Oppenheim, the session sought to convey to audience members the huge opportunity offered by the GEF’s recent allocation of $500 million to the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program.

Under this programme, countries can receive support under three broad themes: 1) Promoting sustainable food systems to tackle negative externalities in value chains, 2) Promoting deforestation-free agricultural commodity supply chains and 3) Promoting large-scale restoration of degraded landscapes for sustainable production and ecosystem services. Each of these themes calls for a holistic approach, like the sustainable country programs the Food and Land Use Coalition is testing in pioneer countries Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Australia.

The panel brought together leaders from the public and private sector, academia and civil society to share their experiences of working in food and land use, providing examples of integrated and collaborative action that delivered social and environmental benefits while driving economic growth.

“We need to build rural prosperity to find a way for smallholder farmers to move up or move out.” – Shenggen Fan

Participants emphasised the need to revitalise rural areas – beyond increasing farmer productivity. Increasing productivity is not sufficient to improve farmer livelihoods. Training in sustainable practices and access to markets are essential to create lasting, independent income streams for farmers. Moreover, rural areas offer an opportunity to tackle some of the biggest social and environmental challenges, including smallholder income, environmental damage and biodiversity loss. To drive change, four broad actions were discussed as key. Firstly, investment in rural and agricultural areas – shifting away from governments’ current focus on industry. Secondly, an integrated governance approach that brings together stakeholders from across government ministries, communities and local business at international, national and state levels. Thirdly, diversification of farmer incomes and finally, policy reform to address huge inefficiencies in the sector.  

Investment is required in people and systems, not necessarily in hardware alone. Legal rights and knowledge are the building blocks for driving change. This includes teaching farmers about the impacts of climate change and training them in climate smart agricultural practices, as well as providing them with technologies. Legal rights are also essential to granting farmers and vulnerable groups with the opportunity to improve their lives. Platforms to develop and share knowledge are critical to equip stakeholders from policy-makers to business people, leaders of NGOs and farmer organisations. In this vein, it is important to develop the right metrics for an emerging set of planning tools. For example, the Agrobiodiversity Index offers governments and businesses a way to make better informed investments to improve agricultural outputs and support healthy and economically prospering populations while conserving biodiversity.



“A collective approach is essential to translate public and private sector commitments into keeping landscapes intact.” – Carter Roberts


Partnerships and collective action across sectors is key to scale and sustain projects. No one organisation can transform food and land use systems at a significant scale alone: multiple companies need to come together with governments and NGOs to deliver change beyond each participant’s individual footprint. For example, collaboration underpinned the soy and beef moratoriums in the Brazilian Amazon, which delivered one of the greatest success stories of avoided deforestation in the area. Not only is cross-sectoral collaboration essential to create the enabling conditions for investment in sustainable landscapes, but each sector brings different strengths and capabilities to the transformation. On the one hand, the private sector is an essential driver of innovation and can build the business case for other stakeholders to act. On the other hand, collaboration with cooperatives and communities is essential to build farmer confidence and trust, as well as to ensure that vulnerable groups are given the voice and support that they need to participate. 

In addition, unusual partnerships strengthen the connections between productivity, land conservation, farmer income, health and more. Programs to transform food and land use must recognise and strengthen the deep connections between these systems’ building blocks. Conserving and restoring biodiversity does not mean compromising on productivity. Instead, biodiversity can improve agricultural quality and yield, as well as providing farmers and consumers with a range of underutilised, nutritious crops to grow and consume. In Burkina Faso, agroecology is being used to improve farmer incomes while conserving the natural environment. In Vietnam, the Sustainable Trade Initiative is working with actors across the supply chain to innovate and create more sustainable products.


“Collaboration is key. Either we come together or we choose to lead the world irresponsibly.” – Sunny Verghese


There is innovation everywhere: now we need to scale it. Innovation in technology, policy and finance is enabling Ethiopia to regenerate degraded land and improve smallholder incomes. Equipping farmers with the appropriate technology and tools is resulting in Kenyan maize farmers seeing productivity increase by 5 – and precious ecosystems being restored. In Bangladesh, IFAD is working with farmers to use biogas to generate the energy levels they need for post-harvest facilities. Actors in food and land use systems need to identify and bring to scale the programs that will deliver the greatest impact. This will require committed investment, strong business cases, collaboration and an integrated approach.

The GEF Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program offers a huge opportunity for ambitious countries to transform their food and land use systems for the benefit of all. FOLU will work to support countries in applying for funding, drawing on its expertise in science, business, policy, economic and its experience in developing integrated programs in Ethiopia, Indonesia and Colombia.


Participants in the session included:

  • Africa and Latin America Panel: Paul Polman (CEO, Unilever), H. E. Ato Kare (State Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ethiopia), Agnes Kalibata (President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), Carter Roberts (CEO, World Wildlife Fund USA), Maria Helena Semedo (Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources, FAO), Ann Tutwiler (Director General, Biodiversity International) and Angelica Mayolo (Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia), Batio Bassiere (Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change, Burkina Faso) and Dr Rurema Déo Guide (Minister of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock, Burundi)
  • Asia Panel: Sunny Verghese (CEO & Co-Founder, Olam and Chair, WBCSD), Cristiana Pasça Palmer (Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity), Ajay Jakhar (Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj), Shenggen Fan (Director General, IFPRI), C.K. Mishra (Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, India), Margarita Astralaga (Director, Environment and Climate Change, IFAD), Steven Collet (Operational Director, Executive Board Member, The Sustainable Trade Initiative), Guido Schmidt-Traub (Executive Director, UNSDSN), Annette Cowie (Advisor on Land Degradation, Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel, GEF) and The Anh (Vice-President of Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS))

Interview with #GEFLive

"How can we achieve prosperity for all?" Jeremy Oppenheim, founder of SYSTEMIQ and in the Management team of the Food and Land Use Coalition. About #GEFLive: The interactive media hub GEF Live is at the Sixth GEF Assembly in Da Nang, Viet Nam from June 26-28, 2018.