The system is broken, now what? Five things we can do to make our advocacy demands a reality. 

Advocacy, Asia, East and Southern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, West and Central Africa

This September 2022, our members gathered again for a Virtual Assembly, the second of its kind. The objective was to agree upon the practical steps to deliver on a set of advocacy demands that emerged through a consultative process after our first virtual assembly. With the overarching goal to mitigate the impact of ongoing and future crises on the global food system and on people’s access to good nutrition, here are five key actions that surfaced from the event’s discussions to start making our joint advocacy demands a reality. 

Find our champions 

During the second virtual assembly, we were lucky enough to hear from CSA Cambodia regarding the incredible success they have had in working alongside the government to hone and enforce the code on breast milk substitutes in their country. Their work has led to a huge number of reported violations and fines for those responsible. Programme manager, Joseph Fogarty told us that the most important thing was to find champions high up in the government who will support your work. By presenting the benefits of their advocacy demands to people who backed their cause, CSA Cambodia have managed to influence the government and bring about change. By reinforcing the BMS code and issuing large financial fines to violators, they have put pressure on companies to stick to it.

Make the right to nutrition a national reality

The right to food, which we talk about in our first advocacy demand, is enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (article 25) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 11). It is therefore a legal obligation under international Law and as such, something every decision maker should adhere to. However, this doesn’t always look the same in practice and there is clearly a wide gap between global declarations and ground realities. Translating the right to food, and particularly nutrition into national legislations is thus crucial and would make advocating for better and more coherent food and nutrition policies much easier. To achieve this, inclusive and transparent stakeholders dialogues will be key. In many cases this will mean starting with raising awareness on the issue, which is still unknown to a lot of people, in order to empower right-holders and remind duty-bearers of their obligations. 

Turning the food crisis into an opportunity

Many participants believed that the last crisis has been a wake-up call for their governments. Over-dependence on food imports and agricultural inputs is clear after the war in Ukraine and many decision-makers are now recognising the need to invest in local food systems and improve food sovereignty. As nutrition advocates, we must continue to change the narrative on food production and insist on improving coherence between agricultural policies and people’s nutritional needs. Discussions revolved around the need to revive traditional knowledge related to farming and food production, celebrating traditional crops that are often nutritionally rich and much more climate-resilient. Participants also highlighted the need to improve support to smallholder farmers so they can produce nutritional value for themselves and the people around them, instead of focusing on cash crops and then having to buy cheap junk foods. Additionally, it was flagged that food processing capacity needed to be raised at the country level, so food production could gain value on national markets. 

Hold governments to account 

Many of the issues discussed in our advocacy demands, such as the right to food or commitments made at the UN Food Systems and Nutrition for Growth summits have already been agreed to by decision makers. What we need to do now is to ensure that those promises are kept. To do this, we, as a network, need to collectively hold leaders and ourselves to account and create a network-wide accountability campaign. Together we can create toolkits and resources as well as share our stories of success to empower everyone, from community groups to larger organisations, to lead their advocacy activities.

Speak the same language 

The CSN represents a wide spread both geographically and in terms of expertise. We know why nutrition is important and we know the best way to grow and source nutritious and sustainable food products. But not all decision makers will have the same knowledge. In order to influence those who make a difference, it is helpful to frame the messaging to suit the language and scope of the specific ministry targeted. So for instance, if you are speaking to the economic ministry, write the messaging with a economic lens and show them why investing in nutrition makes economic sense. This way we can use their expertise to our own advantage! 

Thanks so much to everyone who has joined these virtual assemblies and contributed to the CSN joint declaration. Now let’s work together in making it a reality!