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Interview with Tatjana von Steiger, Head of Global Policy Outreach

Tatjana von Steiger joined the Wyss Academy in 2021 as Head of the Global Policy Outreach and Synthesis Center. The aim of Policy Outreach is to scale what works, to influence and to leverage on the global policy level.

Tatjana von Steiger

Tatjana von Steiger

Head of Global Policy Outreach joined the Wyss Academy in 2021

Why and how do food systems need to be addressed urgently?

Two things. On the one hand, food systems account for up to 30 % of global emissions, agriculture accounts for 80 % of the deforestation, and industrial food production has a major impact on biodiversity. On the other hand, there are different elements that must be tackled at the same time, such as land use, issues of moving towards nature-positive food production, as well as issues of bridging the divide between production and consumption. This is a global challenge and universal task. But we need to break it down and come up with contextualized solutions. At the Wyss Academy, when we organized our food system dialogues, we emphasized the core of our vision, that in order for nature conservation and human wellbeing to be mutually beneficial, transformation must be underpinned by social and environmental justice. Therefore, when we come up with solutions along the food value chain we need to ensure that solutions are co-designed with all important stakeholders at the table.

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Why are food systems an urgent issue for the Global South as well as for the North e.g. in Switzerland?

The food value chain does not take borders into account. We are all affected by climate change, biodiversity loss and food security independent of whether we live in the North, South, East, or West. The final take away from the food system dialogue was that in the end, despite the big differences between Laos, Kenya and Peru, the challenges we face are very similar. These realizations were won from a cross-regional dialogue, which led to a global dialogue.  One of the common challenges that we identified is how to attract young people to work in the agricultural sector; another is how to come up with nature-positive food solutions. The third common challenge is the divide between producers and consumers. The regions have completely different contexts. For example, Switzerland has a very industrialized agriculture, in contrast to Laos with its forest frontier and more intact ecosystem, or Kenya with its livestock herders and increasingly large farms. Thus, we must look at each context individually and find pathways for sustainable solutions that are not detrimental to local communities. It is they who are the most affected by unsustainable development. Moreover, it is also they who ensure that investments in conservation, if done in consultation with them, have much higher chances to sustain.

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Who are the main stakeholders the Wyss Academy wants to engage in a process of change?

A stakeholder is someone who has something at stake, who realizes that business as usual is not an option anymore, and is willing to engage in a process of change. For example in Kenya, we bring the livestock herders and conservancies to the table and help them understand that instead of fighting each other over scarce resources like water, they can work together to develop a joint solution; the same in Switzerland, with farmer and consumer associations who point fingers at each other. What we want to do is to create spaces in which such groups are brought to the same table – to express their differences, but ultimately to overcome them and start working together. To do this, we need to have an understanding of the systems that they work in: for example, the Bernese Seeland systems or Kenya wetlands systems, and map the stakeholders at the table. We, the Wyss Academy, come in as an actor ourselves, bringing in knowledge gained from our research teams, our practice or through our networks from global policy.


How are you engaging youth?

This is key, and food is a good way to bring young people to the table. For example, we use food as an entry point for developing  a changemaker program, jointly with Goodwall, a global, digital personal and professional development platform for 16 to 25 year olds, offering them access to equitable and inclusive opportunities. This program aims to create a new generation of leaders empowered to make a difference in Food Systems, in bringing change to their community. Since we don’t want to simply present them with ready-made solutions created in isolation  we will work with a young change maker who will join us as a fellow and help us design the program. The goal is that these changemakers will also engage directly with our regional hubs, including in participating in the incubation of novel solutions. Furthermore, we also see our role in linking different movements and partners. As such, we have brought together Goodwall with a group called Bites of Transfoodmation, which is a rather new group, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Bites of Transfoodmation is working on concrete projects that address the transformation of food systems. These partnerships are strategic, as they allow us to learn from younger generations and jointly generate the impact which is necessary in order for nature conservation and human wellbeing to be mutually beneficial.


How must the work continue beyond the official Wyss Academy declaration submitted to the UN?

We are still a young organization. The Wyss Academy Declaration on Food Systems can be seen as the first official statement on transforming food systems in order to benefit nature and people alike. However, our commitment goes beyond declaration. There are two levels: activities and projects in our regional hubs and policy. In our regional stewardship hubs, we will promote bold and experimental collaborations between researchers, resource users, policy makers, civil society and the private sector. We assess activities that bridge the divide between consumers and producers, starting with a visioning process. On the other hand, we address the policy level. For example, we became a member of the consultative group that is advising the Swiss government on its new climate change policy for agriculture and food systems.


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