Blog post by Ella Rayment, Intern for the NGO Committee for Social Development.

On the 7th July 2021, we at the NGO Committee on Social Development hosted a virtual parallel event on the margins of the High Level Political Forum in order to centre the experiences and initiatives of people at the grassroots. Our global event featured three grassroots speakers who shared their experiences of poverty, hunger and the projects they are involved with in order to break the cycle of poverty. The speakers were Nelly M. Soto (Red America Social Salesiana), Wavinya Nzioka (CEO Vertical Sack Farming) and Fr. Benigno P. Beltran (President and CEO Sandiwaan Center of Learning). To make this a dialogue, we had two respondents, Guenter Hemrich (senior advisor for Food and Agriculture Organisation) and Augustine Bahemuka (Technical Specialist UNDP, Tanzania) who listened to the grassroots speakers and used their expertise to respond to questions and ‘asks’ from the speakers. 

What Themes emerged?

As the themes of the webinar were poverty and hunger, the grassroots speakers presented sustainable agriculture initiatives that have provided a solution to improve livelihoods. Nelly outlined the impact of the community kitchen gardens in Ambato, Ecuador, that has shared information on nutrition and ‘green’ gardening practices and increased income for the community of 30 families involved through selling produce at markets. Along with support for livelihoods, this initiative helps local people in a comprehensive way as there is also support for capacity building on issues such as literacy, gender violence, drug prevention and abuse, prevention of bullying and wider human rights issues. Wavinya Nzioka, from Kenya, also spoke of an agriculture project to provide school meals for students, with the hopes of reaching 15,000 households in Kenya and empowering self-employment opportunities for youth. This project was informed by Wavinya’s own experiences of hunger and the impact of hunger on education. As a youth, Wavinya struggled with education and would pass out from hunger and even go days without food. As our speakers have had first-hand experience of the detrimental effects of poverty and hunger, it is these voices that should be at the forefront of understanding how to tackle these issues. These two accounts show how community projects do not focus on a single issue but rather aims to improve multiple aspects of livelihoods and human rights. Fr. Benigno P. Beltran from the Philippines also took a holistic approach of tackling three aspects of the sustainable development goals: the environment, education and the economy. In order to address these three areas, Fr. Beltran is supporting initiatives that aim to plant 1 million bamboo by 2030 to create more jobs in the bamboo industry and to absorb more CO2; network 1 million organic farmers to urban poor communities through e-commerce platform of Agro Digital (which would also educate on best farming practices to reduce food loss); and provide learning to 10 million school dropouts through job and digital literacy skills and entrepreneurial training. The diversity of impacts from these initiatives ensures that issues of poverty and hunger are addressed in a holistic and sustainable way.

Screenshot from our event. (Speakers clockwise from top left) Hemrich Guenter, Maria Fornella, Gillian D’Souza Nazarath, Lina Varon, Wavinya Nzioka, Fr. Benigno P. Beltran, and Freddy Ruiz

What were ‘Our Asks’?

As a fundamental part of the webinar is the genuine dialogue between grassroots voices and representatives of official organisations, the ‘asks’ of the grassroots speakers’ provides a focused area of discussion. To this end, Nelly’s ‘ask’ was financial aid to expand the programme and reach as many families as possible, along with technical assistance on agriculture and programming. Similarly, Wavinya called on the Kenyan government to increase budget allocation for agriculture so that the project can be scaled up to have a greater impact. This was in conjunction to acknowledging the importance of supporting innovative agricultural policies in order to make them more accessible. Finally, Fr. Beltran asked to recognise the important role that technology plays in making sure innovative policies reach people, be it through e-commerce platforms, apps to manage and assist in farming, or to make education and skill training more accessible. 

To respond to these, Guenter Hemrich emphasised the importance of partnership from a global perspective so that we can find solutions through collaboration. He responded to Wavinya’s ‘ask’ for better policy frameworks to support innovation as the FAO works with UN member countries to increase investment in food value chains. This was further supported through FAO’s recent ‘Hand in Hand’ initiative that effectively targets areas for poverty reduction through multi-level collaboration. Augustine Bahemuka also showed support for having a strong focus on policy frameworks that help the most vulnerable in a holistic way with the community at the forefront. This was in addition to raising questions on data availability informing policy and the important role that technology plays.

To summarise, this webinar provided a balanced space for speakers to present issues they feel strongly about and share stories of their experiences with poverty and hunger. The discussion that emerged focused strongly on themes of partnership and cooperation at many levels, the need to support innovative and grassroots initiatives financially and the importance of technology in supporting vulnerable populations. As similar struggles and hopes were voiced, experiences and initiatives tied our diverse speakers together in a discussion of social change. 

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