Food and identity: local recipes on the grill

Written by Bertrand Reysset 

Participants at the congress in Milan. Photo credit: Bertrand Reysset
The VI World Congress of Agronomists, held in the Expo conference room, started on Tuesday 15 September in Milan. 500 agronomists from all around the world were gathered to discuss the connection between food and identity.

I participated in the opening session together with the president of the World Association of Agronomists, Mrs María Cruz Díaz Álvarez, officials from Italian authorities, agronomists from all over the world, as well as representatives from FAO.

It was an opportunity to recall IFAD's strong support for rural smallholders for nearly 40 years, and that working with agronomists and using agronomical science is a part of IFAD’s DNA.

The conference topic, Food and Identity, was also an opportunity to highlight a recent IFAD campaign that celebrates the local recipes of rural people. Local recipes are at the crossroads of nutrition, culture, food systems and climate challenges. Climate change is putting local recipes and products at risk, and this is affecting local identities and tradition. In Lesotho the change in rainfall and snowfall patterns are challenging rangeland management, threatening the future of their traditional mutton stew (Sechu Sa Nku). In Vietnam sea level rise threatens rice paddies and freshwater pond fisheries in coastal areas, lands that yield two staple ingredients that go into sweet and sour catfish soup. In Rwanda and Guatemala, higher temperatures will reduce kidney bean and black bean yields, which are used in traditional sauces. These examples of local recipes threatened by climate change show concretely how our climate affects the future of local and nutritious cuisine, and thus impact not only food security but also cultural assets.

IFAD invests in building climate resilience for these distinguishing food systems, to sustain rural development and cultural assets even under a changing climate. In Lesotho, an IFAD project to improve rangeland management and quality is being supported. In Vietnam, salt tolerant rice and catfish species are being developed. In Rwanda and Guatemala, climate resilient farming practices help to buffer higher temperatures. We call these actions our "Recipes for Change". All this and much more is made possible through the support of our Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP). These concrete investments resonated with the agenda of the World congress of Agronomists, and there is valuable knowledge to draw from this event.

The event also reflected the orientation towards sustainability taken by the agronomists’ community. After having launched the Green Revolution over 50 years ago, the community is now aware of the challenges ahead to sustain food for an increasing population, while having a lower environmental footprint. The concept of a new green revolution is today gaining currency: agriculture today needs to sustainably intensify production, reduce agrochemical and food waste, and play a multifunctional role (combat climate change, ensure nutrition, landscape management, social support, etc.). The Congress will bring its message to political leaders in all parts of the world.

This trip to Milan was an excellent opportunity to share views and meet technical experts in the field of agronomy. I had the chance (and the time) to visit the Expo and UN pavilion before leaving and I highly recommend it. The scenery is amazing, our colleague Giacomo is an enthusiastic guide, and the UN team has done an incredible job. If you pass by the Expo, don’t miss this pavilion! And you can even enjoy low carbon transportation: there are direct trains from Rome to the entrance gate of the Expo.