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​Tackling Food Insecurity: How Should Countries Do It?

Food4 is an ambitious project on food security in seven countries, covering topics from nutrient-rich food in Egyptian schools to environment friendly agricultural systems in Mozambique. For the project Italian journalist and geographer Emanuele Bompan worked hand in hand with a strong team of photographers and experts of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The result: a multimedia package and several successful large-scale public exhibitions. What can Food4 teach us?

Food4 analyses several initiatives adopted by NGOs and development offices in seven countries. You looked at over 500 projects supporting sustainable food systems until you found ‘the most interesting ones.’ What makes the selected projects so unique?

Emanuele: ‘Our purpose was to explain problematic global scenarios through regional solutions. We focused our attention on 20 priority countries for Italy in terms of cooperation and development. We examined initiatives in the realm of environment and sustainability and asked ourselves: which innovative ideas could be exported to other countries?

After making a pre-selection of fifty projects with help of several experts, we explored seven practices carried out in Egypt, Nepal, Mozambique, Myanmar, Bolivia, Senegal and Ethiopia<. Four of them were selected for the Best Sustainable Development Practices competition of the World Expo, held in Milan in 2015.'

If you had to pick a favourite initiative, which one would it be and why?

‘The Myanmar project. The Italian Foreign Ministry and the FAO created the Village Fisheries Societies (VFS). Through the VFS, local authorities and local communities are working together to create more sustainable fisheries. They are regulating the areas where fishing is allowed and the fishing tools that should be used. But they also create more effective systems for fisheries to purchase allowances, permits issued by the public administration to legally catch fish.

The work of the VFS is proving that citizens and policymakers working together can be an effective game changer. The best thing: the responsible authorities did not have to invest a lot of money to make it work. And this project is so effective that it can be exported to other countries. Especially Mozambique, Indonesia and Bangladesh could benefit. In these countries fishery is not sustainable and fishermen still depend on middlemen to buy allowances.’

In your story pitch you stated that ‘impact was the key of this project.’ What does impact mean to you?

‘It has a lot to do with informing the audience properly and evoking a response. Apart from reaching a general audience, Food4 also tries to involve the experts. Professionals in the field might be motivated to implement the ideas that we cover in their daily work. If this happens, Food4 might bring about real changes. Many people have already told me that they will use the information collected by Food4 for their own research. This means they understood the message and that it already has a positive impact.’

You presented Food4 on BioEcoGeo and La Stampa. The latter outlet published a whole series of articles. What kind of information can readers find in these stories?

´Food4 was released over a time period of four months. Within that time frame, an article was published every two weeks. Readers can choose whether to go through all the pieces or just explore the topics they are interested in. The articles can be read together or separately without losing their meaning. For each country, there is always a general piece explaining the whole project, which is definitely the most dense article of the lot. The other features are a bit lighter and serve as showcases of the main theme.’

There have been two Food4 exhibitions at EXPO 2015 in Milan and at Festival Fotografia Etica in Lodi. The pavilion where the exhibition was showcased at Expo had more than 800.000 visits just in the first two months. What do these exhibitions cover?

‘Most of the content is explained through maps. Reading them is a game because you have to discover what information the colours and the symbols convey. The maps require more attention and interpretation than plain texts. We noticed that to fully understand the maps, the audience has to be properly engaged. We therefore placed panels next to each map, which describe the projects we explored. But we also organised several conferences and guided tours that allowed us to interact with the audience and receive their feedback.’

Why did you organise these exhibitions alongside publishing the multimedia package?

‘Fewer people read newspapers nowadays. If we want to reach a larger audience, we should think beyond news outlets. We should maximise the number of people who can access the content we produce. Food4 is a multimedia publication, but the exhibitions have made the real difference. More than one million people visited the pavilion where the exhibition was held. It is hard to reach these numbers with newspapers.

In my opinion the future of journalism can be saved partly through events. People like going to photography exhibitions, I can see it in Milan. There are lot of exhibitions specialised in diverse subjects such as politics or nature. Why not do the same with journalistic topics? We could reach a totally new audience.’

The Food4 Atlas has been distributed at these exhibitions and it can also be found online. This reference book is a result of a collaboration with Riccardo Pravettoni. What added value does the Atlas offer to the visitors?

‘The Atlas has an essential role. It shows the context in which different food-related problems and solutions have appeared. We have used maps, graphics, photos and explanatory texts to explain food-related problems around the world. We talk about the consequences of climate change, sustainable use of water or biodiversity. While the articles are focused on specific countries, the Atlas explains the situation from a global perspective. It is like a large organism and the articles, maps and photos are small parts of it.’

You aim to ‘inspire both policy experts and normal citizens and to educate them on global challenges and smart solutions.’ Food4 has already been used by a group of high school students. What makes it an effective educational tool?

‘Food4 stories are not that complex. This makes them suitable for young students. In the end we are trying to explain easily food insecurity problems and possible solutions. The combination of maps, pictures, videos and texts is working well for young students. They even got inspired by the Atlas to create their own maps and texts. This is very rewarding to see.’

What discussions can Food4 foster inside the classroom?

‘I think Food4 can help to create understanding of demographic inequalities. If students explore the Atlas they can learn more about the challenges of feeding a growing population. At the same time, the maps enable them to visualise how much food we waste. Observing all these things together, students will get a good understanding of the worldwide situation.

When I present the project to high school students, I always ask them questions, such as: how would you react in certain situations? What decisions would you take if you were the prime minister? Once, in a high school near Bergamo, we reflected on food waste. They had never heard of the topic, nor did they know anything about the size of the problem. But they had good ideas on how to solve the problem. Kids are smart and encouraging this kind of discussion is important. Sometimes we do this through role playing games, which help students to feel more connected to the subject.’

What could be done to improve food security around the world?

‘In my opinion, in developed countries we could invest more in innovative projects such as the ones described in Food4. Look at Senegal, where they use solar panels to support water pumps. This has not only made the area more food secure, it has also cut diesel costs for farmers, which used to be a major hurdle. Moreover, the developments have allowed for a training programme for university students to become green energy entrepreneurs.

Another innovative project we discovered was in Ethiopia, where seed biodiversity has helped communities to be more resilient, creating a top quality food value chain to produce pasta out of different types of durum wheat.

Most important, the relationship we humans have with the environment is key to solve food security issues. We should use traditional knowledge to produce food whilst protecting the environment. Several of these food traditions have been rediscovered. Like in Bolivia, where the Amazonia Sin Fuego projects promotes integrated agroforestry. This can prevent forest burning on one side, but also produce food staples like cassava, corn, cocoa and coffee.

Can journalists help to find these solutions?

‘Journalists have totally forgotten about global problems. In general, we love talking about gore topics, but we do not pay much attention to development issues or what I call "slow news."

Food4 and similar projects are more than stories. They are communication products. Food4 is many things at the same time: it is a book, a journalistic story, a photo exhibition, an educational tool and a conference. And it has the potential to be even more things: maybe a documentary or even a game.

Times are changing but newspapers are still doing things in the same way they did in the twentieth century. Perhaps it is time to change the way we tell our stories. And even the place where we tell our stories.’

Andrea Abellán is an intern at the EJC headquarters in Maastricht. She studied journalism in Spain and Italy and has extensive working experience abroad. She is now finishing her Master in New Media and Digital Culture at Utrecht University.

Picture 1, 2 & 5 © Giada Connestari

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