Why we need to change the way we think about food

Our world is host to an enormous disparity and contrast in food and nutrition security: At a global level, production of most food has increased faster than population growth and now exceeds the nutritional caloric average requirements. At the same time, there are devastating food shortage threats at local levels, especially in Africa, where many new food safety problems have emerged in Low-Income (LI) and Lower Middle-Income (LMI) countries. As of last year, more than 820[1] million people are suffering from hunger and sub-Saharan Africa is the sub-continent with the highest proportion of undernourished people.

How is it that in a globalized, interconnected world, food security is still such a challenging issue? 
First, we need to keep in mind that food insecurity is primarily a question of access rather than availability. Many components of the global food market are in fact controlled by a limited number of actors and in many areas, small farmers have little access to institutional, legal or financial support and therefore face big obstacles in entering global markets. Second, in several areas, agriculture is the main source of income for local communities and also one of the most vulnerable sectors to unexpected changes such as armed conflicts and environmental shocks. Furthermore, not only is the current system unequal and unjust to small farmers and producers, but it is also based on damaging agricultural practices (soil degradation, water contamination, atmospheric pollution), extremely wasteful, and responsible for an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, it is socially, environmentally and globally unsustainable.  

In the future, we will be facing an increased population and demand for food. However, in many parts of the world, current agricultural systems will be unable to meet a growing food demand. The challenge of food security is therefore not only to produce enough food but to make it accessible to all, which means combatting poverty and inequality. If things are to change, the world needs to face a complex and intricate dilemma: producing high-quality food in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices, that is equally accessible and has a reduced environmental impact. The solution to this dilemma is a transition to more sustainable food systems. 

What is a sustainable food system? 

A food system includes the related resources, the inputs, production, transport, processing and manufacturing industries, retailing, and consumption of food as well as its impacts on the environment, health, and society.[2] Food systems are strongly interconnected with human societies and, whilst it may be easy to ignore the consequences of our unsustainable food practices now, eventually, the whole world will be experiencing them one way or another.

The disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have further exposed the fragility of people’s access to goods and services and highlighted critical inequalities. Lockdowns and restrictions around the world have put enormous strains on local, regional and global supply chains and whilst developed countries struggled to cope with a sudden surge in demand and empty shelves, market closures across Africa, for example, have cut off vital access to provisions for local communities and sales outlets to farmers. Across the world, food system workers who already face insecurity and low wages are now the most at risk from economic disruption. Not to mention the millions of people who are living permanently on the cusp of hunger and extreme poverty, who are the most vulnerable to the effects of a global recession. 

A transition towards a more sustainable system would not only mean more equitable access to nutritional foods but it would also reduce food loss and waste, minimize the environmental impacts of production and increase the resilience of many food systems around the world. 
Such a transition could make a significant contribution to inclusive development, improve the quality of life of millions of people whilst also creating a viable environment for fighting climate change. In short, it would be a win-win for all.

How can we make this transition?

Food systems are central to the creation of a more sustainable and equitable world. However, each of us has a role to play in this transition. None of these issues is going to be solved merely through a top-down approach. We have a responsibility as a global community to act together across sectors and international borders to ensure a better quality of life worldwide.

On the governance side, concrete policies need to be enacted to ensure the quality of what we eat and the quality of life of all those who are involved in its production. This means allowing land access to new farmers as well as water rights and investing in risk prevention initiatives and social protection floors to safeguard all those involved in the production of food. It also means certifying supply chains and allowing equal access to resources and markets to small farmers to ensure the social and economic inclusion of civil society. 

The private sector needs to invest in new knowledge, technologies (such as hydroculture and vertical farming) and infrastructure which can lower environmental impacts and improve nutrition worldwide. It needs to cooperate with local communities to build a more resilient food system and invest in agroecology, a system that reconciles the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability. 

And lastly, we must not forget that there is much that can be done from an individual perspective. As consumers, we have the power to decide what choices we want to make, and we can no longer ignore the impact these choices have. Whether it’s reducing food waste, changing dietary and lifestyle habits or making more conscious decisions in our daily life, it is time for us to act now, to act together and to act differently.  


[1] “How is COVID-19 affecting food security?”, World Economic Forum, 26th May 2020. 

[2] Food Systems: Definition, Concept and Application for the UN Food Systems Summit, UN.

Mali – is foreign involvement truly for the greater good?

Since the 19th of August 2020, when a military coup forced the democratically elected but unpopular president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign, Mali has been struggling to return to stability. The coup was the culmination of weeks of mass protests against the president who was accused of corruption and mishandling a spiralling security situation in the northern and central regions of the country. However, it was but one of the many symptoms of a crisis rooted far deeper. 

Mali has been in turmoil since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned terrorist groups seized the northern two-thirds of the country after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, leading France, the former colonial power in the region, to intervene to set them back. In 2013 the UN MINUSMA[1] mission was established to help stabilize the situation. As the government and international actors sought to restore peace in the north, a power vacuum was created in the central region, which soon became a launchpad for jihadist attacks on neighbouring countries. The international intervention helped lead to a peace agreement in 2015, but very little progress has been made since then in disarming rebel groups. An attempt by the government to give the north more autonomy in exchange for disarmament has also proven ineffective, and extremist groups continue to be active in various parts of the country. 

Now, despite a transitional government having been put in place to oversee an eighteen-month period before elections are held, the situation remains highly unstable. Furthermore, an increased number of voices is calling for a dialogue with certain armed groups, in an attempt to reach an agreement. This move has strongly been criticized by external international actors, first and foremost France, and has been seen by many as proof of the growing gap between Mali and the former colonial power. France believes in fact that it is highly unlikely these groups will abandon their ideology and objectives, such as the imposition of shari’a on the state.

A multidimensional crisis 

Due to its geographical position, Mali has become the centre of external efforts to secure the region and counter terrorism, which has inevitably led to increased and consistent international involvement in the area. The fact that the new government is prepared to negotiate with armed jihadist groups, however, should make us question the nature of French and international involvement and whether it is in the country’s best interests. In this context, it is important to keep Mali’s colonial past in mind. 

Falling under French colonial role in 1892, Mali quickly became a country of marginalized subjects ruled by a controlling colonial administration that feared Muslim jihads. The French, in contrast to other colonizers, chose to implement their customs in all occupied territories, a strategy that proved to be particularly difficult in Mali, which was characterized by a diverse multitude of ethnic communities.[2] This resulted in cooperative groups being favoured by the French over others and intensified ethnic divisions. By the time Mali became independent in 1960, the new country was deeply divided. This fragmentation made it particularly difficult for the new Malian political elites to assert their authority over the whole country, which would eventually lead to the marginalization of the north. 

There is no doubt that other factors have contributed to the current situation as well, yet this is another reminder, of how strongly colonialism has affected the state of many contemporary African countries. Of course, there is no changing the past, but perhaps things could be different when looking at the future. 

Rethinking foreign intervention 

It is undeniable that violence in this area has been steadily increasing and that Islamic extremism poses a big threat not only to this region but to surrounding countries as well, with regional as well as international implications. However, the continued presence of international actors has not been as successful as imagined[3]. These powers may have the institutional framework and resources to face particular threats, but does this justify their involvement? At a certain point we need to ask ourselves: is this engagement really for the greater good of the country or is it just a modern form of imperialism?

In light of what we know about Mali’s colonial past, continued foreign intervention could be doing more damage than good. It could in fact lead to the following scenario: an alliance of national forces, including militant groups, with the goal of requesting the withdrawal of international actors. This would inevitably lead to Islamic militias gaining a foothold in the Sahel area[4] for the first time, something international actors are trying to avoid in the first place. It may be time for a change in strategy in view of the long-term goals that could bring stability to the area. 


[1] To date it remains the largest peacekeeping force in the world. 

[2] B. Oletunji Oloruntimehin, “The French Estate in West Africa, 1890-1918,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 7.3 (1974): 451.

[3] Foregn Policy: “Can Mali Escape Its Past?”, 21st August 2020.

[4] This term refers to the semi-arid stretch of land just south of the Sahara desert which includes Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Genocide: The power of history and collective memory

As our thoughts today go out to the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust and we remember the atrocities that were committed by the Nazi regime, we are reminded of the importance of remembrance, so that a similar tragedy may never happen again. The Holocaust, whose scale and organization were unprecedented, is without doubt one of the darkest chapters of human history. However, when we view the world from a global perspective, it is sadly one of many tragedies. Not only wasn’t it the first genocide in history, but it was also far from being the last one. 

The word genocide came into general usage after World War II when the full extent of the brutalities committed by the Nazi’s was revealed. In 1948 the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was approved by the UN and genocide was declared an international crime. The Convention defined genocide as any number of acts “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”[1] and has since been ratified by more than 130 countries. 

Many genocides, however, have not yet been recognized internationally, or worse, have not seen the perpetrators take responsibility for their actions. We may not be able to bring back the thousands of people who lost their lives, but we do have the power to remember and honour the victims, to raise awareness on what happened and prevent the same crime from repeating itself. The Armenian, Cambodian and Bosnian genocides all happened in different historical and geographical contexts. Together with the Holocaust, they represent some of the darkest chapters in world history. It is precisely because of the important role history plays in shaping collective memory that these chapters must not be forgotten.

Armenian Genocide (1915-1917)

The Armenian genocide was the systematic killing and deportation of Armenians at the hands of the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. The Young Turks, who had seized power in 1908, were reigning over a crumbling empire after having entered WWI on Germany’s side. Worried that the Christian Armenian population was planning to side with Russia, the Turks massacred thousands of Armenians, deporting them en masse from eastern Anatolia to the Syrian desert where they were killed or died from starvation and disease. Before the beginning of the war, 1.5 million Armenians were living in the Empire. It is estimated that up to 1.2 million died during the genocide.[2]

Despite early condemnation from the international community and a strong public outcry against the mistreatment of the Armenians, no strong actions were taken to punish the perpetrators. Moreover, no step was taken to require postwar Turkish governments make restitution to the Armenians to make up for the immense material and human losses.

Cambodian Genocide (1975-1979)

Another dark chapter in human history, the Cambodian genocide saw the annihilation of a quarter of Cambodia’s population at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, a brutal regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Marxist dictator Pol Pot. 

The Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 with the goal of turning the country into an agrarian utopia: a rural, classless society comprised of collectivized farms. Money, schools, private property and religious practices were abolished, and rural collectives were set up in the countryside. In reality, however, cities were emptied, and millions of people were evacuated to labour camps where they were starved and abused. The regime singled out doctors, teachers, affluent people, anyone with an education as well as ethnic and religious minorities and whoever was unwilling or unable to undertake harsh manual labour was eliminated. Unlike other genocides, no one was immune from being branded an enemy of the state. Anyone perceived to be in the opposition was tortured and killed and it is estimated that 1.7 to 2.2[3] million people lost their lives. 

The international community was largely silent during the genocide, despite scholars and activists trying to bring attention to the atrocities that were being committed. Only after the regime was overthrown in 1979 did the brutality receive international media attention but it wasn’t until 2003 that an international tribunal was etsablished to try the perpetrators.

Bosnian Genocide (1992-1995)

The Bosnian genocide happened during the Bosnian War, a religious and ethnic conflict between Bosniaks (Muslim), Serbs (Orthodox Christian) and Croats (Catholic) that erupted after Bosnia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. The creation of an independent nation with a Bosniak majority was opposed by Bosnian Serbs, who launched a campaign to secure territory and rid Bosnia of its Muslim population. With the backing of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, Bosnian Serb forces targeted Bosniak and Croatian civilians in areas under their control, which resulted in the death of 100’000[4] people by 1995, 80% of whom were Bosniaks. 

In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces murdered 7’000 to 8’000 Muslim men and boys in what will forever be remembered as the Srebrenica Massacre. The city had been declared a safe area for people fleeing the fighting by the UN and was protected by around 500 international peacekeepers. Serb forces, however, overwhelmed the troops, sent all the women to Bosnian-held territory, then rounded up men and boys and trucked them to killing sites where they were shot and buried in mass graves. 

Since the beginning of the conflict, the UN and international actors did not intervene, fearing strong action would complicate peace negotiations and jeopardize humanitarian aid. Even when it became clear that attacks on Srebrenica were planned, the international community did not offer the UN peacekeepers stationed there additional support. However, in 1993 the UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia which eventually proved to be instrumental in the creation of the International Criminal Court.

The importance of history and collective memory

The above-mentioned genocides are but three of the many that took place over the course of the 20th century. Not only do they share the fact that they were initially neglected by the international community but, despite landmark international convictions and much documentation of the atrocious crimes committed, they still happen to be denied by certain actors. In Serbia, some nationalists claim that the number of dead is exaggerated and that Srebrenica was but one of the many atrocities committed during the conflict. Turkey has met the Armenian genocide with over one hundred years of silence and denial.  Similarly, there is a consistent and worrying number of people in the US and Europe that denies the Holocaust. Furthermore, after the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, many Western intellectuals of the left denied or minimized the human rights abuses that had taken place in an attempt to protect communist ideology.

The unwillingness to see and recognise what happened is not only dangerous but greatly undermines the role collective recognition and memory play in ensuring such crimes are not repeated. Healing the deep wounds inflicted by genocide is a difficult and perhaps impossible task. One way is surely for the perpetrators to be held accountable for their actions through international justice mechanisms. However, this is not enough. The international community has the responsibility to call out the perpetrators of such crimes and should adopt strategies to punish them, in accordance with the Genocide Convention. Seeking justice in the aftermath of such atrocities does not change the fact that if one had acted sooner, the brutality could have been avoided or at least stopped much earlier. Belated recognition also indirectly supports the proliferation of alternative narratives of what happened which undermine or deny the atrocious crimes that were comitted.

Many greatly underestimate the power of collective remembrance and recognition. Collective memory can ensure that the victims and the crimes are not forgotten, thereby preventing them from repeating themselves. Collective recognition and condemnation, on the other hand, have the potential to stop things from happening or worsening in the first place. Now the international community has the chance to redeem itself for past mistakes: by stopping China from perpetrating mass atrocities against the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority which is systematically being targeted by Beijing through a mass detention and forced labour program, restrictions on cultural and religious practices and coercive birth prevention. Despite transparent evidence of the crimes being committed, the international community has until now failed to address the situation in a meaningful way. The recent condemnation of what is happening by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is a step in the right direction but more immediate action is needed.

Extensive recognition of the present and remembrance of the past can spread awareness and are perhaps the strongest tools we have. The perpetrators as well as the survivors of past horrors will eventually leave us and then all we will be left with is history. We must never underestimate its power in helping us work towards a better future. To quote American-Armenian novelist Chris Bohjalian: “History does matter. There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Bosnians and the Rwandans. There are obviously more, but, really, how much genocide can one sentence handle?”.[5]


[1] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1948. 

[2] “The Armenian Genocide: in depth”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

[3] The Cambodian Genocide, United to End Genocide.

[4] Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-1995, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

[5]Bohjalian Chris, “The Sandcastle Girls: A Novel”, Chapter 12, July 17, 2012.

False information: a dangerous threat to liberal democracy

A lie travels ten times faster than the truth: How often have we heard this sentence in the last few years and been warned of the dangers of fake news? 
In a world of constant, immediate, and effortless access to information it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from falsehood. Not only does this have a direct impact on our personal lives, but it is covertly threatening the very principles of liberal democracy. False information in fact becomes particularly dangerous when purposely spread by authoritarian governments to weaken rival countries or institutions. 

Iran and Russia have in recent years become masters in the subtle art of wreaking havoc through targeted information manipulation strategies. The interference of Russian trolls in the 2016 US election shocked the world and became one of the first examples of this deceitful and dangerous strategy. Now a new global power has been testing this tactic on the world stage: The People’s Republic of China.

China has long been using disinformation as a strategy domestically and in surrounding regions such as Taiwan. In the 2018 and 2019 elections, for example, fake news stories, bots, and falsified social media accounts were used to manipulate and deceive the Taiwanese people into voting for a pro-China candidate. This tactic has been repeatedly used to advance pro-mainland positions and promote the benefits of reunification, as China does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan. 

In both cases disinformation was used as a weapon to cause confusion, posing a serious threat to the integrity and stability of the Taiwanese political landscape. 

Disinformation about Covid-19 

Now, this strategy is being adopted on a global scale. Following the outbreak of Covid-19, China pursued extensive disinformation campaigns in Europe and North America, to criticize countries’ poor handling of the pandemic and to change the narrative of being the country of origin of the coronavirus crisis. To do this the Chinese government not only used fake accounts and trolls but also relied on Chinese diplomats and state media outlets. 

In mid-April, for example, the Chinese embassy to France falsely claimed that French care workers had abandoned their jobs leaving residents to die, sparking outrage all across the country.[1] Whilst the Chinese government has denied this, claiming it was a misunderstanding, the fact that an official state outlet would publicly share false information raises the alarm to the dangers of this insidious problem. 

False information affects governments, politicians but most of all people. With social media now a main source of information, many are becoming more and more susceptible to disinformation. Not only are people more likely to accept and believe false information, but it is becoming increasingly harder for governments to fight this kind of threat.
How are democratic countries supposed to compete with authoritarian governments who seek to enhance their international influence through information manipulation? 

So, what can be done?

There is no one solution to this problem, but one of the best forms of defence is surely user education. People of all political orientations need to become more aware that what they read online may not be accurate and view information more critically. A critical perspective on all information is essential to efficiently counter this threat. However, more effective solutions are also needed by governments and global tech companies. 

Governments need to develop better capabilities to resist malicious cyber campaigns and perhaps establish specific taskforces devoted to fighting disinformation campaigns, as has been recently done by Australia. Global tech companies on the other hand need to improve their efforts in fighting disinformation online. One way to do this is by setting cross-platform standards, as has been recently done by Full Fact, a British fact-checking charity which is collaborating with Facebook, Twitter and Google to fight Covid-19 disinformation. These companies also need to be held more accountable if there is evidence that their platform was used to spread false information.[2]

If we don’t act now, we will eventually be living in a world where it will become very difficult to single out accurate information. The political, social, and economic consequences are unimaginable, as foreign countries could attack their competitors without having to ever cross a border. It is therefore essential not only to raise as much awareness as possible on this issue but to also enact concrete policies against it. 


[1] «China denies criticising France’s response to Covid-19 crisis”, france24, 15th April 2020. 

[2] “Tech giants join with governments to fight Covid misinformation”, The Guardian, 20th November 2020.

African art restitution – a vital step towards decolonisation

In a post-colonial world, the issue of colonialism and its consequences may seem to belong to the past, as society has moved on and everyone generally agrees that colonialism was a very dark chapter in world history that should never be repeated again. However, this does not in any way mean that this complex issue has been resolved, as is exemplified by many different matters, including the issue of art restitution.  

Since the 1960s many African countries have been advocating the restitution and legal transfer of objects and artifacts that were stolen during colonization and are now displayed in many European museums. However, this request has been mostly ignored by European governments and cultural institutions, who argue that restitution is unnecessary, complicated, and legally challenging. 

Many have claimed that the artworks in question would not be safe in these countries, as they lack the infrastructure and resources to safeguard these precious objects. Others have used the “How far back will you go?” argument, underlining that many items in Rome were also taken from somewhere in Greece or Ancient Egypt, thereby normalizing these kinds of actions. 

It has been estimated that 90 to 95% of Africa’s heritage is held outside the continent.[1] The British Museum in London alone contains about 73’000 objects from sub-Saharan Africa, whilst France holds at least 90’000, most of which were stolen during its colonial rule over a big part of this region.

One item in particular that has been at the heart of the restitution debate is the Benin Bronzes, a set of unique plaques in wood and ivory that were looted from the Kingdom of Benin by the British in 1897. These artefacts, which where revered and reserved for ancestral altars, are now a constant reminder of a violent past and a stolen future. There are countless other examples.

Empty words and promises will not solve the issue 

Despite French President Macron’s promise in 2017 to “allow for the temporary or definitive restitution of African cultural heritage [held in French museums] to Africa”[2], three years later not much has changed. The situation in many other European countries is not very different, with many actors barely acknowledging the issue. 

So why are we still seeing so much resistance in recognizing Europe’s dark colonial past?

Accepting the need of returning African artifacts would reignite the conversation on the many structural problems African countries face today because of colonialism, a topic that still makes many European countries uncomfortable. The many structural and economic disparities between the two continents can in many cases be directly led back to colonialism. By delivering empty promises and general statements on the issue of restitution, they can seem morally correct, whilst everything more or less stays the same. 

By denying restitution these institutions are continuing to support a narrative that depicts Europe as more progressive and Africa as less developed, thus indirectly justifying colonization and dehumanizing non-western cultures. In today’s post-colonial context this narrative is no longer acceptable. Africa should be given a right to reclaim and define its cultural heritage, and Europe has an obligation to support this. 

Responsibility needs to be taken and art restitution is the first step towards this. Words are not enough – it is time European governments and institutions take concrete action in a crucial step towards turning a page on their troubled relationship with colonial history.


[1] “France urged to return looted art and amend heritage laws”, CNN, 2018. 

[2] Speech made by the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron at the Université Ouaga, November 29th 2017.