From seed to table: approaches for a sustainable global food system

Bern, Press release, 15.09.2010

The state of the Millennium Development Goals will be under review at the Millennium+10 Summit in New York in September. Fact: more than a billion people are suffering from hunger today. The world is still far from respecting everyone’s right to food. There are however approaches for a sustainable global food system that hold out the promise of development even for poor countries. This problem and ways to improve food supplies were discussed by Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey, State Secretary Jean-Daniel Gerber and SDC Director Martin Dahinden as well as other speakers from Switzerland and abroad at the annual joint conference of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Agriculture is of great importance to the economies of developing countries and is particularly susceptible to climate change. How do people feed themselves today? How will they be able to feed themselves in the future in view of changes in the global environment? How can production and trade in food products contribute to combating poverty throughout the world? What are the contributions of the development cooperation agencies, the private sector, civil society? The annual conference of the SDC and SECO was devoted to this key question of food security. 

In her opening address to the conference, the Swiss Foreign Minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, reminded the audience that the problems of hunger and poverty can only be solved by working together: “The industrialised and developing countries share the task of combating poverty and for ensuring food security, albeit with different responsibilities”. The world’s poor are directly dependent on natural resources in their daily fight for survival and are thus particularly vulnerable to changes in the environment. The Minister called for a multifunctional approach to agriculture in the countries of the South, an approach in which small farmers and their families have a major role to play in efforts to defeat hunger and improve general living conditions. 

In a discussion, SECO Director Jean-Daniel Gerber and SDC Director Martin Dahinden addressed the question of the contribution of Swiss development cooperation to a sustainable global food system, with particular emphasis on the effect of development cooperation. They spoke of the importance of strengthening the productive capabilities of poor segments of the population, and the need for investment in innovation, technology, advisory services and infrastructure. The SDC has long been active in agricultural development and has been running successful programmes to raise productivity and improve food security.” Small farmers must have the possibility of improving their capacities and know-how, as well as better access to essential resources and key markets” according to the SDC Director.  

The SDC would like international research and development cooperation to address the needs of the poorest segments of the population more closely, Mr. Dahinden pointed out. For its part, SECO is committed to the sustainable integration of the developing countries in the global food system through measures at all levels from production to trade and end consumption. “The promotion of voluntary standards of sustainability in a context of export-oriented agriculture can make a positive contribution,” the SECO Director pointed out, adding that “The application of these standards enables producers to have better access to the world’s markets, creating employment and generating income.” 

The approximately 2100 people who attended the annual conference were given an insight into the many factors that influence the world food system today. The potential at the level of regional agricultural policy was outlined by Ousseini Salifou of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Marianne Bänziger, who heads research at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, spoke of the contributions made by agricultural research. The opportunities and risks involved in world market integration were discussed by Daniele Giovannucci of the Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA). The conference ended with a talk by Bernard Njonga, a West African consumers representative, and finally a panel discussion involving experts from Switzerland and abroad. 

Contacts, further information

SECO: Markus Spörndli, +41 (0) 31 324 09 10, +41 (0)79 232 98 12, 

FDFA: Georg Farago, +41 (0)31 323 11 28, +41 (0)79 301 70 35, 

Further information:

Dossier Food Security
Dossier Annual Development Cooperation Conference

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: (+41) 031 322 31 53
Fax: (+41) 031 324 90 47


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research