The reasons for the breakdown of our food systems are complex and interlinked. Though exacerbated by present day conflicts, the current global food crisis is a product of how our food and agriculture systems have developed over the past 70 years – in part thanks to the funding support of philanthropic institutions and the broader donor community.

The wealth accumulated by many philanthropies has been generated through periods of colonization. For foundations committed to equity, exploring how to decolonize their operations and food systems investments should be top of mind. Funding decisions based on colonial mindsets and outdated approaches to evidence often end up perpetuating dominant yet false food systems narratives, which, among other negative impacts, has led us into global food crises.

In 2021, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food set out to better understand how agroecology, regenerative approaches, and Indigenous foodways could transform food systems in a sustainable, equitable way – and why these approaches are often overlooked in favour of conventional, industrial models.

Engaging 17 contributing teams representing geographic, institutional, sectoral, gender, and racial diversity, The Politics of Knowledge compendium found that colonial mindsets remain dominant in food systems funding. Philanthropic foundations make decisions based on the evidence available. But the type of evidence that is collected and considered is limited in scope and intrinsically connected to power and privilege.

A prime example is the English language bias. Our research found that while philanthropic institutions fund initiatives around the world, they tend to narrowly focus on evidence that is published in English. This excludes a substantial body of evidence – much of it from the Global South.

Power and privilege again come into play through hierarchies of evidence types. In Western science, certain expertise and scientific disciplines are elevated over others. Meanwhile peer-reviewed academic journals – while a verified and important source of information – are outlets available to few. Direct experience shared through oral accounts, stories, unpublished reports, and farmer and Indigenous knowledge are not regarded with the same legitimacy, even when results on the ground have been proven for years, decades, or centuries longer.

Alongside contributors, we identified several recommendations on how to get started on this important work. Here are three ways funders can take action:

  • Broaden your view of what counts as evidence.
  • Consider environmental, political, economic, and social factors when funding.
  • Seek initiatives that bring together diverse actors. 

Read the full article about funders taking action on food systems by Lauren Baker at Alliance Magazine.