The Forest Maker and his director

Tony Rinaudo uses conventional reforestation methods to plant millions and millions of trees – and Volker Schlöndorff is filming a cinema documentary about the Australian. The outcome so far: An educational film on behalf of the BMZ (Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Schlöndorff and Rinaudo shooting in Ghana. © World Vision
Schlöndorff and Rinaudo shooting in Ghana. © World Vision

Jan Rübel

Jan Rübel is author at Zeitenspiegel Reportagen, a columnist at Yahoo and writes for national newspapers and magazines. He studied History and Middle Eastern Studies.

One morning in Potsdam. Volker Schlöndorff walks upstairs to the first floor of his house, the director has a meeting with his latest star – Tony Rinaudo. But the 63-year-old Australian is an agronomist, not a film actor. Just before 9 a.m., Schlöndorff makes the call to Melbourne, where it is 5 p.m. They have arranged a Skype meeting: Due to the coronavirus, filming has been put on hold and further plans for the film have to be made virtually. Actually, it’s two films. The big film for the cinema is a documentary about Rinaudo. And the second is an educational film that Schlöndorff is producing on behalf of the BMZ – so it can be shown at workshops to promote the methods for which Rinaudo received the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2018: “Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration”, a reforestation technique that was used to grow millions of trees, particularly in Africa. The trick: Shrubs are nurtured from existing tree stumps, roots and seeds and grow into trees. A man in a thick jumper appears on the screen. The title of a book about him: “The Forest Maker”.

 

Schlöndorff: Tony, why do you not like the title “Trees of Hope” for our cinema film? I think it’s good…

 

Rinaudo: That was originally the title of my new book. I like it! But my publisher said it sounds a bit childish…

 

Schlöndorff:…what’s wrong with that?

 

Rinaudo: Nothing. But then my publisher suggested: “My Trees of Hope”.

 

Schlöndorff: That’s awful!

 

Rinaudo: I know, they are not my trees, it sounds arrogant. So I googled it and unfortunately there is already a book with the title “Trees of Hope” - and my publisher wants a personal title. So I gave in.

 

Schlöndorff: I will definitely not be calling the film “My Trees of Hope”. “Trees of Hope” seems common enough to me that the title can be used several times. We’ll figure it out!

 

Rinaudo: Well, “The Forest Maker” would be fine too, like the first book about me.

 

Schlöndorff: It is still your nickname. And better than “Mother Theresa”. When can we continue filming? Do you have an idea when you will be able to leave Australia with the coronavirus situation?

 

Rinaudo: It is improving, I'm hopeful. But now the covidiots are demonstrating - hopefully the situation will not get worse. There are a fair number who think it is just a hoax and are not taking care.

 

Schlöndorff: It is the same here. So there is still uncertainty about getting visas to leave Australia and enter Africa.

 

Rinaudo: It will be uncertain for the rest of the year.

 

Schlöndorff: Maybe I will still go to Senegal in 2020, not to film, but for a scouting tour. I may give out a few handheld cameras. By the way, the thirty-minute educational film that the BMZ ordered will be finished soon. Last night, the editor sent me the final scenes, now I just need to work on the colour and the tone.

 

Volker Schlöndorff with Tony Rinaudo and locals in Niger. © World Vision
Volker Schlöndorff with Tony Rinaudo and locals in Niger. © World Vision

In his 81 years, Schlöndorff has filed 37 films, produced many documentaries and in the nineties, he was chief executive of the Babelsberg film studio. To the left of his desk is a large dresser that he took from shooting “Circle of Deceit” in Beirut in 1981. The fine wooden mosaic still shines. And outside the window is vast green foliage.

 

Rinaudo: Excellent. Now that travelling is more difficult, this could be an important tool.

 

Schlöndorff: Yes, as part of a workshop. It wont be enough to send the video to villages and then everyone will use FMNR.

 

Schlöndorff: The film could be shown to farmers by farmers who have already had experience with FMNR.

 

When will your main film about Mr Rinaudo be finished?

 

Schlöndorff: If it hadn’t been for corona, it would be finished. But because of the travel restrictions, it probably wont be finished until next summer.

 

How did you get to know each other?

 

Rinaudo: It was at a small party. I had just received the Alternative Nobel Prize in Stockholm and had a stop in Berlin on my flight home.

 

Schlöndorff: We are both active in World Vision – and in my eleven years there, I had never had anything to do with his trees. But I was invited to a small party with him at an Italian restaurant. And then it just clicked.

 

What did?

 

Schlöndorff: I immediately thought that I have to make a film about him. I am an Aries, so I am impulsive: How is it possible that so few people know about this world revolution that this Rinaudo has started? I need to make propaganda for this.

 

Did you decide this between courses?

 

Schlöndorff: While drinking my coffee. The next morning, I knocked on Tony’s hotel room door with a piece of paper - and we signed a preliminary contract. I was convinced the investors would be lining up at our door. But it took a year for us to get the first minimum funding for the film.

 

Rinaudo demonstrates in Ghana how to circumcise a bush. © World Vision
Rinaudo demonstrates in Ghana how to circumcise a bush. © World Vision

Why is that?

 

Schlöndorff: It’s a mystery to me.

 

The successes of the FMNR method are considered a green pillar in agriculture and a hugely important concept against the spread of deserts: In Niger alone, 200 million trees were grown using this method and in south Ethiopia, 27 square kilometres of land have been reforested in the Humbo region. According to the “Welt”, an expert from the “World Resources Institute” says this is the “greatest environmental change in Africa in the last hundred years”. One that can be seen from space: Satellite images from today show green where there used to be desert.

 

Mr Rinaudo, what did you think when Mr Schlöndorff suggested making a film about you?

 

Rinaudo: It was a strange feeling but I was delighted all the same: I am getting older and can no longer travel to every country that would benefit from FMNR. So, of course, I asked myself: What will happen to me? Will this guy direct me here and there? But then outside in the field, we quickly became friends. It is great working with him.

 

Schlöndorff: I also didn’t ask him to do film as a director, but as an observer. I only gave a few suggestions on some small details, otherwise I hardly intervened in what Tony did. I documented. And I learned a lot about Africa and about agriculture.

 

What did you learn?

 

Schlöndorff: How important trees are, for example. In areas like in Niger, trees are needed to stop soil erosion and soil degradation. In the shade, agriculture is more successful. And in Ethiopia, forests play a very important role: Water comes back, animals return - and the famers benefit from this.

 

How so?

 

Schlöndorff: Around 600 million people still live in villages in African countries and operate small-scale farms on a hectare or less. The aim is to sustain this. Do we want dead villages where no one works, like in Brandenburg? All our different cultures come from villages. This is where the trees come into play: They enable more and better farming, which increases the likelihood that people will not move to the cities.

 

Rinaudo: Most people do not leave their villages by choice. If they have work there that feeds them as well as solutions for the future of their children and electricity, then they stay. These megacities are certainly not an alternative.

 

What are the consequences of Africa having less trees than 50 years ago?

 

Tony Rinaudo during the filming in Ghana. © World Vision
Tony Rinaudo during the filming in Ghana. © World Vision

Rinaudo: Well, when I was in Niger for the first time in 1980, almost all of the trees were gone. Agriculture was almost impossible: Nothing stopped the strong winds and the seedlings did not survive the drought. But trees are like fertiliser: They attract birds and other animals that fertilise the ground. Trees are also a source of water because their roots pull it up from deep in the soil and release it to the surface at open areas. Traditionally they offer a lot: they are like a supermarket, a hardware store and a medicine cupboard in one.

 

What made you think of FMNR?

 

Rinaudo: It is not a new idea, it is hundreds of years old, including in Germany: When a tree is cut down, the germination process begins. There was also this tradition in Africa, but the knowledge disappeared with colonialism and modern agricultural concepts. There were even programmes from the World Bank and US Aid that funded the removal of tree stumps. I began growing new trees in Niger for two and a half years. But most of them died, which frustrated me greatly. Then one day, I drove my pick-up with lots of tree seedlings to a village. On the way, I saw a bush in the distance, which piqued my interest. I let a little pressure out of the tyres to get more surface area in the sand and drove up to it. I had travelled this route for two and a half years and never stopped. Now I did. From the leaves I saw: It isn’t a bush, it’s a tree! I looked around and saw shoots coming out of the sand, the desert was hiding roots. And it suddenly hit me - we don’t need big projects or technological voodoo: Everything we need is already here. It just needs some TLC.

 

This epiphany – is it comparable with the moment when you decided in Autumn 2018 in a restaurant to make a video about Mr Rinaudo, Mr Schlöndorff?

 

Schlöndorff: Not really. For me it was much more frivolous. People always ask me: Why did you do this film or that film - even with film adaptations. Usually people approach me with the ideas, or I remember a book that I read ten years go and think: That is exactly the situation I find myself in. There is always coincidence at play. So why Tony? I don’t know. Maybe I had nothing going on. But I was always interested in agriculture. I grew up in the country and we often went with my father when he visited farmers as a doctor. Back then, 70 years ago, a farmer had only one hectare of land, which was divided up into parcels. He had one cow for milk and for the plough and I still remember how often his wife and daughter walked next the cow to keep it moving in a straight line. When I go to Africa today, I see the same images as I saw in Germany 70 years ago. This means: The situation can be improved, no German farmer uses a plough today.

 

Did you also see tree care like the FMNR technique in your childhood?

 

Schlöndorff: I don’t remember. But I once had a small farm in Sicily with 400 olive trees. One year, spring came very early, water rushed into the trunks, but then a terrible frost came with minus ten degrees; all the trees died. They were cut down and new trees were planted, but a tree needs 20 years until it bears fruit. Then something happened: Seedlings came out of the old trunks. Not just one or two, but ten, 15! The farmers let three or four of them grow and bound them together like a bush - which also makes it easier to pick the olives.

 

So the farmers in Sicily adapted to the new situation. And what do the farmers in African countries say when you explain reforestation to them, Mr Rinaudo?

 

Rinaudo: At first, they called me the crazy white farmer. Their whole lives, they thought a good farmer is a clean farmer who would cut down the trees. Around the world, most farmers think that the trees are competing with their crops - and they are more likely to think that when they are hungry. What’s more, the trees in Niger were not privately owned due to land rights. The government issued a law that trees are the property of the state and that those who cut down trees will be punished. This made people liable for the trees on their land - and to get out of this responsibility, they quickly removed them. But farmers learn from each other. I convinced a few to try it with trees - the harvests were good and other farmers followed. Now the harvests have doubled, in addition to the food and medicine they offer.

 

Volker Schlöndorff and Tony Rinaudo with their camera team. © World Vision
Volker Schlöndorff and Tony Rinaudo with their camera team. © World Vision

So the trees were not really a rival for the farmers?

 

Rinaudo: The farmers can decide for themselves which trees they allow to grow, how many and how they cut them. They have control. Our method does not cost anything, is quick and can be widely used - this is essential in the face of climate change.

 

Tackling hunger is a big global problem. Some would say: We need more agriculture and more space - not forests. What would you say to these people?

 

Rinaudo: It is wrong to assume that large-scale monocultures are the most productive. Biologically diverse cultivation is a much more promising way to tackle hunger, it offers so much, which is exactly what small-scale farmers need for their food and their lives. In Niger, the grain harvest was originally 300 kilograms per hectare and year. With FMNR, the harvest can be increased ten fold and without watering or using machines, which poor farmers can hardly afford.

 

Schlöndorff: Tony, how will you use our educational film to convince farmers of the method?

 

Rinaudo: This is a quicker and more cost-effective way to reach the people - after all I cannot go to every village. Online training is increasing everywhere in African agriculture. I am seeing that people are more frequently visiting our FMNR website. Here, this kind of film can very clearly illustrate the method. And of course during workshops in the villages.

 

Schlöndorff: Yes, we could first show the film and then go through any questions that arise - chapter by chapter. Initially, I thought the film would be over two hours long. But it can be easily compacted. We could show it in intervals - like a salami, the thinner it is cut, the better it tastes.

 

Tony Renaudo explains his FMNR method in Ethiopia © World Vision
Tony Renaudo explains his FMNR method in Ethiopia © World Vision

It is now the evening in Melbourne and Rinaudo’s wife Liz appears on the screen to say hello. The three continue talking, about the fires in California, which have already destroyed a forest area the size of Saxony, “I could cry,” says Rinaudo, and about the trees in the Berlin Grunewald, which have also seen better days. Finally, Schlöndorff says that he will definitely finish the cinema film about Rinaudo, even if the funding is not yet guaranteed. “It will be fine,” he says. “It has to be.”

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“Corona exposes the weaknesses of our nutritional systems"

Interview with Arif Husain (WFP)

The United Nations plan a Food Systems Summit - and now the Corona-Virus is dictating the agenda. The Chief Economist of the UN World Food Programme takes stock of the current situation: a conversation with Jan Rübel about pandemics, about the chromosomes of development - and about the conflicts that inhibit them.

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"Pandemic increases violence against women"

Interview with Léa Rouanet

African countries still face huge gender gaps in terms of access to work and capital. What are the consequences of Corona for women in Africa? Jan Rübel interviewed Léa Rouanet on lockdowns and gender-based violence. The economist works at the Africa Gender Innovation Lab of the World Bank.

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(c) Welthungerhilfe

5 questions to F. Patterson: Why is there more hunger?

Interview with Fraser Patterson

Every year in October, the "Welthungerhilfe" aid organisation, with the Irish "Concern Worldwide" NGO, publishes the Global Hunger Index, a tool with which the hunger situation is recorded. What are the trends - and what needs to be done?

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(c) Welthungerhilfe

5 questions to S. Fan: Where are the new roads?

Interview with Shenggen Fan

Shortly before ending his position as Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPR) Dr. Shenggen Fan talks about the reforms and new modes of operation needed to achieve global food security in the coming decade.

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5 Questions for Gunther Beger (BMZ): What must be done?

Interview with Gunther Beger (BMZ)

How much will it cost to sustainably end world hunger by 2030? This question was posed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) that commissioned two research teams with finding an answer. The results of the studies will be presented on October 13 in the run-up to World Food Day.

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Podcast: Fighting world hunger together

Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Podcast of the Federal Government

At the start of World Food Week around World Food Day on 16 October, Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that the fight against global hunger will only be successful with international responsibility and solidarity (german only).

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'It has never been more possible'

Interview with Carin Smaller (Ceres2030)

Over a period of two years, the Ceres2030 team spent researching answers to the questions of how much it will how much it will cost to realize SDG 2 and where that money should be spent most effectively. IISD Senior Advisor and Ceres2030 Co-director Carin Smaller about small farmers, machine learning and women empowerment.

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"Agricultural research unties the Gordian knot"

Interview with World Bank Vice President Voegele

The CGIAR agricultural research organization is systematically repositioning itself. We spoke with Juergen Voegele, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank, about progress to date - and discuss what needs to be done collectively to stop global hunger in ten years.

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5 Questions for Jann Lay: What is Corona doing to the economy?

Interview with Jann Lay (GIGA)

The Corona pandemic is hitting economies around the world very hard - but developments in African countries are quite diverse. There are different speeds, resiliences and vulnerabilities. What are the reasons for this? Apl. Prof. Jann Lay of the GIGA Institute provides answers.

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Resilience in times of crisis

Yemen is currently experiencing one of the worst disasters, due to war, hunger and disease outbreaks. The GIZ is locally engaged to improve the nutrition and resilience of Yemenites.

A project of GIZ

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Turning many into one: CGIAR network restructures

A contribution by Jan Rübel

International agricultural research is responding to new challenges: Their advisory group is undergoing a fundamental reform process and unites knowledge, partnerships and physical assets into OneCGIAR.

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(c) Kate Holt / Africa Practice

Leveraging investment impacts

A contribution by Heike Baumüller, Christine Husmann, Julia Machovsky-Smid, Oliver Kirui, Justice Tambo

Any initiative whose aim is to reduce poverty in Africa should focus first on agriculture. But what kind of investment has the greatest impact? The use of scientific criteria provides some answers.

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Small-scale farmers’ responses to COVID-19 related restrictions

A study by SLE

The lockdown due to COVID-19 hit the economy hard - including agriculture in particular with its supply chains and sales markets. What creative coping strategies have those affected found? The Seminar for Rural Development has begun a research study on th

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Do we have to dare a new food system?

A contribution by Dr. Felix zu Löwenstein (BÖLW)

Lack of seasonal workers and virus explosion in slaughterhouses, rising vegetable prices, climate crisis – all this demonstrates: Our food system is highly productive and (at least for the rich inhabitants of planet earth) guarantees an unprecedented rich and steady food supply - but it is not resilient.

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Video diaries in the days of Corona: Voices from the ground

A contribution by Sarah D´haen & Alexander Müller, Louisa Nelle, Bruno St. Jaques, Sarah Kirangu-Wissler and Matteo Lattanzi (TMG)

Young farmers’ insights on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems in Sub-Saharan Africa @CovidFoodFuture and video diaries from Nairobi’s informal settlements.

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(c) Klara Palatova/WFP

A global signpost: What way is the market, please?

A contribution by the World Food Programme

There is a clear global task: We need to feed nine billion people by 2050. We, the people of Earth, must produce more food and waste less. That is the top priority of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), too - the description of a challenge.

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Frank Schultze / Agentur_ZS

Visions in agriculture

Video by Frank Schultze and Jan Rübel

At the beginning of December 2018, AGRA's board of directors met in Berlin. The "Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa" ​​panel discussed the next steps in their policy of modernizing agriculture. How to go on in the next ten years? One question - many answers from experts.

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The state of food security in Cape Town and St. Helena Bay

A study by Markus Hanisch, Agustina Malvido, Johanna Hansmann, Alexander Mewes, Moritz Reigl, Nicole Paganini (SLE)

Post-Covid-19 lockdown: How food governance processes could include marginalised communities - an extract of the results of an SLE study applying digital and participatory methods.

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Karel Prinsloo/Arete/Rockefeller Foundation/AGRA

"Nutrition is a human right"

Interview with Joe DeVries (AGRA)

Joe DeVries is a breeder – and Vice President of AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa). What are the chances and risks of a ’green revolution‘ in Africa? A discourse between Jan Rübel and him about productivity, needs, and paternalism.

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5 questions posed to the SEWOH commissioner Dirk Schattschneider

Interview with Dirk Schattschneider (BMZ)

For about a year now, Dirk Schattschneider has been the commissioner for the special initiative "ONEWORLD No Hunger" (SEWOH) of the BMZ. In the interview, he looks back on the challenges of the past year and at the same time takes a look into the future.

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How the self-help approach empowers smallholder women

A report by INEF and Kindernothilfe

Supporting groups of smallholding women substantially contributes to strengthen rural operations economically. The organisation and associated group activities can help to reduce extreme poverty and improve the food situation.

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Global responsibility: Tackling hunger is the only way forward

A contribution by Lisa Hücking (WHH)

Chancellor Merkel has begun an ambitious European political programme: Striving for compromise in budget negotiations, an orderly Brexit as well as an appropriate response to the corona crisis. Unfortunately, one of her positions that she previously held is nowhere to be found: Africa's prosperity is in the interest of Europe. 

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A partnership to fight hunger

A contribution by GAFSP

The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) was launched by the G20 countries in 2010 in response to the 2008-09 food price crisis to increase both public and private investment in agriculture. An overview of the programme's approach, results and impact.

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Hunger must not be a consequence of the epidemic!

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE)

Even though COVID-19 poses a threat to the health of humanity, the reaction to the pandemic must not cause more suffering than the disease itself. This is particularly relevant for poor developing countries, where the impact of the corona crisis on food security is even more severe!

 

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Developing countries hit doubly hard by coronavirus

A contribution by Gunter Beger (BMZ)

In most African countries, the infection COVID-19 is likely to trigger a combined health and food crisis. This means: In order to cope with this unprecedented crisis, consistently aligning our policies to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more important than ever, our author maintains.

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Hier steht eine Bildbeschreibung

Statement from GAFSP Co-Chairs: GAFSP and COVID-19 Pandemic

A contribution by GAFSP

COVID-19 has unprecedented effects on the world. As always, the most vulnerable are the hardest hit, both at home and - especially - abroad. A joint appeal by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Department for International Development (DFID).

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(c) Michael Bruentrup/DIE

News from the starting block: Changeover

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE)

The region of Sub-Saharan Africa is on the decisive verge of a great development boost in farming: it could skip entire generations of technological development. But how? About possible roles and potentials of digital services.

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An investment in Africa's future

A contritbution by Essa Chanie Mussa (University of Gondar)

Rural youth need viable livelihood opportunities to escape out of poverty and realize their aspirations. How could they be helped to fully unleash their potential? This is an aloud call that needs novel strategies among governments, policy makers, and international development partners and donors.

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(c) Privat

Borderless food security

A contribution by Christine Wieck

Enabling smallholders to trade across regions and borders promotes food security and economic growth. Although everyone is calling for exactly that, implementation is still difficult

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JOERG BOETHLING / GIZ

Continent in an uptrend

A report by Dr. Agnes Kalibata (AGRA)

Partnering for Africa’s Century: Innovation and Leadership as Drivers of Growth and Productivity in Rural Areas

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UNFSS Pre-Summit: What did it achieve?

Interview with Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ)

After the summit means pre-summit: It was the first time that the United Nations held a summit on food systems. Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ) reviewed the situation in this joint interview.

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How do you campaign “Food Systems”?

Interview with Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG 2 Advocacy Hub.

The UN Food Systems pre-Summit in Rome dealt with transforming the ways of our nutrition. How do you bring that to a broad public? Questions to Paul Newnham, the Director of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 Advocacy Hub.

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The Rice Sector in West Africa: A Political Challenge

New insights on trade and value addition in the rice sector in West Africa

Low import tariffs, smuggling activities, unpredictable tax exemptions and weak enforcement of food safety standards: The potential of local rice value chains is undermined in West African countries.

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School Feeding: A unique platform to address gender inequalities

A contribution by Carmen Burbano de Lara (WFP)

Besides the well known impacts of Covid19 lockdowns for the adult population, the associated school closures led to 90 percent of the world’s children with no access to schools. However, school meals are in often the only daily meal for children. Without access to this safety net, issues like hunger, poverty and malnutrition are exacerbated for hundreds of millions of children.

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Not waiting for a savior

An article by Lidet Tadesse

While Africa is the least affected region by Covid-19 so far, the number of confirmed cases and deaths on the continent is quickly rising. Despite the challenges many African countries continue to face, the African response to the coronavirus pandemic displays innovation and ingenuity.

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Good health is impossible without healthy food

A contribution by Heino von Meyer

Corona makes it even more difficult to achieve a world without hunger by 2030. So that this perspective does not get out of sight, Germany must play a stronger role internationally - a summary of the Strategic Advisory Group of SEWOH.

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