Food, Agriculture & Human Flourishing with Agnes Kalibata (podcast)
Dr. Agnes Kalibata is a Rwandan agricultural scientist and policymaker, who draws on her personal history growing up in a refugee camp to shape her work as both UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy focusing on international food systems and the president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). In this episode of the Stories of Impact podcast, Kalibata offers a deep personal understanding of how communities and individuals can flourish when two of their essential needs — nourishing food and quality education — are met.
Education encourages flourishing, even in difficult circumstances
Political and social upheaval in Rwanda caused Kalibata’s smallholder farmer parents to be displaced to Uganda. In the refugee camp, getting enough nutrition was a challenge. Getting to school was a challenge. Day to day life was never easy, and yet, she points to the family gift of education that allowed her, even in the most difficult of circumstances, to flourish. To Kalibata, "Human flourishing refers to the ability of human beings as people to thrive, the ability to express the goodness of human beings, the ability to express the growth that human beings experience."
Food, agriculture, and flourishing
Ending hunger is crucial, says Kalibata. "How can we flourish when half the population we are living with, or a certain percent of the population we are living with, is actually incapacitated from the very beginning?" Ensuring inclusivity in nutrition is essential, "because that’s how we ensure that mankind is equal. Otherwise, we are living with people whose ability to be equal has been interfered with from a very early stage."
In Africa, women spend 16 hours a day working in the agriculture sector to make it productive for their families and their communities. Women need programs that address structural challenges that limit their access to land, resources, and markets if we are to work towards ending hunger and achieving a flourishing future.
Despite these challenges, Kalibata sees a strong connection between human flourishing, agriculture, and food. In Africa, two-thirds of nearly every country live by agriculture. "Food is everything to the communities that live and work in smallholder agriculture. They’ve built a whole culture around it as well. So for the people that work in the agricultural system, for them, it’s also how they get through this poverty. For them, it’s also how they get to send their children to school. For them, it’s also how they get to pay for health insurance. For them, it’s also how they empower themselves. For them, it’s also about fulfilling that human spirit of feeling that you are everything, that you have control over your life. It’s their world."
If we want our planet to flourish, we need to ask ourselves whether what we are doing is also right for the planet.
Flourishing, leaders of tomorrow, and climate change
"A significant part of global economies are flourishing because the food sector has flourished. We are producing over 300 times more food than produced a while ago, when we figured out how to increase yields. But let’s understand that this is happening against a planet that can only take so much from us. If we want our planet to flourish, we need to ask ourselves whether what we are doing is also right for the planet." Kalibata points out the dangers of wasting our planet's resources. "Part of our flourishing food system is about how much we waste. Wasting is not flourishing, wasting is destroying the planet. Part of how we produce food, how we go about using the resources we have is endangering biodiversity. Eighty percent loss of biodiversity is associated with how we produce food."
She points out the importance of balance as a key to the future for the next generation, the leaders of tomorrow. "When you look at how we design the food system today, it’s about helping people understand that you and I, individually — and it’s even more so for youth — you and I individually impact our planet by taking and giving. So we need to balance those choices and make sure that flourishing is about that. So helping young people understand from a very early age that this is not about extraction of what we need, this is about balancing the needs of ourselves with the needs of our planet is extremely important."
"There’s a huge appreciation in the African culture of the environment they live with, and the landscapes and the planet. I think people underestimate how much stewardship smallholder farmers, indigenous communities, provide to the environment they live with. They provide some of the best stewardship that I’ve seen in the world, and we need to take advantage of that."
Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by podcast producer Tavia Gilbert. Featuring: Agnes Kalibata, Rwandan agricultural scientist and policymaker, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and writer / producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.