Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Political Economy of Food System Transformation - Pathways to Progress in a Polarized World

Danielle Resnick and Johan Swinnen (2023) The Political Economy of Food System Transformation - Pathways to Progress in a Polarized World. #401 p.
  • Offers an interdisciplinary perspective on the political economy of nutrition, biotechnology, trade, and agricultural policies 
  • Adopts diverse methodologies including economic modelling, qualitative case studies, and discourse analysis 
  • Identifies which political economy issues are cross-cutting and which are context-specific
An open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC 4.0 International licence

  1. Introduction: Political Economy of Food System Transformation, Danielle Resnick and Johan Swinnen
  2. Facts, Interests, and Values: Identifying Points of Convergence and Divergence for Food Systems, Koen Deconinck
  3. The Political Economy of Reforming Agricultural Support Policies, Rob Vos, Will Martin, and Danielle Resnick
  4. From Re-instrumenting to Re-purposing Farm Support Policies, Kym Anderson and Anna Strutt
  5. Policy Coalitions in Food Systems Transformation, Johan Swinnen and Danielle Resnick
  6. Government Response to Ultra-Processed and Sugar Beverages Industries in Developing Nations: The Need to Build Coalitions Across Policy Sectors Eduardo J. Gómez
  7. Ultra-processed Food Environments: Aligning Policy Beliefs from the State, Market, and Civil Society, Jonathan Mockshell and Thea Nielsen Ritter
  8. Asymmetric Power in Global Food System Advocacy, Jody Harris
  9. The Political Economy of Bundling Socio-Technical Innovations to Transform Agri-Food Systems, Christopher B. Barrett
  10. Sustainable Food and Farming: When Public Perceptions Depart from Science, Robert Paarlberg
  11. Enabling Positive Tipping Points in Public Support for Food System Transformation: The Case of Meat Consumption, Lukas Paul Fesenfeld and Yixian Sun
  12. Urban Food Systems Governance in Africa: Towards a Realistic Model for Transformation, Gareth Haysom and Jane Battersby
  13. The Political Economy of Food System Transformation in the European Union, Alan Matthews, Jeroen Candel, Nel de Mûelenaere, and Pauline Scheelbeek
  14. Tracking Progress and Generating Accountability for Global Food System Commitments, Stella Nordhagen and Jessica Fanzo
  15. Conclusions, Danielle Resnick and Johan Swinnen

Extracts Policy coalitions p. 111 - 128

This chapter provides greater nuance about contemporary coalitions for food systems transformation, focusing on three broad types of coalitions. The chapter underscores that while coalitions are widely viewed as essential for policy change, the diversity of such coalitions for food systems is rarely examined, nor are the ways in which the goals of disparate coalitions may complement or contradict
each other.

Coalitions—or a set of individuals and groups with shared policy preferences—lie at the heart of political economy. They are also often considered central to policy change. (...) Coalitions matter for at least two reasons. First, interest groups that share similar goals often exert more influence on policymakers and greater visibility to the public when they combine to forge a larger partnership. (...) Second, coalition members can benefit from the consolidation of their different types of resources and legitimacy.

In some cases, the same agent is involved in multiple elements of the value chain, such as the four dominant global agricultural trading firms, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis-Dreyfus. (page 132)

Interests of food processing companies involved in early-stage processing will often be aligned with those of farmers, while those of further processing may be opposite. In this case, coalitions will emerge that include farm organizations and early-stage processors, which may lobby for import tariffs,
while retailers, traders, and final consumers may oppose such tariffs. Such coalitions not only organize around tariffs but also on product standards or other type of regulations. 

For example, an interesting current discussion relates to names of plant-based alternatives to meat products, and whether the word “burger” can be used for them—a discussion where the meat industry and livestock farmers are joint in a coalition trying to restrict such broad use of names. (...) The EU’s beverage and confection industries and sweetener companies lobbied the EU decision-makers against the extension of the EU sugar quota, which kept production low and prices high; by contrast, the sugar processing companies were lobbying to keep the system and its higher sugar prices.(page 133)

The cross-issues section (page 138 - 149) first focuses on coalitions that coalesce around food quality and nutrition and how the contours of those coalitions may vary based on a country’s or region’s level of economic development. 
  • Generating coalitions for food safety can be more challenging in parts of the Global South, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the poor depends on the informal sector, including wet markets or street vendors, for affordable food.
  • The combination of costs to adhere to such standards among informal retailers, combined with inadequate regulatory and enforcement capacity in such settings, creates few domestic constituencies for reform despite recurrent cholera outbreaks and food-borne illnesses.
  • Poorer consumers, including those who do understand health risks, also cannot effectively use boycotts as a tool to enforce shifts in regulation in the same way that wealthier consumers can in developed countries. (page 138)
  • The spread of global value chains has implications for the political economy of agricultural and food policies because it changes the incentives of various agents in the value chains to lobby for, or against, import protection and integration in international trade agreements. (...) Trade protection is lower when the domestic content of foreign produced final goods is higher and (vice versa) for foreign content of domestically produced goods. (page 143)
  • Other types of coalitions reveal attempts to rectify asymmetric power dynamics between developing country agricultural producers and multinational corporations. For instance, in 2018, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire—who produce 63 percent of the world’s cocoa—teamed up to create the Ivory Coast-Ghana Cocoa Initiative (ICCIG). (page 143)

Extracts Government Response to Ultra-Processed and Sugar Beverages Industries in Developing Nations (Mexico, India, South-Africa)  p. 133 - 149

This chapter asks:
  • Why were governments in Mexico, India, and South Africa unwilling to demonstrate equal political resolve across all public health prevention and regulatory policy efforts in response to NCDs?
  • Why focus mainly on a soda tax when other regulatory policies were just, if not more, important?
To better understand the differences in the political economy of reform between the soda tax, advertising, and food labeling regulations, a multiple streams analytical framework was adopted. Applying this framework to the cases of Mexico, India, and South Africa revealed that in addition
to all three countries confronting rising NCD challenges (problems stream), a change in political context (political stream), and policy solutions (policy stream), policy entrepreneurs at the domestic and international level were important for coupling these three streams together to build consensus for reform.

It has been in select emerging economies, not wealthier nations, where we have seen the boldest attempts to introduce national policy innovations in response to these healthcare challenges. (...) For example, Mexico’s Congress passed a national soda tax in 2014, India adopted a national sin tax on sugary drinks and other unhealthy products in 2017, and South Africa’s government created its own tax on sugary beverages in 2018.
(page 150)

When it came to regulating the marketing and sale of soda and ultra-processed foods, as well as the introduction of more effective food labels, however, each of these nations were far less successful,
though in varying degrees. (page 151)

Because the tax posed an immediate economic threat to industry and generated resistance among industry actors, it further increased the visibility of the policy debate for governments and among the
public; the same could not be said for industry regulations. (page 151)

Several opportunities exist for international organizations, government, and civil societal actors to build strong coalitions in support of marketing and sales regulatory policies while holding governments accountable for their enforcement. Furthermore, the emergence of soda and snack food taxes has
revealed that developing nations can eventually overcome the powerful resistance of food industries.

KO, the Indian subsidiary of Coca-Cola, stated that if the sin tax passed, it would consider shutting down several of its bottling plants in India. Coca-Cola India was of the view that this tax would lead to a reduction in the sale of its products. By 2017, the food industry and trade groups were working together to determine how they could effectively lobby against the tax proposal. (page 159)

Industries engage in a form of self-regulation, which is monitored by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) (...) There was no concerted international effort, either from multilateral organizations or the scientific community, to recommend and impress onto India’s government the idea of pursuing industry regulations. (...) Compared to the sin tax, there is no immediate and substantial financial threat to industries being regulated. In fact, industries may decide to simply ignore regulations, perhaps even willing to pay a small, one-off fine. (page 161)

The Beverage Association of South Africa (BEVSA)’s—which represents companies like Coca-Cola and PespiCo — used“ anti-tax advertisements” in newspapers, as well as BEVSA’s meetings with national health officials to emphasize the reformulation of sugary beverages, which analysts claim is often perceived as a proposed alternative to a tax. (...) Considerable concessions were made to industry prior do the tax’s adoption, leading to a reduced taxation rate from 20 percent to 10–11 percent. (page 163)

The government of South Africa was less successful when it attempted to introduce industry regulations. For instance, when it comes to advertising unhealthy products, especially toward children, to this day the government has not enacted any legislation. (...) Instead, and similar to what we saw in Mexico, industries have opted to engage in self-regulatory practices, such as through the 2009 South Africa Pledge on Marketing to Children, which was released by the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa.

In general, proactive civil societal activism and influence in the area of nutrition policy has been delayed for many years in South Africa. Nevertheless, more recently, NGOs, such as HEALA, have done a commendable job of raising awareness about industries’ ongoing violation of the government’s
marketing policies toward children. HEALA in general has also been vocal about the importance of front-of-package warning labels while, as mentioned earlier, being fully supportive of an SSB tax. (page 164).

Regulatory restrictions on industry do not provide additional government revenue in South Africa. It is instead an entirely public health matter. In a context where the national government does not seem fully committed to enforcing existing regulations, there is little additional economic incentive to focus on them by nutrition and health advocates. Consequently, efforts to introduce improved labeling and advertising restrictions continue to be delayed. (page 165)

Extracts Ultra-processed Food Environments: Aligning Policy Beliefs from the State, Market, and Civil Society p. 155 - 177

This chapter focuses on advancing our understanding of the role of policy beliefs and coalitions in ultra-processed food environments in low- and middle-income countries and presenting strategies to reduce the persistent state, market, and civil society organization (CSO) failures. This analysis aims to advance our understanding of the role of policy beliefs and coalitions in ultra-processed food environments, using Ghana as a case study.

In sub-Saharan Africa where increasing food prices and low incomes play a critical role in determining the food basket, the growing trend of increasing ultra-processed food consumption raises a fundamental concern related to food choices and the increasing prevalence of obesity, stunting, and wasting.

In Ghana, between 2007/08 and 2014/15, the prevalence of obesity and overweight increased by 47
percent and 25 percent, respectively, reaching rates of 15 percent and 24.5 percent, respectively. Diet-related diseases are also on the rise in Ghana. This increasing trend in obesity and overweight is associated with the consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Government efforts to regulate and civil society strategies to reduce access to affordable ultra-processed foods have been largely unsuccessful due to limited state capacity, lobbying, and cultural norms. (...) 

The ultra-processed food industry’s concerns over potential sales and profit losses from regulation lead to financial incentives and market and political actions against reducing ultra-processed foods in the food environment. (...) The global production network, access to international finance, and global intellectual property rights coupled with hyper-local distribution networks provide leverage and a power base for the ultra-processed food industry to pull strings whenever and wherever possible.(...) 

The market size of the ultra-processed food industry plays a significant role in economic development through employment, taxes, infrastructure, technical training, and foreign direct investments in developing economies. For example, policies to regulate or implement a soda tax could lead to revenue losses and counterthreats to governments. For governments aiming to maximize political self-interest for reelection, such policy options are likely not appealing. (page 173).

Due to differences in food prices, affordability, and accessibility, in high income countries, people with low incomes tend to consume more ultra-processed foods, whereas in middle- and low-income countries such as Ghana people with high incomes tend to consume more ultra-processed foods (page 174).

As most ultra-processed foods are imported, the products are considered as western-style convenience foods, which are associated with ideas of “foreign” and “modernity.” The growing middle-class demands ultra-processed foods to establish their social identity. (page 184).

The market coalition discourse highlights inadequate infrastructure for storage, transport, distribution, and processing as challenges affecting the availability of healthy food products. These challenges are attributed to the high cost of establishing the relevant infrastructure for healthy foods compared to that for ultra-processed foods. (page 185).

A respondent highlighted, “Frankly, it is quite difficult but, first, looking at the political will and interest, you will be surprised to know that powerful people are behind the importation of such foods in the country. So, if you have such powerful people who are behind these foods getting into the country, the question is how do you stop them from doing their business? … it is quite difficult” (page 186).

In Africa, there are only seven countries that have national food-based dietary guidelines. Ghana began the process of developing these guidelines in 2016 but has not yet made them public. (...) Some government agencies also hold the belief that their main responsibility is to ensure that “food is safe and thus the nutritional content is of less priority. (...) These beliefs limit the scope of their work and enforcement mechanisms—with implications on the increasing prevalence of ultra-processed foods. As the evidence suggests for the food environment in Ghana, without strong regulations in the free market, the market is left to supply and demand, and self-interests can potentially lead to serious market failures. (page 188).

The MEALS4NCDs project seeks to measure and support policy actions to create healthy food environments for children in Ghana. (page 192).

To make self-regulation effective and not self-serving, a set of basic standards that include: (page 191).
  • multi-stakeholder engagements (involving scientists, nongovernmental organizations, global governance, and industry) with no single party given disproportionate power;
  • setting relevant aims and targets with codes of acceptable behaviors;
  • and undertaking external and objective evaluations, including mandatory public reporting of adherence to regulations, such as on labeling, and oversight by a global regulatory or health authority.

Extracts Urban Food Systems Governance in Africa p. 288 - 305

This chapter focuses on African cities and problematizes emerging food system and urban system trends and actions in these cities. 

Ensuring that the urban food system guarantees the attainment of optimal developmental and health outcomes is therefore essential, both to ensure the youth dividend and for society at large. (...) The predominantly rural and production bias framing of food insecurity has meant that many African cities lack a holistic mandate over food systems governance.  (page 305)

The production orientation has created a rural bias in food security programming and policy. This bias has its origins in earlier framings of the role of cities in development, specifically the urban bias theory.
Under the urban bias framing, it was argued that urban consumers and industry were able to exert political pressure on government to ensure cheap food to the cities, at the expense of appropriate prices for rural farmers.(...) The resultant focus on rural areas and production has meant that both food
security research and policy responses in Africa have disregarded urban areas beyond being viewed as sites of consumption. The focus has instead been on rural household food insecurity or mechanisms to improve national food security through production (page 307)

In the African context, food governance has remained largely confined to the state and government. Many cities govern urban food markets, approve development plans for new food-oriented developments, like supermarkets, collect license fees and permits from market food vendors, regulate informal food traders, manage market infrastructure, and build and regulate local transportation infrastructure. (page 308-309)

City-led processes offer great promise, particularly when policies and actions can align to fiscal allocations to ensure effective programmatic resourcing. Activities led by external actors, often from global governance or development organizations offer prestige, may bring additional funding and can draw on lessons from other cities and engagements. Some of these externally driven processes also promote and advocate for food policy council approaches. Pluralistic multistakeholder approaches can offer different benefits, such as potentially increasing agency and enhancing the influence of non-state actors on the food system. (page 312)

There are at least five reasons why urban food governance processes that originated in the Global North may not be fully effective for transforming urban food systems in African cities(page 317)

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