A focus on the ‘missing middle’ heralds the start of a new year for the food systems teaching programme.
With diverse backgrounds and a common interest in the food system, more than 150 participants from around the world attended the online launch of the IFSTAL teaching programme 2021/22 on 14 October 2021.
What is the ‘missing middle’?The activities that take place between farm and consumer are extremely influential and bring in the highest revenues in the food system. Despite this, a focus on the activities between farm and consumer is often missing from food systems discussions
The webinar – Engaging the missing middle in food system dialogues – shed light on the importance of focusing on the activities between farm and consumer, as this is often the ‘missing middle’ in food systems discussions. Four eminent speakers shared their views on how to understand and engage with this vital part of the food system.
Dr John Ingram, IFSTAL Programme Leader, welcomed participants from around the world, before introducing the four speakers.
First up was Professor Guy Poppy, Director, Transforming UK Food Systems who encouraged participants to balance better work on production and consumption with more about the missing middle, which employs most people, makes the most money in the food system and influences what is produced or consumed.
Professor Suneetha Kadiyala, Professor of Global Nutrition, LSHTM University of London focused on markets for nutrition with a spotlight on developing countries around the world, particularly India. She called for a greater focus on equity, environmental vulnerabilities, minimising consumption of unhealthy foods, and citizen-driven interventions.
Influencing future practice
Alan Hayes, Strategic Adviser on Sustainability, and formerly with IGD, provided an example from the dairy sector to illustrate the importance of the ‘missing middle’ from the farm gate to retail. He showed the importance of economic forces in the dairy sector, asked how policy and regulatory forces can influence future practice, and how the environmental challenges can play out. He questioned how the actors in the ‘missing middle’ can innovate in the future to bring about change throughout the food system.
Fiona Steel, Manager, Good Food Oxfordshire presented a case for understanding the ‘missing middle’ by looking at local food systems; she also talked about her work in Oxfordshire. She focused on sustainable supply chains and called for better baseline knowledge about local production and resource flows; putting in place sustainable procurement policies; and effective connections between producers and buyers and infrastructure to enable this to take place.
Closing the webinar, IFSTAL Academic Lead Professor Rosemary Collier of the University of Warwick chaired a Q&A session before encouraging students at participating institutions to sign up for IFSTAL Year 7.
In a closed session for the new cohort of students, Malaika Oyortey, Project Coordinator, Too Good to Go, shared her experiences of participating in the IFSTAL programme in 2020/21 and encouraged students to be active participants in the year ahead.