Conscious Food Systems Alliance at COP27

During COP27, as part of a global event organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Katie Palmer, Programme Manager at Food Sense Wales, joined a panel of experts to discuss ‘Food for Climate: Activating Transformation from the Inside Out.

Katie was involved in the creation of the Conscious Food Systems Alliance (CoFSA) a movement of food, agriculture, and consciousness practitioners, convened by UNDP and united around a common goal: to support people from across food and agriculture systems to cultivate the inner capacities that activate systemic change and regeneration.  CoFSA approaches food systems transformation by working with all relevant stakeholder groups across food systems, including consumers, companies, governments, development agencies, academia, global and local NGOs, local communities, and farmers and food producers.  CoFSA believes that in order to transform food systems, we must work not only on policy, research and project implementation, but also on the inner drivers of individual, collective and institutional behaviours. We must reconnect with ourselves, each other and nature to activate the transformative qualities and skills needed to support the transition to regenerative food systems.

In November 2022, Katie was elected a member of CoFSA’S Inner Council, a group chaired by Andrew Bovarnick, UNDP Global Head, Food and Agricultural Commodity Systems, that will define and steer the implementation of CoFSA strategy as well as being responsible for decision-making on key aspects of the Alliance.  Katie is one of only 12 food systems practitioners from across the globe sitting on the on the Inner Council and her presence will help influence positive transformational change within both a Wales and a global context.  She also contributed to the development of the CoFSA Manifesto.

During her presentation at COP27, Katie shared her reflections with colleagues across the world on being part of this global community of practice, and how an initial reluctance developed into her embracing a new approach.  You can read more here:

I am a food system practitioner but certainly not an expert in consciousness approaches, so my journey with CoFSA has been enlightening and enriching. But before I tell you about that I want to set the context a little by telling you a bit about Wales.

Wales is a small and beautiful country with a big heart and its own language. I’d like to share 2 welsh words with you which I associate with our inner capacities:

Hiraeth – this doesn’t have a direct translation but is means – a nostalgic longing for a place. Another word that doesn’t have a direct translation is Cwtsh – it basically means “a cuddle or hug” but it actually if you give someone a cwtsh, you’re figuratively giving them a ‘safe place’. Mindfulness can create a safe place.

Back to Wales – we are part of the UK but have our own parliament – called the Senedd – and have a number of devolved powers, for example Agriculture, Education, the NHS. Maybe of most relevance today is a world first piece of legislation called the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. This sustainable development legislation places a duty on all public bodies to take consideration of future generations in all decision making. The Commissioner, Sophie Howe, has been present at COP this week.

 The Act operates across 7 wellbeing goals and lays out the five ways of working that public bodies should adopt to support better decision making. These five ways of working are relevant to the CoFSA approach; taking account of the long term, collaboration, integration, prevention, and involving people of all ages and diversity.

This leads me on to how my CoFSA journey began. One of the foundations of our work to help build a resilient Food system is by building a network of local food partnerships.

These partnerships work across the system at a local level, involving partners from all corners of the food system, to build a vision and plan for a healthy and sustainable food in their area. There are 22 Local authority areas in Wales and we have a vision to see a partnership in each of these areas.

Last year during a meeting where I was discussing this with colleagues in Welsh Government I was introduced to the Sustainable Development Change Manager. After this meeting she suggested that I may be a good candidate to contribute to the Breathing Room.  I am going to admit now that I was sceptical! What was this breathing room about? I found it difficult to comprehend but when deciding whether to commit my time I ended up going with my gut and before I knew it I was conducting mindfulness practice online!  And now you will be pleased to hear I do understand.

The Breathing Room process and contributing to the group on developing the Manifesto in particular really helped me to crystalise the importance on conscious approaches and helped me to realise that the approaches and values that we were already adopting reflect the CoFSA approach especially the importance of building relationships back into the food system.

Fast forward 12 months and funding has been made available by Welsh Government to develop a network of food partnerships.

I have brought mindfulness approaches into our team too. We spent three afternoons together with Vishvapani Blomfield – Director of Mindfullness in Action – to build our understanding of the application of mindfulness to our work and lives. We have introduced some small things which make a big difference, such as Tuesday morning connections – where we meet as a team with no agenda – just to create a space to offload, celebrate or to seek mutual support. We are having our monthly team meeting in our local Buddhist centre where we incorporate some mindfulness practice with a resident practitioner. This approach is bringing us closer together as a team and increased confidence and trust between staff members.

More widely, as a result of my CoFSA journey, I am working with Welsh Government’s Sustainable Development Change Manager around developing a community of practice to support the growing food partnerships network in Wales.

Part of the offer will be training to build inner capacities linked to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act’s ways of working and using these techniques with colleagues in Welsh Government to approach areas of conflict and try and seek resolution.  In fact, we recently had our first meeting and as partnerships develop across Wales we hope our Community of local food system practitioners will expand and develop. In term these practitioners can help expand the network of those working in the food system

Those of us working to make the food system better are being constantly exposed to the devastation that poverty, climate change and nature loss are causing. It is difficult to escape and remain in a positive headspace and to keep pushing for solutions. This is just one reason why CoFSA is so important – to help practitioners navigate these challenges and remain in a positive problem solving space.

To finish – I am grateful for the connections I have made through Welsh Government and out to CoFSA. I treasure the experience so far and hope that I have reciprocated with my experience as an initially slightly sceptical food systems practitioner to the group in return. I am looking forward to the next steps of the journey.

About Katie Palmer

Katie Palmer is Programme Manager for Food Sense Wales.  Katie has an MSc in Nutrition from Kings College London and in Food Policy from City University. She has worked in the world of food for over 20 years with experience in both the private sector, and third and public sector (including six years on Food Standards Agency’s Welsh Food Advisory Committee).  Katie is a founding member of the Veg Power Board as well as being one of the founding members of Food Policy Alliance Cymru.  She also sits on the WLGA’s School Holiday Enrichment Programme Advisory Group and was one of the team of four who created the multi award winning Food and Fun programme in Cardiff in 2015.