Gerda Verburg: How to make Rome a food security hub

Gerda Verburg, ambassador of the Netherlands to the United Nations, is now the newly-elected chair of the Committee on World Food Security. Photo by: Roel Wijnants / CC BY-NC

Gerda Verburg took off her colorful, wide-brimmed hat and nodded her appreciation.

The ambassador of the Netherlands to the United Nations had just been elected chair of the Committee on World Food Security and she was quick to pay tribute to her predecessor, Yaia Olaniran.

Friday’s election marks the start of a two-year term for Verburg and allows us to envisage a rather unconventional leadership of the CFS.

Having grown up on a dairy farm and eventually becoming a minister of agriculture, nature and food quality, in 2006, Verburg ran the Drenthe marathon in a very respectable three hours 15.52 minutes, as stressed in her biography.

This stamina will likely stand her in good stead, not only for the ”Hunger Run” in Rome on Sunday, but also as she seeks to orchestrate the different voices of CFS, which very often represent divergent interests and visions.

Another challenge ahead of her is to improve the capacity of the CFS to deliver at the local level, making it not only a place for negotiations but also a platform to showcase results, analyze the performance of particular strategies and bring potential partners together.

Immediately after the election, she shared with Devex her ambitious vision for a future CFS that is able to link global and local, to play an active role in the post-2105 debate and to make Rome “the” hub for food security and nutrition.

Here are some excerpts from our exclusive interview:

In your speech you said Rome should become a hub for food and agriculture. How will you strengthen the role of CFS?

We have four ways to do this.

The first one is to focus. CFS is taking on board too many issues and we are overloading ourselves. Because we are overloaded, we cannot deliver the best we should do.

The second is that, once we have an agreement or an instrument — like the voluntary guidelines on land tenure and next year the [principles] on responsible agriculture investments — then we should do outreach, because a report is a report. The important thing is to make that report and the recommendations applicable for countries, organizations and people at grass-roots level to really make it happen. Application for implementation — only then can we make the difference.

The third is … to make CFS more of a platform, not only [a place] for negotiating and coming with concrete products and instruments. By bringing together potential partners in the field of food and agriculture, [we can] start a dialogue here on sensitive issues and showcase successes. Many people [want] to learn from where and how there were successes, because we are making progress in decreasing the number of hungry people — but we have another 842 million people to go.

The fourth and final way is good cooperation and collaboration with all the three Rome-based agencies and the high-level task force on food security.

During the civil society meeting just before the CFS, concern was voiced about “the attempt of certain governments to reduce the work of the CFS, as this undermines its role as a global governance platform.” Will you suggest a more narrow range of issues?

No. It is even possible to take more diverse issues on board, if we develop the dialogue through the platforms … It is more a question of organization.

What are the constraints in the implementation of CFS decisions ?

I don’t see many constraints. The only thing is that we should do more on outreach.

Could this impact on how programs and projects are designed and how development actors work on the ground?

Exactly. It is necessary to have much more interaction with the people who are doing work at grass-roots level or in practice.

The CFS endorsed recommendations on small-holder agriculture investment, but these are not binding for governments.

That’s true. Why? We should convince. It’s much better [that way] … Let’s implement and if it works well, try to showcase. Meanwhile, you can work on [binding] legislation, building institutions, capacity, etc.

There is the impression that when rules are binding they will be enacted, but in fact this doesn’t always necessarily happen, does it?

No. I can imagine people think in this way, but my experience is that it is better to convince … than impose … Let [people] experience that is better to implement these recommendations.

How will you strengthen the collaboration with the Rome-based agencies?

The collaboration and coordination until now is good, but it is like all things in life — it can be improved.

How?

Wait and see. This is my first day. I have just been elected …

But you have clear ideas on priorities?

Yes. I have something in mind … We’ll have to take the decision together, of course, but together we can make Rome “the” global hub for food and agriculture.

I know that heads of the Rome-based agencies have the same thing in mind. Then we have to make our impact and outreach, let’s say, to the New York process and the 2015-agenda, but also toward the national governments.

Will the CFS play a leading role on food security and agriculture in the post-2015 agenda process?

I think we should, but we have to prove that we can.

And how will you do that?

I have my experience. I have been minister of agriculture, food and nature, I am motivated, I have a lot of energy, I am creative. Some people think I am a tough negotiator, but I have a transparent style of leadership — and I have humor.

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.