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On Earth Day, we reflect on developing and preserving a liveable future. The theme this year is Invest in our planet. And that's why we are putting Rikolto in the spotlight. This organisation is dedicated to promoting sustainable agricultural practices and developing resilient food systems that are good both for the planet and the people who depend on it. From a large-scale educational programme for coffee farmers in eastern Congo to pilot projects on healthy and sustainable food in Leuven primary schools - Rikolto does not limit itself to our national borders. "A food system is only as strong as the support it has."

The Overseas Social Security spoke to Jelle Goossens, communications officer at Rikolto, about how, as an organisation, they are investing in the planet.

Rikolto is an organisation employing around 200 people worldwide, including 25 in Belgium. The organisation believes that good food is a basic right and works towards sustainable partnerships with local farmers and inclusive markets in Africa, Latin America and Asia. By helping local farmers improve their farming techniques, enter certain markets and negotiate with companies, the organisation can contribute to sustainable development and the realisation of equitable food systems.

A food system is only as strong as the support it has.

From dialogue to Nobel Prize

Rikolto, formerly known as Vredeseilanden, Fado and Coopibo, is an organisation dedicated to sustainable agricultural development. In the 1960s, Father Pire laid the foundation stone of what would later become Rikolto. "Father Pire worked with refugees during and after World War II and sought a structural solution to integrate them." Starting from a pluralistic perspective, he set out to bring together as many people as possible. "His goal was to create a world community of peace by engaging in dialogue on major issues." He was awarded the 1958 Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Before the merger, Rikolto's projects focused on general development. Over the years, however, the organisation was forced to specialise in agricultural development. This means that Rikolto has gained knowledge not only on farming techniques, but also on how local farmers can enter certain markets and negotiate with companies. "Following the principle of knowledge sharing, these farmers can then provide for themselves."

Structural development

Dominique Pire set up the first projects in Bangladesh, emphasising the principle of self-help. "That principle is still relevant today. By providing farmers with tools to improve their productivity and increase their involvement within the whole food system, we ensure that the food system itself becomes healthier. It’s then really about structural development." To achieve its goal, Rikolto consistently works to improve inter-relationships between different actors within the food sector. These stakeholders are consumers, the food industry, supermarkets, governments, etc. "This is why the value of dialogue within the food system is so important. If we can convince the various partners of the economic benefit, then we can develop further strategies to make the whole system behind our food better, not only for farmers and consumers, but also for the planet."

Inside and outside Belgium

Good food is a basic right, which is why we focus on sustainable partnerships with local farmers and inclusive markets."

The focus of the various projects at home and abroad is on cocoa, coffee, rice and sustainable urban food systems. These global programmes aim to make sustainable agriculture the new norm. The NGO is also making its presence felt within Belgium. For instance, they are trying to optimise social food systems, such as addressing the problem of 'empty lunch boxes' in schools. "Since 2017, we’ve been supporting schools to set up their own nutrition policies. By means of pilot projects, we are carrying out investigations in very different schools to see how to make healthy and sustainable food accessible to all students." For this, Rikolto worked with the city councils in Leuven, Antwerp and Ghent, with the schools, caterers, etc. "A food system is only as strong as the support it has."

The focus on making urban food systems more sustainable, does not come out of the blue. By 2050, about 70% of the world's population will live near cities. This increases the pressure on food production. "By working towards inclusive markets with shared responsibilities, talking to farmers, businesses and governments, we as a society can respond to challenges posed by the growing global population. Because eating well is a basic right."

Social security

Rikolto employs around 200 people worldwide, including 25 in Belgium. The organisation believes in sustainable cooperation not only with actors within the food sector, but also with its own employees. By taking up the OSS's offer, they guarantee social protection for their employees outside Europe. The organisation has therefore been affiliated with Overseas Social Security for more than a decade. "OSS's social security package gives us certainty about pension accrual, reimbursement of medical expenses and also ensures that we as employers are properly insured against industrial accidents. It’s reassuring for us to have clarity on that when we employ colleagues in different countries outside Europe."

Inspired after reading this article? Support Rikolto and contribute to a healthier planet and a better future for all.

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