Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Albrecht Daniel Thaer-Institut für Agrar- und Gartenbauwissenschaften

Tropentag 2023

Tropentag 2023 successfully hosted by the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) By Caroline Hambloch, Aditya Korekallu Srinivasa, Dagmar Mithöfer

Tropentag 2023 successfully hosted by the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)

By Caroline Hambloch, Aditya Korekallu Srinivasa, Dagmar Mithöfer


From 20 to 22 September 2023, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) successfully hosted the Tropentag, an annual interdisciplinary conference on research in tropical and subtropical agriculture, natural resource management and rural development.

Against the backdrop of various economic, environmental, political and social crises, such as the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 and climate change, this year's conference addressed the hotly debated issue of food systems transformation in the Global South. Specifically, the theme of the conference was "Competing pathways for equitable food systems transformation: trade-offs and synergies". The conference was opened by Cem Özdemir, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, who encouraged junior researchers in their ability to shape the future; Julia von Blumenthal, President of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, who highlighted the importance of integrating  research and teaching for societal progress; and Frank A. Ewert, Scientific Director of ZALF, who focused on science-driven progress, science-based innovations, and the sharing of research infrastructure to provide decision-makers with the necessary knowledge.

The conference theme was addressed by distinguished keynote speakers from a variety of academic disciplines and organizations. Johan Swinnen, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) (USA) and CGIAR Systems Transformation, addressed some political economy considerations important to food systems transformation. He called for assessing the tradeoffs associated with competing pathways by evaluating stakeholders’ different interests or values; and argued that non-traditional coalitions based on these values may have the political influence needed for change equitable food system transformation. Jody Harris of the World Vegetable Center (Taiwan) emphasized the importance of analyzing equity and justice in addressing the global problem of malnutrition. Catherine Nakalembe, University of Maryland (USA), focused on the competing trajectories of productivity versus negative externalities and issues of data ownership. Ian Scoones, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (UK), discussed competing narratives for livestock development and policy, urging (young) scholars to challenge dominant narratives and explore new, contextualized narratives around, for example, pastoral mobility and the importance of land and environment, to allow for the emergence of alternative pathways. Saweda Liverpool-Tasie of Michigan State University (USA) emphasized that development actors should build on existing local innovations by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, rather than imposing external ones. Finally, Bridget Mugambe of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (Uganda) encouraged participants to think about food sovereignty and agroecology as alternative ways to transform food systems.

Special Panel Sessions discussed “Advancing a demand-driven research portfolio to improve water, land and food systems in the Global South” (organized by CGIAR/System Transformation Action Area), “Research cooperation for sustainable development” (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the German Aerospace Center), “Payments for Ecosystem Services: Win-win solutions?” (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development/Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) as well as “Leveraging human rights-based action towards equitable food systems” (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development/German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food). The oral and poster sessions actively and creatively engaged with the theme of food systems transformation pathways. For example, contributions discussed the importance of agroecology, agroforestry and agrobiodiversity in creating food-secure and climate-resilient food system transformation pathways. Others argued that it is often the poor who are disproportionately affected by higher vulnerability to economic and environmental shocks. Thus, it was argued that it is essential to analyze and address intersectional inequalities and dynamics within and outside farming households, related to gender, age, caste, ethnicity, etc., that critically determine land tenure arrangements, access to and control over resources, and the distribution of benefits from market participation.

Overall, this year's Tropentag was characterized by vibrant discussions among senior and junior researchers from different research and international development organizations around the world, eagerly discussing pressing issues of inclusive and equitable rural development.