from Humans Are Free:
A battle for the future of food is already underway. There’s still time to change the outcome.
Later this year, the United Nations is set to hold a historic Food Systems Summit, recognizing the need for urgent action to disrupt business-as-usual practices in the food system.
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But far from serving as a meaningful avenue for much-needed change, the summit is shaping up to facilitate increased corporate capture of the food system. So much so, that peasant and indigenous-led organizations and civil society groups are organizing an independent counter-summit in order to have their voices heard.
At the heart of the opposition is the fact that the conference has been co-opted by corporate interests who are pushing towards a highly industrialized style of agriculture promoted by supporters of the Green Revolution, an approach that is meant to eradicate hunger by increasing production through hybrid seeds and other agrochemical inputs. It has been widely discredited for failing to achieve its goals and damaging the environment.
The Summit’s concept paper perpetuates the same Green Revolution narrative — it is dominated by topics like AI-controlled farming systems, gene editing, and other high-tech solutions geared towards large-scale agriculture, as well as finance and market mechanisms to address food insecurity, with methods like agroecology notably absent or minimally discussed.
A Crisis Of Participation
But the problem is not only the subject matter that the conference has put on the agenda. It’s also the remarkably undemocratic way of choosing who gets to participate, and in what ways. The agenda was set behind closed doors at Davos, the World Economic Forum’s exclusive conference. As Sofia Monsalve, Secretary General of FIAN International puts it, “They have cherry picked representatives of civil society. We don’t know why, or which procedure they used.”
“The multi-stakeholder model of governance is problematic because it sounds very inclusive,” Monsalve continues. “But in fact we are worried about the concealing of power asymmetries, without having a clear rule in terms of accountability. What is the rule here — who decides? And if you don’t decide according to a rule, where can we go to claim you are doing wrong?”
The conference organizers have claimed that they have given peasant-led and civil society groups ample opportunity to participate in the conference, but this is a facade. The UN’s definition of ‘participation’ differs significantly from that of the hundreds of civil society groups that have spoken out against the Summit.
The Summit claims that allowing groups to attend virtual sessions and give suggestions amounts to participation. But true participation means being consulted about crucial agenda items that have a massive impact on the communities they represent. This was not done.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to shape the agenda,” Monsalve explains.
“The agenda was set. Full stop. And therefore we are asking ‘why is it that we are not discussing how to dismantle corporate power? This is a very urgent issue on the ground for the people. How is it that we are not discussing about COVID and the food crisis related to COVID?’”
Organizations like the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), which represents 148 grassroots groups from 28 countries, feel similarly.
“It’s just like having a table set,” explains Sylvia Mallari, Global Co-Chairperson of PCFS.
“So you have a dinner table set, then the questions would be who set the table, who is invited to the table, who sits beside whom during dinner? And what is the menu? For whom and for what is the food summit? And right now, the way it has been, the agenda they’ve set leaves out crucial peoples and even their own UN nation agencies being left behind.”
Elizabeth Mpofu of La Vía Campesina, the largest peasant-led organization representing over 2 million people worldwide, explains how “The United Nation food systems summit, from the beginning, was really not inclusive of the peasants’ voices. And if they’re going to talk about the food systems, on behalf of whom? Because the people who are on the ground, who are really working on producing the food should be involved in the planning. Before they even organized this summit, they should have made some consultations and this was not done.”
The concerns are not only coming from outside the UN. Two former UN Special Rapporteurs to the Right to Food — Olivier De Schutter and Hilal Elver — as well as Michael Fakhri, who currently holds the position, wrote a statement to the summit organizers early on in the process.
“Having all served as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food,” they write, “we have witnessed first-hand the importance of improving accountability and democracy in food systems, and the value of people’s local and traditional knowledge.