Social movements and scientists question the agenda of the UN Food Systems Summit – Food Tank


the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) will take place in New York on September 23. Corn over 300 civil society organizations and indigenous groups are boycotting the event due to concerns about exclusion from the agenda-setting process.

The United Nations Secretary-General announced the convening of the UNFSS on World Food Day 2019 to bring about meaningful change in the food system and achieve the goal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Since its inception, the Summit has promised to engage stakeholders from across the food system, including farmers and fishers, governments, businesses and civil society.

But as planning for the UNFSS progressed, food systems leaders began to question the influence of the private sector in its organization. Dr Olivier De Schutter and Olivia Yambi, co-presidents of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), criticized the “opaque process leading to the Food Systems Summit”. The Summit, they write, grew out of “closed-door negotiations between the UN and the World Economic Forum (WEF)”, with leadership roles going “to proponents of high-tech and high cost”.

Civil society organizations are also concerned that the technological solutions proposed by the UNFSS could threaten the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, peasants and indigenous peoples, because they have not been consulted meaningfully in these processes.

the ETC Group finds that 70% of the world’s population is fed by a diverse network of small producers and peasants, and that this group uses less than 25% of the resources needed for agricultural production. In contrast, the industrial food chain only feeds 30% of the world, while using more than 75% of the resources.

“Farmers’ traditional knowledge of food systems and methods such as agroecology, is one of the most valuable resources we have,” Thea Walmsley, communications manager at A growing culture (AGC), says Food Tank. As a farmers’ rights organization, the AGC supports and amplifies civil society groups in their efforts to counter the summit.

Despite sharing these concerns, some groups still participate in the UNFSS, hoping to influence its outcome. For example, the young activists of the initiative Act4Food Act4Change work to give youth a voice at UNFSS.

Act4Food Youth Leaders Act4Change will present a set of demands to UNFSS co-signed by more than 100,000 young people around the world, urging leaders to prioritize individual, community and planetary health in the food system.

“As young people, we are powerful, we can act”, Lana Weidgenant, young leader of Act4Food Act4Change, says Food Tank. “But we need the support of decision-makers in, for example, governance and business.”

But some civil society groups feel the intervention is no longer enough and are pulling out altogether. IPES-Food withdrew his involvement, and the international peasant movement, The Via Campesina (LVC), recently announcement that they are also boycotting the summit.

The Landworkers Alliance (LWA), a member of LVC, withdraws because the UNFSS puts profit before human rights. “The multiparty process fails to center those who would be most affected by the policies,” Dee Woods, food justice policy coordinator at LWA, told Food Tank.

Woods believes the hard-fought “democratic and inclusive processes within the UN” are being ignored in setting the agenda. This includes the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism (CSM), which brought greater representation of small producers to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS), giving rise to discussions on food sovereignty and agroecology in debates on food systems.

Civil society organizations “were invited to ‘participate’ in the Summit, but only in a superficial sense, ie to be able to participate in the sessions or ‘contribute’”, explains Walmsley.

In response to the lack of democratic decision-making at the Summit and the erasure of peasant rights in the talks, several counter-mobilizations to the UNFSS are springing up around the world.

In June, the LWA organized its own People’s Food Summit for organizations and individuals in the UK food justice movement. They are also planning a popular three-day in-person Food Summit for 2022.

And the People’s World Summit on Food Systems, organized by the Popular Coalition for Food Sovereignty (PCFS), will bring together rural populations, peasant organizations and civil society groups. This Southern-led counter-summit plans to develop a grassroots action plan to transform the food system.

Walmsley hopes these counter-mobilizations will “raise awareness of the lack of equity that exists in conversations about the future of food systems.”

“We want to build a movement that models change for an agroecological future based on diversity, reciprocity, human rights, justice and equity,” Woods told Food Tank, “a movement in solidarity with d ‘other struggles and peoples around the world’.

Photo courtesy of Aboodi Vesakaran, Unsplash.


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