As corporate ties tarnish United Nations Food Systems Summit, focus must remain on farmers
A battle for the future of our land, our food and our rights is underway.
From September 21 to 23, the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) will meet in New York to set the political agenda on food and agriculture for decades to come. Summit set to unveil so-called ‘game-changing’ solutions to supposedly ‘transform’ global food systems towards the goals of eradicating hunger, reducing poverty and tackling the climate crisis .
The irony is that the people involved in the Summit are the same transnational corporations (TNCs) and financial institutions whose neoliberal framework and profiteers plunged us into the food, biodiversity and climate crises we live in today.
This is evidenced by the UN’s strategic partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF) Billionaires Club and the appointment of Agnes Kalibata, head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa funded by Bill Gates and member of the WEF Global Agenda Council, as Special Envoy to the UN FSS. Even the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has a mandate to promote sustainable food and agriculture policies, has formalized a partnership with CropLife International, the global trade association representing the largest pesticide companies in the world. world. Many corporate-funded lobbies are rooted in the Summit’s avenues for action (such as the Gates Foundation’s Global Alliance to Improve Nutrition) and are expected to push for market-based, focused “solutions”. on technology and led by the private sector.
The choice to lead the process in a “multi-stakeholder approach” underscores the true nature of the Summit. The multiparty system not only includes big business, but puts them at the head of decision-making and stifles the voices of the few hand-picked NGOs that participate in it. Even representation in so-called “Independent Dialogues” leans overwhelmingly in favor of large corporations, with almost a third of participants coming from either corporations or international financial institutions.
Meanwhile, the problems encountered and the solutions proposed by small farmers, the majority of the world’s food producers, are being ignored. The UN FSS speaks of “transformation” without acknowledging how the neoliberal global food systems have failed the poor, hungry and marginalized rural populations of the Global South – those who put food on our tables but who themselves – even have little or nothing to eat.
About a billion people fall asleep hungry every night as peasants produce enough food to feed 1.5 times our global population. This is not a mere anomaly, but the result of decades of imperialist exploitation and oppression.
World Bank land market reforms have concentrated ownership and control of agricultural land in the hands of national elites and large multinational corporations. It is estimated that 1% of farms use at least 70% of the world’s agricultural land. These funnel food into corporate global supply chains built on neocolonial trade rules enshrined in the World Trade Organization and mega-trade agreements. What trade liberalization means for the agrarian countries of the countries of the South is the destruction of national food self-sufficiency (read: farmers cannot sell their own products due to the influx of imported food). This means the continued increase in export-oriented production that throws communities off their own lands and razes what remains of our forests.
Only four companies from the US, China and the EU own and control more than half of the global seed, fertilizer and agrochemicals markets. Since the Green Revolution, policies imposed on and by governments have made our farmers dependent on dangerous pesticides and genetically modified seeds promoted by these companies, while forcing the demise of traditional seeds and sustainable and biodiverse agriculture. The FSS lends the powers of the UN to these companies which have a long history of deception and embezzlement. They are able to rebrand them as “saviors” and “champions” of global food systems, with even pesticide companies such as BASF and Sumitomo calling themselves “the heroes of the food system”.
Corporate control over food systems is so extensive that even the seas are overexploited and exploited almost exclusively by wealthy nation states, which control 97% of operations both on the high seas and in global exclusive economic zones. Meanwhile, the global grain and crop trading oligopoly controls the food supply.
It is clear that current neoliberal food systems perpetuate and exacerbate world hunger, the yawning chasm of inequalities within and between nations, and the climate crisis we face today. It even caused global food prices to jump 39% in a single year amid a raging pandemic. This means that when they need it most, more people cannot afford nutritious food!
Global land grabs also continue to increase, and peasant killings and conflict-induced famines continue to increase. Farmers feed the world, but as they struggle to collectively defend their rights to land and natural resources, as they struggle to survive, they are hunted down by corporations and state authorities. In truth, they don’t need to be recognized as “heroes of food systems” in the same platform that their oppressors are also recognized. What they need from global governance is not such insulting rhetoric, but a clear break with long discredited frameworks, policies and solutions.
This is why the People’s World Summit on Fair, Equitable, Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems is co-organized in September by popular movements and CSOs as a counter-summit to the UN SSF. Various activities, dialogues and workshops have taken place since the beginning of this year. Thanks to the People’s Summit, we hope to further develop and broaden our demands to include a wide range of rights holders and peoples, in particular from the countries of the South. A popular plan of action to achieve just, equitable, healthy and sustainable food systems will be the main outcome of the People’s Summit.
The People’s Summit believes that farmers, not businesses, will truly transform global food systems. This transformation can only be sustained by four major interconnected pillars. First, peasants must have the right to land and resources. Second, there must be community-led agroecology or sustainability in food production, distribution and consumption. Third, peoples’ food sovereignty – or the power of individuals and communities to assert and realize the right to food and to produce food – must be at the heart of food and agriculture policies. Only then can people realize their right to adequate, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, or what we aspire to as “food for all”.
Learn more or participate in the People’s World Summit on Food Systems.
Ilang-Ilang Quijano is the Information and Communication Officer of PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), a regional advocacy network that is one of the organizers of the People’s World Summit on Food Systems.
This article was published in association with Progressive International.