28.02.2022 |

Climate change is a “mounting threat” to ecosystems and humans, IPCC

Droughts will become more frequent (Photo: CC0)

Human-induced climate change is causing widespread disruption in nature and threatening the wellbeing of billions of people around the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned. “The rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt,” according to the report published on February 28 by the panel’s Working Group II. The scientists estimate that 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts and areas that “are highly vulnerable to climate change”. People and ecosystems least able to cope will be hit hardest. Livelihoods have already “been affected through changes in agricultural productivity, impacts on human health and food security,” the authors write. “The report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our well-being and a healthy planet,” IPCC chair Hoesung Lee said during the press conference. “It also shows that our actions today will shape how people adapt to climate change and how nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

The Working Group II report is the second instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) and considers over 34,000 cited references. The 3,675 pages were prepared by 270 authors from 67 countries supported by a large number of review and contributing authors. Working Group I had already published a first instalment about the physical science basis of climate change in August 2021. The new report examines the impacts of climate change on nature and people around the globe, reviews vulnerabilities and the capacities and limits of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change. Its Summary for Policymakers (SMP) was approved on February 27th by 195 member governments of the IPCC in a virtual session that was held over the previous two weeks.

The first section deals with observed and projected impacts and risks. “Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people,” is the first headline statement. The IPCC warns in a press release that “increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously and have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic.” Moreover, economic damages from climate change negatively affect sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fishery, energy, and tourism. People are faced with decreasing yields, hunger, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the loss of property and income, “with adverse effects on gender and social equity”. The vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions but in general, the most vulnerable are disproportionately affected, says the report. “Vulnerability is higher in locations with poverty, governance challenges and limited access to basic services and resources, violent conflict and high levels of climate-sensitive livelihoods (e.g., smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fishing communities).” The authors project that the future of ecosystems will strongly depend on human influence, such as unsustainable consumption and production, increasing demographic pressures, as well as persistent unsustainable use and management of land, ocean, and water. “While agricultural development contributes to food security, unsustainable agricultural expansion, driven in part by unbalanced diets, increases ecosystem and human vulnerability and leads to competition for land and/or water resources.”

The report differentiates between risks in the near term (2021-2040) and mid to long-term risks (2041–2100). There is high confidence that “global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans.” Beyond 2040 and depending on the level of global warming, climate change will lead to numerous risks to natural and human systems: “Climate change will increasingly put pressure on food production and access, especially in vulnerable regions, undermining food security and nutrition.” Droughts, floods and heatwaves will become more frequent, intense and severe and continued sea level rise will increase risks to food security in vulnerable regions from moderate to high between 1.5°C and 2°C global warming level. “At 2°C or higher global warming level in the mid-term, food security risks due to climate change will be more severe, leading to malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies, concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Central and South America and Small Islands,” the authors warn.

The second section deals with adaptation. The authors observe progress in current planning and implementation of adaptation measures but “adaptation progress is unevenly distributed”. They note a certain short-sightedness because “many initiatives prioritize immediate and near- term climate risk reduction which reduces the opportunity for transformational adaptation.” The good news is that there are feasible and effective adaptation options which can reduce risks to people and nature. With respect to agriculture and food security, the scientist say that “effective adaptation options, together with supportive public policies enhance food availability and stability and reduce climate risk for food systems while increasing their sustainability.” According to the report, effective options include “agroforestry, community-based adaptation, farm and landscape diversification, and urban agriculture”. There is high confidence that “agroecological principles and practices, ecosystem-based management in fisheries and aquaculture, and other approaches that work with natural processes support food security, nutrition, health and well-being, livelihoods and biodiversity, sustainability and ecosystem services”, the authors write. These services include pest control, pollination, buffering of temperature extremes, and carbon sequestration and storage. “Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”

The IPCC underlines that integrated, multi-sectoral solutions that address social inequities and differentiate responses based on climate risk and local situation will enhance food security and nutrition. Finally, the authors point out that “adaptation strategies which reduce food loss and waste or support balanced diets (as described in the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land) contribute to nutrition, health, biodiversity and other environmental benefits.” Pörtner added: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.” (ab)

22.02.2022 |

Global organic market grew considerably in 2020

Organic products at the market (Photo: CC0)

Organic farmland and retail sales both continued to show strong growth worldwide, according to a new report published by FiBL and IFOAM – Organics International. Almost 75 million hectares were farmed organically at the end of 2020, representing a growth of 4.1% or 3 million hectares compared to the previous year. These are the latest figures of the 23rd edition of “The World of Organic Agriculture”, presented on February 15th at this year’s digital edition of BIOFACH, the world’s leading trade fair for organic food. The report collects data on 190 countries with organic farming activities. Australia has the largest area farmed organically with 35.7 million hectares, but it is estimated that 97% of the farmland there is extensive grazing areas. Argentina is second when it comes to organic agricultural land (4.5 million hectares), followed by Uruguay (2.7 million hectares), India (2.6 million hectares) and France (2.5 million hectares). Due to the large area of organic farmland in Australia, half of the global organic area lies in Oceania (35.9 million hectares). Europe had the second largest area (17.1 million hectares), followed by Latin America (9.9 million hectares).

Currently, only 1.6% of the world’s agricultural land is farmed organically, but many countries have far higher shares. In 18 countries, 10% or more of all agricultural land was under organic management in 2020, up from 16 countries in 2019. The top five countries with the largest share of organic land were Liechtenstein (41.6%), Austria (26.5%), Estonia (22.4%), Sao Tome and Principe (20.7%) and Sweden (20.4%). However, 54% of the countries for which data is available had less than 1% of their agricultural land under organic management. According to the report, there were 3.4 million organic farmers worldwide and their number increased by 7.6% compared to the previous year. However, the authors point out that calculating precise figures is difficult here because some countries only report the number of companies, projects or growers groups which may each comprise many individual producers, hence the total number might even be higher. More than half of the world’s organic producers (53.7%) live in Asia, while Africa is home to 24.7% and Europe to 12.4% of organic producers. The country with the highest absolute numbers is India with 1.59 million farmers, followed by Ethiopia (219,566) and Tanzania (148,607 farmers).

Consumer demand for organic products across the globe showed its highest growth ever in 2020. Global retail sales of organic food and drink exceeded 120 billion euros in 2020 and experienced a total increase of 14 billion euros from the previous year. The publishers of the yearbook explain that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in demand for organic products in many countries, but there were also challenges: “The effects of the pandemic are visible in retail sales data. As people stayed home and began to cook more often and health, environment and climate change have become big issues, organic retail sales increased rapidly. However, at the same time, in the food service sales decreased in many countries”, says Helga Willer, who is in charge of the yearbook at FiBL. In 2020, the United States was the leading market (49.5 billion euros), followed by Germany (15bn euros) and France (12.7bn euros). Many markets showed extraordinarily strong growth rates. The Canadian market grew by 26.1%, while market growth in China and Germany was at 23% and 22.3% respectively. Looking at the shares the organic market has of the total market, the leader is Denmark with 13%, followed by Austria with an organic market share of 11.3% and Switzerland with 10.8%. Swiss consumers spent the most on organic food with 418 euros, followed by per capita consumer spending in Denmark (384 euros), Luxembourg (285 euros) and in Austria (254 euros).

The report not only includes facts and figures but also an evaluation of the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) that took place in autumn 2021. Three authors from IFOAM International looked specifically at the role agroecology and organic agriculture played at the UNFSS, an event that from the outset earned heavy criticism from various movements that questioned its inclusivity. Unlike hundreds of other organisations that withdrew from the process due to the corporate capture of the summit, IFOAM decided “to engage in the process with a critical eye, consistently promoting agroecology and organic farming in all the different elements of the process,” the authors write. Their conclusion is that agroecology did not get sidelined in the UNFSS process because “the agroecology narrative could clearly be captured in various papers” produced by the so-called action tracks and “agroecology and organic agriculture were also named by numerous state representatives who expressed their commitment to agroecological transition.” However, “the most tangible result of the efforts to mainstream agroecology in the UNFSS was probably the creation of a ‘Coalition for the Transformation of Food Systems Through Agroecology and Regenerative Agriculture’, with a mandate to ensure that agroecology and organic agriculture are seen as progressive and pioneering within the UNFSS and in any subsequent process.” The authors conclude that “there are growing opportunities for the organic movements worldwide to get engaged in transformational decision-making processes aiming to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the years to come.” (ab)

09.02.2022 |

The 70% battle: Small farms still feed the world, open letter

Small farms feed the world (Photo: CC0)

The long-standing debate about which farms feed the world has gained new momentum as eight civil society organisations are criticizing the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for supporting a report that downplays the contribution of small-scale food producers to the global food supply. Over the past couple of years, the figure calculated by civil society organisations (CSO) and researchers that around 70% of the world is fed by small-scale farmers and other peasants, was frequently quoted and confirmed by new studies. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) estimated that small producers even provide 80% of food in large parts of the developing world. However, two recent papers claim that small farms only feed about one third of the world’s population and one of them is authored by the FAO. Eight organisations with long experience working on food and farming issues, including ETC Group and GRAIN, have now written to FAO Director General QU Dongyu, sharply criticizing the UN food agency for spreading confusing data. The open letter calls upon FAO to examine its methodology, clarify itself and to reaffirm that peasants (including small farmers, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, and urban producers) not only provide more food with fewer resources but are the primary source of nourishment for at least 70% of the world population.

The open letter, as well as a background paper published by ETC Group, refer to two problematic studies: First, a 2018 publication by data scientist Vincent Ricciardi and his colleagues from the University of British Columbia (Ricciardi et al.) that uses a data model built on formal crop production data and estimated the contribution of smallholders to be closer to only 30% of food supply. Second, a study published in 2021 as FAO research in the journal “World Development” authored by Sarah K Lowder et al. which concludes that small farms only produce 35% of the world’s food using 12% of agricultural land. “Whether small or large producers feed the world (…) really matters in setting policy to battle global hunger. For this reason, a closer look at these two papers is warranted,” says ETC Group and this is what they did in their backgrounder. They conclude that the two papers should not be relied upon to guide changes in policy due to a number of concerns.

One problem of the studies is that they significantly limit how a “small farmer” is defined by excluding other peasants and small producers from their calculations. The 2021 report proposes to clean up confusion created by a 2014 FAO paper which states that nine out of 10 of the world’s 570 million farms were ‘family farms’ and produced around 80% of the world’s food. However, the civil society organisations criticize that the definition used in the new studies is at odds with that of the UN Decade of the Family Farm (2019 – 2028) as proposed by FAO and IFAD. According to that FAO/IFAD terminology, ‘family farms’ encompass “models in agriculture, fishery forestry, pastoral and aquaculture, and include peasants, indigenous peoples, traditional communities, fisher folks, mountain farmers, forest users and pastoralists.” FAO’s 2021 publication, however, confines small farms to crop production and some on farm livestock keeping. Its updated estimates are that there are more than 608 million family farms around the world, occupying between 70 and 80% of the world’s farmland and producing around 80% of the world’s food in value terms. But the crucial point is the percentage attributed to small-scale farms:

Lowder et al. write: “These family farms must not be confused with small farms (those smaller than two hectares), which, according to our estimates, account for 84% of all farms worldwide, but operate only around 12% of all agricultural land and produce about 35% of the world’s food.” This 2 ha land area threshold for describing a ‘small farm’ is strongly criticized by the authors of the open letter. “The paper’s arbitrary 2 ha limitation contradicts the conclusions of the FAO Chief Statistician who, on the basis of a 2018 consultation in which more than 50 states participated, rejected a universal landholding threshold and instead set out a number of relative metrics to define small farms differently on a country by country basis.” The signatories affirm the right of peasants to self-identify and also note that nationally-defined descriptions of small farms appear to average 5 ha or in the range of 25% of all farmland. The backgrounder also highlights that average sizes of farms described as small are far higher in some regions such as Latin America, the Caribbean and North America. According to a dataset compiled by GRAIN, the average ‘smallholder farmer’ in North America holds 67.6 ha of land and in Latin America and the Caribbean, the average size of a small farm was found to be 9.7 ha.

The CSOs also accuse Lowder et al. of discounting or ignoring recent FAO and other reports which found that peasant farms produce more food and more nutritious food per hectare than large farms. “We are surprised that this latest publication from FAO undermines its long-held view that small farms are more productive than large farms. Despite having only 12% of the land, the 2021 paper acknowledges that small (under 2 ha) farms produce 35% of the food – suggesting that small farms should be almost three times more productive. Despite this, the authors declare themselves neutral on small farm productivity,” the open letter says. The CSO criticize that without evidence, the study maintains that policymakers are wrongly focused on peasant production and should give greater attention to larger production units. Lowder et al. seem to fear that the attention of international organizations may be diverted away from larger farms which hold the vast majority of agricultural land. “It would be difficult, if not impossible, to have an unbiased picture of the state of large scale and corporate agriculture if international organizations focus only on smallholders and small farms. This would hide important information on all types of farms, which will also be critical to achieve a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” they wrote. The CSOs say that no data is offered by Lowder et al. to substantiate policy biases toward peasants. “Nevertheless, the study has a point – just not the one it wishes to make. Policymakers need to understand why the industrial food chain produces so little food while consuming most of the world’s agricultural land and resources. Policy makers should ask themselves why they are investing huge commercial subsidies, land and other incentives on an industrial system that has so much power and profitability, and is so destructive to our environment and food security,” they conclude in their letter to the FAO.

Finally, the signing organisations strongly disagree with the study’s assumption that food production is a proxy for food consumption and that the commercial value of food in the marketplace can be equated to the nutritional value of the food consumed. “Both studies only measure agricultural production which is an inaccurate way to understand who feeds the world (a matter of consumption, not production). They claim to debunk the 70% estimate while mis-characterising what it describes,” the authors of the ETC backgrounder write. The 70% estimate which was also used by ETC Group in a report published in 2009 was more of a relative consumption claim. “It did not count total production but instead tried to understand the relative importance for food security of two parallel food systems: the peasant food web and the industrial food chain,” ETC Group said. Many people may draw their food provisions primarily from the food basket of the peasant food web, and not from the grocery stores and long links of the industrial food chain,” ETC Group explains. Those in the peasant food web may or may not grow all of their own food, trade with neighbours and sell the surplus in local markets. This web largely operates outside of global financial markets, may be unrecognised by formal trade surveys and often employs more agroecological production methods. In addition, the CSOs mention that industrial sectors food loss and waste – including deliberate over-production (and over-consumption) are not discussed in the paper despite its market emphasis. “We remain convinced that peasants not only grow a majority of the world’s food but are substantially more successful in meeting the nutritional requirements of food insecure populations,” the open letter says. (ab)

30.01.2022 |

Inequality kills the poor and increases billionaires’ wealth, Oxfam

Inequality - between and within countries (Photo: CC0)

The wealth of the world’s 10 richest men has doubled and a new billionaire has been created every 26 hours since the pandemic began, while over 160 million people have been pushed into poverty due to COVID-19. This is the sad message of a new Oxfam report, published on January 17th. Economic, gender, and racial inequalities – as well as the inequality that exists within and between countries – are blamed for the widening gap between the richest people and the vast majority of humanity. The title of the briefing is “Inequality Kills” because according to Oxfam, millions of people worldwide simply die because they are poor. “We estimate that inequality is now contributing to the deaths of at least 21,300 people each day – or one person every four seconds,” the authors write. “This is a highly conservative estimate for deaths resulting from hunger in a world of plenty, the denial of access to quality healthcare in poor countries, and gender-based violence faced by women and rooted in patriarchy.” The report also looks at the deaths resulting from climate change. 231,000 people each year could be killed by the climate crisis in poor countries by 2030.

Oxfam’s calculations are based on up-to-date and comprehensive data sources. Figures on the richest people of the world are from Forbes’ 2021 Billionaires Lists, while data about the share of wealth comes from the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s “Global Wealth Databook 2021” and the World Bank. According to Forbes, the 10 richest people, as of 30 November 2021, have seen their fortunes grow by $821 billion dollars since March 2020. This means they have doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion – at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3 billion a day. The ten richest men were listed as Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault & family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer and Warren Buffett. These ten men now own more than the poorest 3.1 billion people. “If these ten men were to lose 99.999 percent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 percent of all the people on this planet,” said Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher. Billionaires’ wealth has risen more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years, the report finds. “Billionaires have had a terrific pandemic,” says Bucher. “Central banks pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets to save the economy, yet much of that has ended up lining the pockets of billionaires riding a stock market boom. Vaccines were meant to end this pandemic, yet rich governments allowed pharma billionaires and monopolies to cut off the supply to billions of people,” she added. “The consequences of it kill.”

Oxfam denounces that extreme inequality is a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that perpetuate the wealth and power of a privileged few result in direct harm to the vast majority of ordinary people worldwide. The gap between rich and poor nations is now expected to rise for the first time in a generation. The report finds that people who live in low- and middle-income countries are around twice as likely to die from COVID-19 infection as people who live in rich countries. Economic violence has different forms and faces. For example, an estimated 5.6 million people die each year due to lack of access to healthcare in poor countries. “Healthcare of good quality is a human right, but too often treated as a luxury for rich people,” the authors write. “Having more money in your pocket not only buys you access to healthcare; it also buys you a longer and healthier life.” For example, in São Paulo, Brazilians in the richest areas can expect to live 14 years longer than those who live in the poorest areas. Moreover, hunger kills over 2.1 million people each year at a minimum. “This is one of the ways in which poverty kills, and it is faced by billions of ordinary people all over the world each day. In every country, the poorest people live shorter lives and face earlier deaths than those who are not poor.”

The report also points to the fact that women and girls are hit hardest by the pandemic and are disproportionately affected by inequality. The pandemic has set back the time it will take to achieve gender parity by more than a generation, from 99 years to now 135 years. According to the briefing, women collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020, with 13 million fewer women in work now than there were the year before. 252 men have now more wealth than all 1 billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean combined. Inequality also goes to the heart of the climate crisis, as the emissions of the richest people are driving this crisis. The richest 1% emit more than twice as much CO2 as the bottom 50% of the world, driving climate change throughout 2020 and 2021 that has contributed to wildfires, floods, tornadoes, crop failures and hunger.

But the report also presents solutions to address the systems that have allowed a tiny few to capture wealth, income, and power at the expense of the vast majority of humanity. Oxfam says that despite the huge cost of fighting the pandemic, in the past two years governments have failed to increase taxes on the wealth of the richest and continued to privatize public goods such as vaccine science. “Not only have our economic structures made all of us less safe against this pandemic, they are actively enabling those who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit,” says Bucher. Oxfam thus recommends that governments urgently claw back the gains made by billionaires by taxing this huge new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes. Just a one-off 99% tax on the ten richest men’s pandemic windfalls, for example, could pay to make enough vaccines for the world, the NGO calculates. Governments should also invest the trillions that could be raised by these taxes toward progressive spending on universal healthcare and social protection, climate change adaptation, and gender-based violence prevention and programming. The organisation also calls on governments to tackle sexist and racist laws and to define policies that will ensure women, racialized and other oppressed groups are represented in all decision-making spaces. The authors are optimistic that we can radically redesign our economies to be centered on equality. “There is no shortage of money. That lie died when governments released $16 trillion to respond to the pandemic. There is only a shortage of courage and imagination needed to break free from the failed, deadly straitjacket of extreme neoliberalism,” says Bucher. “Governments would be wise to listen to the movements – the young climate strikers, Black Lives Matter activists, #NiUnaMenos feminists, Indian farmers and others – who are demanding justice and equality.” (ab)

12.11.2021 |

Poor countries are faced with high food import bills, warns FAO

Food prices reached a new peak (Photo: CC0)

Rising food and energy prices pose significant challenges for poorer countries and consumers, who spend large shares of their incomes on these basic necessities, warns a new UN report. According to the “Food Outlook”, a report published twice a year by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food trade has not only continued to expand in value and volume, but growth has even accelerated, says the report released on November 11th. The FAO experts forecast that the world food import bill will reach a record high in 2021, surpassing USD 1.75 trillion. This would represent a 14% increase from 2020 and is 12% higher than the estimates presented in the last Food Outlook released in June. The increase is mainly driven by higher price levels of internationally traded food commodities and a threefold increase in freight costs. On November 4th, FAO had already sounded the alarm that world food prices surged to a new peak, reaching their highest level since July 2011. The Food Price Index which measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of food commodities (cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar), averaged 133.2 points in October 2021, up 3% from September. The prices rose for a third consecutive month, primarily led by continued strength in the world prices of vegetable oils and cereals.

Developing regions account for 40% of the total world food import bill of 1.75 trillion US Dollars expected for 2021. Their aggregate food import bill is expected to rise by nearly 20% compared to last year. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) could see their food import bill rise by 16%. “Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) are expected to experience even faster growth, with rates in excess of 20 percent compared with 2020,” says the report. However, this is not due to the fact that they import more but due to higher costs. For instance, of the additional imports of USD 25 billion by LIFDCs, more than USD 14 billion are due to higher prices and freights, whereas only USD 11 billion reflect higher volumes. Imports of staple foodstuffs are driving the record bills for developing regions. The report also points to a growing number of countries where households spend more than 60% of their income on necessities such as food, fuel, water and housing. Even at the rather low food and fuel prices of 2017, 30 countries spent 60% or more of their income on these necessities. Preliminary estimates for 2021 suggest that another 23 countries have joined this group and that the average expenditure shares in these 53 countries have risen from 62% in 2017 to 69% in 2021. “For many consumers, this may mean either lower quantities or qualities of food consumption, and hence hunger and malnutrition, or less money for other necessities such as health or the schooling of their children,” the authors warn. “Curtailing such important expenditures could send communities into a vicious cycle of deepening food insecurity and poverty, with potentially irreversible effects.”

The report also reviews market supply and demand trends for the world’s major foodstuffs, including cereals, vegetable oils, sugar, meat and dairy and fish. The world cereal production is forecast to increase to 2.79 billion tonnes in 2021, up from 2.77 billion tonnes in 2020. Record harvests are expected in 2021 for maize and rice. Cereal utilization for human consumption and animal feed is forecast to grow faster than production. Cereal utilization is expected to reach 2.81 billion tonnes, up from 2.76 in the previous year, which will lead to decreasing stocks. World meat production in 2021 is forecast to expand by 4.2% from 2020 and approach 353 million tonnes. This is principally based on “expectations of a strong output rebound in Asia and notable expansions in all major producing regions, except Oceania”, says the report. According to the authors, the bulk of the anticipated increase in Asia is foreseen in China, where meat output is likely to rise by 16% year-on-year to 90 million tonnes, mainly due to increases in pig meat production following price declines and recent African swine fever outbreaks in some provinces. Global milk production in 2021 is also forecast to expand, with anticipated increases in all major producing regions, led by Asia and North America.

The report also includes a special chapter on agricultural input prices. The FAO experts constructed a Global Input Price Index (GIPI) to illustrate the impacts of rapidly rising input prices, especially those of energy derived from fossil fuels, on food prices, and the likely consequences for global food security. The index, which is based on energy, fertilizer, pesticide, feed and seed prices as well as the FAO Food Price Index, shows that both prices have moved in a synchronous manner since 2005, indicating that higher input costs translate into higher food prices. In the year to August 2021, the Food Price Index rose by 34% and the GIPI increased overall by 25%, compared to the same period in 2020. But there are large regional and sector-specific differences within agriculture. The authors point out that soybean producers, for example, face lower needs of currently expensive nitrogen fertilizer, so they can benefit from higher product prices. Pig producers, on the other hand, have high feed costs and face low meat prices. High input prices are a problem for countries that depend on imports. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is among the most import-dependent regions in the world for phosphorous and nitrogen, with dependency rates for both at around 70%. The price of nitrogen is principally driven by fossil fuels, in the form of gas, and with the region being also heavily dependent on imported energy, this could all lead to higher food production costs and food inflation. (ab)

29.09.2021 |

UNFSS: a People’s Summit or pro-corporate agenda? Outcomes and views

The UNFSS excluded key food system actors (Photo: CC0)

After months of preparations and controversies, the United Nations Food Systems Summit finally took place on September 23. The aim of the UNFSS was to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through transforming food systems. “World leaders commit to tackling global hunger, climate change and biodiversity loss at historic UN Food Systems Summit”, was the promising headline of the official press release published on Thursday. The UN proudly announced that more than 150 countries made commitments to transform their food systems, while championing greater participation and equity, especially amongst farmers, women, youth and indigenous groups. And Secretary-General António Guterres said in his ‘Statement of Action’ that the summit “provided an essential boost of energy into the 2030 Agenda and a silver lining in the cloud of the pandemic”. He added that “all stakeholders – especially governments – must now reaffirm a commitment to act with urgency, at scale and in solidarity with one another to keep the promise of the SDGs”. This may all sound good at first sight but many civil society and farmers’ organisations, food and human rights experts, farmers and indigenous peoples across the globe are far from happy with the results. They feel that their criticism and fears voiced over the past months have been proven correct, including concerns over the private sector’s influence on the summit’s agenda and its outcomes.

In his ‘Statement of Action’, Guterres sets out five areas for action that emerged from the Summit process which are entitled (1) Nourish All People, (2) Boost Nature-based Solutions, (3) Advance Equitable Livelihoods, Decent Work and Empowered Communities, (4) Build Resilience to Vulnerabilities, Shocks and Stresses, and (5) Support Means of Implementation. He explains that action must be driven at country-level by governments in their local contexts. In the run-up to and during the summit, states as well as different stakeholders made commitments to accelerate action to transform food systems. State submissions will be released in an official compendium, while pledges made by organisations and groups were lodged with an “online commitments registry”. This means that the summit did not end with concrete and legally binding obligations but participants were able to pick what suited them best. Many of these commitments are so vague and difficult to measure that it will be almost impossible to hold governments or companies responsible because accountability mechanisms are missing. According to the summit press release, for example, New Zealand will join the Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems Coalition and is committed to promoting the significant role of Māori in the country’s food sectors and encouraging the growth of Māori agribusiness by removing barriers and empowering Māori leadership. Other countries pledged support for indigenous rights. Honduras wants to strengthen the role of local authorities, Samoa will promote traditional and indigenous knowledge to boost nature-positive production, and Peru and the Philippines will support the formalization of land tenure. Burkina Faso committed to including the right to food in their constitution, while Cambodia pledged to work towards the promotion of gender equality and the creation of job opportunities for youth and women in the food system.

Among the new initiatives launched by civil society, financial institutions, academia and philanthropists was a new US$922 million pledge by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to address global nutrition over the next five years. Nutrition will be prioritized through four key foundation portfolios, the first of which is biofortification. “The foundation will deepen its engagement in large-scale food fortification by investing in solutions to produce actionable data; delivering high-quality technical support to millers and food producers; achieving innovations in the types and level of vitamins and minerals that can be delivered through staple foods; increasing industry self-monitoring and transparency; and promoting the adoption of more and better standards for large-scale food fortification,” the Foundation announced on its website. The Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems, a Global-South led coalition and counter-summit held simultaneously with the UNFSS, slammed the UN summit for “paving the way for greater control of big corporations over global food systems and misleading the people through corporate-led false solutions to hunger and climate change”, such as the BMGF programme. The GPS said that biofortification promotes industrial monocultures over agroecological food diversity, and ushers in the next generation of genetically-modified crops, such as the Gates-funded Vitamin-A “Golden Rice”. Moreover, US President Biden announced that Washington would spend $10 billion to strengthen food security and to “expand inclusive food systems at home and abroad”. Half of the money will go to the “Feed the Future” initiative which also works with US businesses such as Cargill, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Mars and others to supposedly fight global hunger. GPS criticizes the initiative because $1.2 million of its funds to help “combat the economic toll of COVID-19” in 2020 went to “private sector partners” in Africa, such as agrochemical, fruit export, and microfinance companies, instead of small farmers most affected by the pandemic. Part of Biden’s UNFSS pledge will also be spent on food fortification programs.

The summit has also been used by the US and United Arab Emirates to advance the Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate, an initiative which aims to increase public and private investment in “climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation”. 12 new countries announced their support for the initiative, as well as the FAO and the BMGF. According to World Food Prize and Right Livelihood Award laureate Hans Herren, AIM is “largely focused on ameliorating the climate impacts of the current – heavily polluting – approach to food production rather than shifting to genuinely sustainable agricultural systems”. He also mentions the positive aspect that the summit also produced some commitments on subsidy reform and that a handful of governments had started to take agroecology seriously. For example, “A Coalition for the Transformation of Food Systems Through Agroecology” committed to collaborate towards implementing the policy recommendations of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) on agroecological and other innovative approaches, guided by FAO’s 10 elements of agroecology and the 13 principles of agroecology set out by the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE). But most funds will continue to prop up a more-or-less business-as-usual approach, says Herren, and the summit wasted the chance to consider real alternatives to our corporate-led, environmentally harmful ways of producing what we eat: “It should have been a leap forward for the future of the planet, but instead it’s been a textbook example of how not to run a summit,” the IAASTD co-chair wrote in his article for Thomson Reuters Foundation. “The UN Food Systems Summit was designed to turn the page on our failing food system and point the way towards a climate-resilient, food-secure, and equitable future,” Herren wrote. “Instead, we’re back to square one: a grab bag of good, bad, and ugly ‘solutions,’ yet a deafening silence on the root causes of the problems we face.” He added that “food and agri-business talked the talk on food system transformation in the build-up to the summit, nodding to climate, livelihoods, nature, transparency and more. But there are no guarantees corporations will walk the walk if governments don’t hold them to account.”

Another view is expressed by former FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva: “What we have seen ahead of this week’s Summit is a lot of “nutri-washing” and thousands of proposals reflecting the voices of well-nourished people and little (if any) proposals for putting an end to hunger and other forms of malnourishment as a political priority by governments around the world,” he wrote for IPS News. ETC Group, a North America-based NGO, is of the opinion that the outcomes of the FSS could result in the world’s food systems being hijacked by the industrial food chain. “The FSS approach threatens to destroy food sovereignty and replace it with the techno-giants’ version of ‘food systems’. The summit was specifically designed to spin a story that props up those techno-giants and expands the industrial food chain at the expense of other food systems,” ETC Group said. “A genuine people-led summit on food systems and food sovereignty is needed, to challenge the industrial food system’s impact on food, health, climate and biodiversity.” Oxfam International criticised that the summit failed hundreds of millions who are going hungry every day, “by offering elitist and mere band-aid solutions rather than tackling the root causes of our broken global food system”. Thierry Kesteloot, Oxfam’s food policy advisor said: “We cannot end the hunger pandemic without addressing the climate crisis, the erosion of agricultural biodiversity, or the deep inequalities and human rights violations that perpetuate poverty, hunger and malnutrition.” He added that the Summit ignored proven solutions and failed to address needed policy actions to radically transform food systems. “Instead, it has catered to the interests of a handful of food and agribusiness giants, while side-lining most food and smallholder farmers' organizations at the forefront of food production.”

The UNFSS had earned criticism from the very beginning of the process because the summit lacked transparency, inclusiveness and accountability mechanisms and was disproportionately influenced by corporate actors. The summit results from a partnership between the UN and the World Economic Forum, formed by the world’s top 1000 corporations, and was convened by Guterres without involving the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the most inclusive intergovernmental platform for food systems issues. Agnes Kalibata, the president of the controversial Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), was appointed special envoy to the summit. As early as March 2020, 550 organisations wrote to the UN Secretary-General to warn him that the summit is not building on the legacy of past world food summits, which were once convened by the FAO, thus had a mandate and which allowed for the active participation of civil society. Instead, it follows a strong multi-stakeholder approach, which puts on equal footing governments, corporations, other private sector actors, scientists, philanthropies and NGOs. But criticism from human rights experts, scientists and NGOs went unheard. In spring, many experts and organisations finally decided to boycott the event and withdrew from the process. Following the counter-mobilizations to oppose the UNFSS Pre-Summit in July, which gathered more than 9,000 participants from all over the world, civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ groups continued to sound the alarm on the dangers and deficiencies of the UNFSS.

In mid-September, the “People’s Autonomous Response to the UN Food Systems Summit”, a grassroots process consisting of hundreds of international, regional, national and local organisations representing peasants and smallholder farmers, women and youth, Indigenous Peoples, pastoralists and landless, agricultural and food workers, fisherfolks, consumers, urban food insecure and NGOs from many areas of society, released a political declaration. It has been signed by more than 600 organisations and individual signatories, including the Foundation on Future Farming/ Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft. The declaration also condemns the multi-stakeholder approach “in which all actors (…) are portrayed as equal participants”. “While majority of the world’s food is produced by small-scale producers and workers, this individuated multi-stakeholder process gives outsized power to a few powerful corporations that control food, agricultural and capital markets,” the text reads. The signatories say that multi-stakeholderism is enabling a corporate takeover of the UN: “Large multinational corporations are increasingly infiltrating the multilateral spaces of the United Nations to co-opt the narrative of sustainability, and divert it back into the channels of further industrialization with digital and biotechnologies, extraction of wealth and labor from rural communities, and concentration of corporate power in national-global governance. The capital and technology focused agenda proposed by the UNFSS reflects these corporate interests and is politically, socially, economically and ecologically destabilizing. We denounce the UNFSS 2021 for disregarding the urgent need to address the gross power imbalances that corporations hold over food systems and this UN event, and we reject false solutions which will continue to oppress and exploit people, communities and territories.”

The UNFSS had also been heavily criticized for months for its lack of inclusiveness. Last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, once again mentioned that the summit’s multilateral approach “has not provided a meaningful space for communities and civil society to participate”, with the risk of “leaving behind the very population critical for the summit’s success”. On the eve of the UNFSS, he issued a statement together with two other UN Special Rapporteurs. They once again voiced their deep concern that the event will not be a “people’s summit” as promised but will instead leave behind the most marginalized and vulnerable people. According to the three human rights experts, who were involved in the Summit preparation, “The Summit claims to be inclusive, but it left many participants and over 500 organizations representing millions of people feeling ignored and disappointed.” The UNFSS seems at least to have noticed the calls for more inclusiveness. It rather over-emphasized in the summit press release that the commitments “come out as a result of an 18-month inclusive and engaging process with diverse stakeholders”, boasting that “the Summit process was also applauded by farmer leaders for its inclusivity”. It quotes Elizabeth Nsimadala, the President of the Pan-African Farmers Organizations, who said that as producers they held several independent dialogues at all levels and these dialogues resulted into a global common position. “The Summit has been very inclusive,” she said. The UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed also did his best to underline the inclusive character: “In terms of inclusiveness, I don’t know of a more inclusive process. People look at the SDGs. They see themselves in that, and we wanted to reflect that in this people solution Summit,” he reportedly said at the UNFSS press conference. The Global People’s Summit (GPS), however, is not convinced. “It was just as we expected. While branding itself as the ‘People’s Summit’ and even the ‘Solutions Summit,’ the UNFSS did not listen to the voices of marginalized rural peoples, nor forward real solutions to the food, biodiversity and climate crises. Instead, it let powerful nations and big corporations play an even bigger role in determining food and agricultural policies,” said Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), one of the co-organizers of the GPS. “The UN has finally made it clear what ‘multilateralism’ is all about – paying lip service to the people while skewing priorities for the interests of imperialists and monopoly capitalists,” she said.

The lack of inclusiveness in the run-up and during the summit could remain a major problem in the follow-up to the UNFSS. The Secretary-General announced in his Statement of Action that “at the global level, working across the UN system and with partners, the Rome-based Agencies – FAO, IFAD, WFP – will jointly lead a coordination hub that collaborates with, and draws upon, wider UN system capacities to support follow-up to the Food Systems Summit.” These partners will include non-governmental actors, such as civil society and business. The ‘coordination hub’ will have key functions in the implementation process and is supposed to strengthen linkages to other priority global and intergovernmental processes relating to the environment, climate, food security, health and nutrition, as well as key intergovernmental fora. The hub will also establish its own “Champions Advisory Group” where different groups, particularly Youth, Indigenous Peoples, Producers, Women and Private Sector, will be represented. “The CFS remains an essential intergovernmental and stakeholder platform for all working together to ensure food security and nutrition for all through sustainable and transformative food systems,” the statement promised vaguely.

The decision to create these institutions was heavily criticized by civil society organisations. According to the Liaison Group of the People’s Autonomous Response to the UNFSS, “such a ‘coordination hub’ and its newly created ‘Advisory Group’ would encroach into the functions of the CFS, which is precisely the UN Committee mandated to ensure inclusive policy development, coherence, coordination, and convergence across the UN systems on issues of food security and nutrition”, the group said in a policy brief. “It undermines the mandates and roles of the most important inclusive intergovernmental and international platform of global food governance, the CFS, and the most innovative Science Policy Interface in this field, the HLPE.” The authors also warned that the Secretary-General “does not have a mandate to establish follow up mechanisms for this Summit” because Member States are the decision-makers in the UN system and “did not request or agree to put these new structures and mechanisms in place.” If they support such suggestions, Guterres as well as the heads of the Rome-based agencies are clearly acting outside their mandates, the group said. “Such a change in the existing governance architecture without any intergovernmental deliberation and mandate is completely illegitimate and unacceptable.” Professor William G. Moseley, a member of the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE), says creating a new mechanism would waste valuable time in the fight against global hunger, be less participatory, and create an unnecessarily fractured global food security apparatus. “Over the past 12 years, a broad range of experts and organisations came to trust that their voices were being heard (within the CFS and HLPE) when scientific reports were produced and policy recommendations developed. While these actors certainly did not always agree, they had confidence in the process. Sidestepping this process feels like a slap in the face and a return to top-down decision-making and narrower understandings of food security and nutrition,” he wrote in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera. “The biggest breakthroughs in the way we understand hunger and malnutrition in recent decades have come from a more inclusive and participatory scientific process. We need to embrace these same principles after the Summit if we are to have a chance of ridding the world of hunger and malnutrition any time soon,” Moseley added. (ab)

16.09.2021 |

UN report calls for “repurposing” of harmful agricultural subsidies

Large farms are often the major beneficiaries of agricultural suppport (Photo: CC0)

Current support to agricultural producers is harmful for the environment and human health, while disadvantaging women and smallholder farmers, says a new UN report published on September 14. This support is steering us away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris Agreement. But we can redirect agricultural subsidies to drive a transformation towards healthier, more sustainable, equitable and efficient food systems, according to the report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Development Programme and UN Environment (UNEP). Global agricultural support currently accounts for almost USD 540 billion a year. The UN agencies estimate that 87% of producer supports are harmful to the 2030 agenda. “This report, released on the eve of the UN Food Systems Summit, is a wake-up call for governments around the world to rethink agricultural support schemes to make them fit for purpose to transform our agri-food systems and contribute to the Four Betters: Better nutrition, better production, better environment and a better life,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

The authors write that between 2013 and 2018, net support to agricultural producers averaged almost USD 540 billion per year, representing around 15% of the total agricultural production value. More than half ($294 billion) is provided to farmers as price incentives, such as import tariffs and export subsidies, while the rest ($245 billion) is in the form of fiscal subsidies to farmers, the majority (70%) being tied to the production of a specific commodity or input. “This support is heavily biased towards measures that are distorting (thus leading to inefficiency), unequally distributed, and harmful for the environment and human health,” says the report. The authors explain that “support coupled to production can ultimately hamper sustainable market development, trigger price shocks at a global scale, incentivize the production of emission-intensive products, or penalize the availability and affordability of more diversified and nutritious food, particularly for the poorest consumers.” Since this support is often inequitable, it is putting big agri-business ahead of small farmers, a large share of whom are women. Only about $110 billion of the total amount was used to support infrastructure, research and development, and benefits the general food and agriculture sector.

The authors highlight that agriculture is one of the main contributors to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions from different sources, including manure on pastureland, synthetic fertilizers, rice cultivation, burning crop residue, and land-use change. Global support to farmers is projected to increase to almost USD 1.8 trillion in 2030 if current trends continue. Continuing with agricultural support-as-usual would worsen the planetary crisis and ultimately harm human well-being, warns the report. It therefore calls for a redirection of damaging incentives and says this can be a game changer because it offers governments an opportunity to optimize the use of scarce public resources to transform food systems in ways that make them not only more efficient, but also more supportive of the SDGs. “Governments have an opportunity now to transform agriculture into a major driver of human well-being, and into a solution for the imminent threats of climate change, nature loss, and pollution,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “By shifting to more nature-positive, equitable and efficient agricultural support, we can improve livelihoods, and at the same time cut emissions, protect and restore ecosystems, and reduce the use of agrochemicals.” For high-income countries, this means shifting support away from an outsized meat and dairy industry, which accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In lower-income countries, governments should consider repurposing their support for toxic pesticides and fertilizers or the growth of monocultures. The authors stress the importance of reconfiguring agricultural support rather than eliminating it completely. Simply removing subsidies could have adverse trade-offs, such as decreasing crop and livestock farming production, lower farm incomes and farm employment and higher food costs.

According to the report, a few countries have already begun repurposing and reforming agricultural support. The authors mention examples such as the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh that adopted a policy of Zero Budget Natural Farming; the 2006 reform of agricultural policies in China that supports decreased use of mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides or the Single Payment Scheme in the UK that removed subsidies in agreement with the National Farmers’ Union. But the UN organisations say that action needs to be broader, bolder and faster worldwide. The report recommends a six-step approach to develop a tailored repurposing strategy for agricultural support. First, governments need to estimate the support already provided. Second, they need to understand its positive and negative impacts. Third, the approach for repurposing agricultural producer support needs to be designed and necessary reforms need to be identified. The fourth step is to estimate the future impact of the repurposing strategy and step 5 is to review and refine the strategy prior to implementation. Finally, the outcomes of the new agricultural producer support needs to be monitored. According to the authors, a transparent, multi-stakeholder approach is integral to the six-step repurposing process and smallholders are key in this process: “Smallholder farmers in particular, many of whom are women, make a significant contribution to addressing food security and nutrition and promoting resilience. Furthermore, women produce most of the food consumed locally, making small farms central for poverty reduction, gender equality and for women’s empowerment in rural areas. Small farms are found to be more productive per acre than large farms, better for spurring surrounding economic growth, and better for ecosystem and biodiversity conservation. It is therefore critical to recognize the role of these actors and include them in agricultural repurposing policy processes if the shift to healthier, more sustainable, equitable and efficient food systems is to be successful.” (ab)

06.09.2021 |

Food Systems Summit is not a people’s summit, says UN expert

Michael Fakhri
Michael Fakhri (Photo: Michael Fakhri/OHCHR)

The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) is not the people’s summit it claims to be because key elements such as human rights, equity and accountability are not on the agenda, according to a leading UN rights expert. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, says that the summit turns a blind eye on root causes and governance issues linked to hunger and malnutrition and fails to address corporate concentration of power in food systems. In a policy brief entitled “Last chance to make the Food Systems Summit truly a people’s summit”, Fakhri shares his concerns that the “people’s summit” will fail the people it claims to be serving. The UNFSS 2021 will be held during the UN General Assembly in New York on September 23 and will discuss the future of food systems and the pathways to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. A three-day pre-summit took place in Rome at the end of July in preparation for the main event. Mr Fakhri has followed the UNFSS process since the announcement of the summit in 2019, closely monitored the pre-summit and will also report to the General Assembly in October 2021 on the Summit, drawing from a vast array of inputs received by Member States, international and civil society organisations. In his new policy brief, he shares his reflections and actionable recommendations concerning the Summit’s expected outcomes, follow-up, and review.

The Special Rapporteur writes that the policy brief “is intended to guide Member States on how they can ensure that the Summit succeeds in making our food systems serve people and planet, as well as overcome challenges posed by hunger, inequity, and the global COVID-19 pandemic”. His objective is “to provide guidance to States in their imminent deliberations at the Summit on 23 September 2021, with a view to making it a truly transformative, rights-based and multilateral event.” The brief was completed on August 19th but it seems that Fakhri is rather pessimistic that this can still be achieved. “When I wrote I thought there was one last chance to salvage the Summit. It’s now clear that this is NOT a People's Summit,” the Special Rapporteur says in a more recent twitter post on September 4th. In this policy brief, Fakhri, shares his critical observations on four key shortcomings. First, he denounces that the COVID-19 pandemic is conspicuously absent in the summit’s deliberations: “The Summit was announced right before the COVID-19 outbreak. As the outbreak became a pandemic and the impacts on the global food systems and food security unfolded, the Summit’s objectives were not adjusted to the new reality,” Fakhri writes. The UN expert criticises that the Pre-Summit did not dedicate even one session to the pandemic despite the devastating consequences. According to the Special Rapporteur, multilateral action is needed to tackle the pandemic’s deleterious effects on everyone’s right to food, especially the poorest, most vulnerable, and marginalized persons.

Second, Fakhri condemns the UNFSS’s failure to consider the root causes of hunger and malnutrition. He highlights that hunger, malnutrition, and famine are caused by political failures and shortcomings in governance, rather than by food scarcity. But the summit’s focus has been on how to “boost production” sustainably through new technologies. “The challenges, however, facing our food systems are about ensuring better and more equitable access – questions of how food is produced, by whom, and who reaps most of the benefits from its processing and trade. Even at the peak of the pandemic, the greatest threat to food security and nutrition was not because food was unavailable,” Fakhri explains. “People had less access to adequate food because they lost their job, livelihood, or home.” In addition, the summit has not paid adequate attention to advancements made recently in agroecology and territorial markets, the Special Rapporteur added. The third point of criticism is that corporate concentration of power remains the Summit’s “elephant in the room”. Fakhri writes that transnational corporations “dominate the world market from the seeds to the supermarkets. Yet, the Summit fails to address the role and responsibility of the corporate sector in the food systems.” Power imbalance and concentration have greatly benefited transnational corporations and have undermined local communities’ tenure, human rights, and habitats. The UN expert shares the concerns raised by many that technology-driven innovation and the emphasis on a certain model of science promoted at the Summit risks to further marginalize small-holder farmers’ needs. “This approach ignores the fact that small-holders produce approximately 70% of the world’s food while preserving agrobiodiversity and promoting resilience to climate change. This approach also ignores the fact that Indigenous peoples successfully manage 80% of the world’s biodiversity on land. Farmers, farm workers, and Indigenous peoples around the world are entirely at the mercy of corporate powers, and it is not by chance that they suffer from hunger, malnutrition, and rights violations,” the policy brief states.

Fourth, the Special Rapporteur criticizes that the Summit’s multi-stakeholder approach is a smokescreen to stifle participation. “The Summit’s so-called multi-stakeholder approach has not been transparent, nor has it offered affected communities and civil society meaningful opportunities to participate. The decision-making process has been top-down and opaque. The Summit, influenced by agribusiness corporations, think-tanks and philanthropists, has not reflected the rich history of participation and inclusiveness at UN multilateral forums,” Fakhri writes. “The pre-summit lacked interactive and meaningful participation from grassroots movements, Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers, pastoralists, fishers, and human rights advocacy groups.” For these reasons, millions of people decided to boycott the Summit through the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism of the UN Committee on World Food Security. The thousands of people that did participate in the host of online Summit events and meetings were left feeling cynical about the entire process since there was no clear connection between people’s input and the Summit’s outcomes, Fakhri observes.

The Special Rapporteur also provides some recommendations in order to improve the UNFSS. Fakhri says that UN Member States should mobilise further and assess the Summit through the PANTHER framework, a human rights-based approach centered on the seven principles of participation, accountability, non-discrimination, transparency, human dignity, empowerment, and rule of law. He also advised against creating new institutions following the UNFSS and recommends strengthening existing UN multilateral forums for follow-up and review. “The UN Committee on World Food Security should be where the Summit outcomes are ultimately discussed and assessed, using its inclusive participation mechanisms.” Finally, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Summit outcomes should be assessed through a human rights framework. This involves asking what contribution the outcomes and any Summit follow-up and review would make to the realization of everyone’s right to food and human rights in general. For this purpose, Fakhri has raised four questions that can be asked to check whether the four areas of criticism have been addressed. With regard to corporate concentration, the question to be asked is “How do the outcomes identify the root cause of the crisis and hold corporations and other actors accountable for human rights violations?”. And the question to be raised about participation is how the outcomes rely on an understanding of agency that puts the control of food systems in the hands of the people in their capacity as rights-holders. (ab)

31.08.2021 |

Drought threatens the livelihoods of farmers in Afghanistan

The troops are leaving, drought is coming (Photo: CC0)

The United Nations has issued an urgent appeal to scale up humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan as a worsening drought threatens the livelihoods of more than 7 million farmers. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on August 28 that food production and agricultural livelihoods are under extreme pressure due to the combination of severe drought, COVID-19 related economic impacts and widespread displacement caused by the Taliban’s seizure of power. “If we fail to assist the people most affected by the acute drought, large numbers will be forced to abandon their farms and be displaced in certain areas,” said FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu. “This threatens to further deepen food insecurity and poses yet another threat to the stability of Afghanistan.” Currently, there are over 14 million people in Afghanistan who are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity and depend on humanitarian assistance. This is one third of the population. “Farmers and livestock owners must not be forgotten in today’s humanitarian crisis,” said QU Dongyu. “Urgent agricultural support now is key to counter the impact of the drought and a worsening situation in Afghanistan’s vast rural areas in the weeks and months ahead.”

In June, the Afghan government officially declared a drought in the country due to the effects of La Niña. Drastically reduced rainfall has caused food and water scarcity across 25 provinces, at a level not seen since the drought of 2018, which displaced a quarter of a million people, according to a recent report published by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP). FAO now announced that the current harvest is expected to be 20% below the 2020 harvest and 15% below average due to the acute drought. Another problem is that Afghanistan’s cereal requirements - mainly wheat and flour - are already projected to be some 28% higher than last year at 3.6 million tonnes. The Rome-based agency also voiced concerns that traditional government seed distribution systems may have been severely affected by the recent crisis which might affect the next planting season. The next winter wheat planting season will be crucial to prevent a further deterioration in Afghanistan’s food security and to protect agricultural livelihoods. “If farmers cannot get the seeds they urgently need by the end of September or early October, then the winter wheat season will fail. This will be a disaster for millions of Afghans, both farmers and consumers,” said Richard Trenchard, FAO’s Representative in Afghanistan. He stressed that “the window of opportunity to provide this assistance is closing quickly. We must act before it is too late.” FAO plans to assist 250,000 vulnerable farming families - some 1.5 million people - for the upcoming winter wheat season but current funding will only enable the agency to support 110 000 families. There is still a funding gap of USD 18 million.

FAO also highlighted that Afghan herders and livestock owners urgently need assistance to counter the impact of drought during the coming winter season. Three million animals are estimated to be at risk, making livestock protection critical for herders and livestock owners across the country. The agency warned that if marginal herders and livestock owners do not receive support, they may have no other option than selling their livestock holdings because they are not able to pay for increased fodder and feed prices. This could also lead to their displacement. According to recent FAO research, farmers and herders affected by drought typically need three to five years to recover fully. This means another difficult wheat season would hit them hard. “This next winter wheat season is a tipping point. If we miss it, disaster looms,” Trenchard said. (ab)

09.08.2021 |

IPCC sounds alarm over intensifying, irreversible climate change

Droughts will increase (Photo: CC0)

Global warming has “unequivocally” been caused by human activities and many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level, climate scientists have warned. According to the latest report launched by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on August 9th, the scale of recent changes are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years. However, there is still a chance of at least reducing the impact of climate change. “Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai. “This report is a reality check,” added Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte. “We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare.”

The Working Group I report is the first instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) and was prepared by 234 authors from 66 countries. The report of this working group deals with the physical science basis of climate change and its “Summary for Policymakers” was approved on August 6th by 195 member governments of the IPCC in a virtual session that was held over the previous two weeks. The reports of Working Group II, dealing with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Working Group III, dealing with the mitigation of climate change, will be finished and published in 2022. “This report reflects extraordinary efforts under exceptional circumstances,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “The innovations in this report, and advances in climate science that it reflects, provide an invaluable input into climate negotiations and decision-making.” Governments from 197 countries will meet this November in Glasgow for the UN climate conference Cop26.

The new report dispels any doubts as to the scale of recent changes and the role humans play in accelerating global warming. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred,” the report warns. Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach, the scientists are clear. Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for around 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900, the report finds, and if this is averaged over the next 20 years, global temperatures are expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. “Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming,” said Zhai. “For example, every additional 0.5°C of global warming causes clearly discernible increases in the intensity and frequency of hot extremes, including heatwaves (very likely), and heavy precipitation (high confidence), as well as agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions (high confidence),” according to the Summary for Decisions Makers. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.

The climate experts also highlight that climate change is not just about temperature but also brings multiple different changes that will differ from region to region. These include changes to wetness and dryness, to winds, snow and ice, coastal areas and oceans. For example, climate change will also intensify the water cycle. This can lead to more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions. Rainfall patterns will be affected: In high latitudes, for example, precipitation is likely to increase, while it is projected to decrease in large parts of the subtropics. In coastal areas, continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century will be a problem that contributes to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. In addition, global warming will lead to increased permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice. Changes in the quantity and seasonality of water due to climate change will heavily influence the food security and economic prosperity of many countries, particularly in the arid and semi-arid areas of the world including Asia, Africa, Australia, Latin America, the Mediterranean, and small island developing states, the report warns. According to the full report, whose final text remains subject to revisions following the approval on Friday, “having too much or too little water increases the likelihood of flooding and drought, as precipitation variability increases in a warming climate.” The authors warn that “changes in precipitation and glacier runoff and snowmelt influence other hydroclimate variables like surface and subsurface runoff, and groundwater recharge, which are critical to the water, food and energy security of many regions.” (ab)


Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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