08.07.2021 |

UN Food Systems Summit: A call for truly sustainable agriculture

A call for truly sustainable farming

More than 800 international organisations, NGOs, farming groups and food experts have issued a call for true sustainability in agriculture. They want agroecology, organic, and regenerative agriculture to top the agenda at this year’s UN Food Systems Summit and have warned against ‘greenwashing’ and the lack of transparency on the road to the summit. On July 7th, the call with the title ‘A unifying framework for food systems transformation’ was published. It was initiated by IPES-Food; organic umbrella organisation IFOAM-Organics International; Agroecology Europe; FiBL Europe and Regeneration International, and has already been signed by organisations such as WWF, Oxfam, IUCN, ECOWAS, Slowfood, Biovision and the Foundation on Future Farming, just to name a few. The signatories stress the need for a transformational change in agriculture and food systems in order to achieve true sustainability and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are calling on governments, private companies and civil society to adopt 13 key sustainability principles to guide this agri-food systems transformation. They also denounce ongoing attempts to co-opt sustainable agriculture. “In the run up to this UN Summit, certain groups have been playing fast and loose with the meaning of sustainability,” warned one of the initiators of the call, Emile Frison of IPES-Food, an independent panel of food system experts.

The signatories want governments and businesses to take action and change the “damaging” status quo in global farming. “Today’s dominant agri-food systems – largely driven by an industrial logic of economies of scale, intensification, specialization, and uniformization – are providing neither food security nor adequate nutrition for all. Moving us dangerously beyond the ‘Planetary Boundaries’ within which humanity can continue to safely operate, these food systems are undermining the very foundation they rely on,” the call says. “Conventional agriculture – with its heavy reliance on chemical inputs – has failed millions. It continues to deplete soils, damage biodiversity, drive climate change, and destroy livelihoods,” Frison explains. The signatories argue that these challenges cannot be overcome alone by just making incremental improvements to the current industrial model. “Instead, a bold paradigm shift is needed to redesign our agri-food systems.” According to the call, food systems reform will prove critical to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement and Convention on Biological Diversity, and to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. “Quite frankly, nothing short of a food systems transformation will steer us to safety,” added Frison.

The signatories propose agroecology, organic, and regenerative agriculture as alternatives. “To break away from the current industrial logic, agroecology is increasingly prominent in the discourse on the future of agriculture and food systems. At the same time, steady growth of the organic market is responding to rising consumer demands for healthy, sustainably produced food,” says the text of the call. “And alternative terms, such as regenerative agriculture, ecological organic agriculture, and others are being widely taken up in different regions of the world – each seeking to transform agri-food systems in an integrated way.” According to Agroecology Europe’s Paola Migliorini, “these approaches work with nature, not against it and the international body of evidence can no longer be ignored.” These different approaches find common ground in upholding all 13 principles outlined in a 2019 landmark report published by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), the science-policy interface of FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The undersigned organisations and individuals are thus calling on Summit leaders to adopt all 13 principles set out by the HLPE.

The first two principles are recycling and input reduction: Preferentially use local renewable resources and close as far as possible resource cycles of nutrients and biomass, while reducing or eliminating dependency on purchased inputs and increasing self-sufficiency. Further principles are soil and animal health: “Secure and enhance soil health and functioning for improved plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and enhancing soil biological activity” and “ensure animal health and welfare”, HLPE recommended. The fifth principle is biodiversity: “Maintain and enhance diversity of species, functional diversity and genetic resources and thereby maintain overall agroecosystem biodiversity in time and space at field, farm and landscape scales.” The sixth principle, synergy, aims at enhancing positive ecological interaction, synergy, integration and complementarity among the elements of agroecosystems (animals, crops, trees, soil and water). The seventh principle is economic diversification: “Diversify on-farm incomes by ensuring that small-scale farmers have greater financial independence and value addition opportunities while enabling them to respond to demand from consumers.” Further principles include the co-creation of knowledge, social values and diets, fairness, connectivity, land and natural resource governance, and participation.

It remains to be seen whether the UN Food Systems Summit will adopt the 13 principles as requested by the signatories. For Louise Luttikholt from IFOAM - Organics International this would be an opportunity to break the deadlock and the status quo: “If decision makers and business leaders are truly concerned about healthy soils, healthy plants, animals, and people, or even the Paris Agreement, then this is a golden opportunity to unify under one banner and adhere to these principles.” The Summit will culminate in a global event to take place in New York in September, after a pre-summit in Rome at the end of July. In the past months, the summit has been mired in controversy and has drawn criticism from civil society groups from all continents, denouncing the lack of transparency in the run-up to the event. In a new briefing note, published on July 7th, IPES-Food warns that the Summit is also being used to advance a new mode of decision-making that could exclude many voices in food systems. The paper refers to the proposal to create a new panel, an ‘IPCC for Food’, to streamline decisions on the future of food systems. The briefing note warns that such a new panel – as planned – risks imposing a narrow view of science, and shutting down democratic debate. It would also undermine the HLPE which already provides scientific guidance to governments, taking into account diverse knowledge and perspectives from across the food system. (ab)

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