26.07.2021 |

Hundreds of NGOs to boycott UN Food Systems Summit

Food Systems 4 People!

The Pre-Summit to this year’s UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has kicked off in Rome today, accompanied by fierce criticism from hundreds of civil society organizations. More than 300 NGOs are boycotting the event that will be held from July 26 to 28 because they fear that the summit is disproportionately influenced by corporate actors and lacks transparency and accountability mechanisms. Instead, civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations will gather online from 25 to 28 July for the “People’s Counter-Mobilization to Transform Corporate Food Systems”. The organisations argue that the summit “diverts energy, critical mass and financial resources away from the real solutions needed to tackle the multiple hunger, climate and health crises” our planet is facing. They demand a radical transformation of corporate food systems towards a just, inclusive and truly sustainable food system.

The three-day UN Pre-Summit brings together heads of state and delegates from more than 100 countries and will set the stage for the main global UNFSS event in New York in September where the future of food systems and agriculture will be discussed. According to the UN, the aim of the Summit is to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals through a food systems approach, leveraging the interconnectedness of food systems to global challenges such as hunger, climate change, poverty and inequality. The UN claims that the Pre-Summit is a ‘People’s Summit’ “that will bring together youth, farmers, indigenous peoples, civil society, researchers, private sector, policy leaders and ministers of agriculture, environment, health, nutrition and finance, among other participants.” But this view is strongly contested by civil society, peasants organisations and indigenous movements from across the world. The UNFSS results from a partnership between the UN and the World Economic Forum, formed by the world’s top 1000 corporations, and was convened by UN Secretary General António Guterres without involving the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the most inclusive intergovernmental platform for food systems issues. “In March 2020, 550 organisations (…) wrote to UN Secretary-General António Guterres to warn him that the summit is not building on the legacy of past world food summits, which were once convened by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO),” Elizabeth Mpofu and Edgardo Garcia from the International Coordination Committee of La Via Campesina explain in an article for Al Jazeera. “The FAO was given the mandate to organise these events by its member states and it allowed the active participation of civil society through parallel self-organised forums.” However, there was no such mandate given for the organisation of the UNFSS.

The UN system is being hijacked by corporate interests “to legitimize an even more detrimental, technologically-driven and crisis-ridden food system”, the organisations behind the counter-mobilisation warn in a press release. “Despite claims of being a ‘People’s Summit’ and a ‘Solutions’ Summit, UNFSS facilitates greater corporate concentration, fosters unsustainable globalized value chains, and promotes the influence of agribusiness on public institutions.” Elizabeth Mpofu and Edgardo Garcia point out that the “governance of the summit remains firmly in the hands of ‘experts’ known to be staunch defenders of industrial agriculture, and some states, which host many of these large multinational corporations, are driving the agenda.” They write that while the summit organisers have also managed to secure the participation of a small section of the global civil society and advertise that as proof of the summit’s inclusive character, the summit remains far from being that. “When it comes to defining the future of our food system, guess who gets invited by the UN to conceive and construct the plan, principles and content of the global summit. It is big agribusinesses!” This view is supported by Sofia Monsalve, secretary-general of human rights organization FIAN International that is part of the Autonomous People's Response to the Summit. She criticises that the UNFSS excludes the voices of people worst affected by hunger and environmental collapse largely caused by destructive globalized industrial food systems and has instead invited the same companies to solve food-related problems that have ironically created and perpetuated those problems themselves. “Why is it then that proposals phasing out pesticides, redistributing land ownership, or holding companies accountable for their environmental and labor abuses are not on the table?,” asked Monsalve. “It doesn’t make sense to call a dialogue open and inclusive if certain perspectives are excluded if the agenda was set from the beginning by actors representing corporate interests,” she added.

The People’s Counter-Mobilization to Transform Corporate Food Systems is the latest in a series of rejections of the UNFSS, which has been criticized from different fronts, for instance by academics and scientists, and three current and former UN special rapporteurs on the right to food. In April this year, hundreds of scientists, researchers, faculty members, and educators who work in agriculture and food systems, issued an open call to boycott the event. The organisations behind the counter-summit now write that some of the false solutions promoted by the UNFSS to solve the current crises include failed models of voluntary corporate sustainability schemes, ‘nature-positive’ solutions which include risky technologies such as Genetically Modified Organisms and biotechnology, and sustainable intensification of agriculture. “They are neither sustainable, nor affordable for small-scale food producers, and do not address structural injustices such as land and resource grabbing, corporate abuse of power, and economic inequality”, the press release states. The NGOs are calling for a real and radical transformation of food systems. Their vision is a “human rights-based and agroecological transformation of food systems” and they are highlighting the importance of food sovereignty, small-scale sustainable agriculture, traditional knowledge, rights to natural resources, and the rights of workers, Indigenous Peoples, women and future generations. Over the next three days, the alternative summit will discuss those solutions, including binding rules for corporate abuses, ending pesticide use, and agroecology as a science, practice and movement. (ab)

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