Fair Tax Plan Could Prejudice Global South

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Economy & Trade

Questions are asked whether the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agreement to force the world’s biggest companies to pay a fair share of tax will benefit the global South. Credit: Hugo Ramos/Unsplash

BRATISLAVA, Oct 20 2021 (IPS) – An agreement between 136 countries aimed at forcing the world’s biggest companies to pay a fair share of tax has been condemned by critics who say it will benefit richer states at the expense of the global South.


A deal agreed on October 8, and which covers around 90% of the global economy, includes plans for a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15%.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which led negotiations on the agreement, has said it will help end decades of countries undercutting each other on tax.

But independent organisations campaigning for fairer global taxes and financial transparency argue it will rob developing countries of revenues needed to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, ultimately pushing millions more people into poverty.

Matti Kohonen of the Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC) civil society group told IPS: “In principle, a global minimum corporate tax is a good idea, but only if the rate is right and implemented properly. Under this deal, the main beneficiaries are the OECD – which led the negotiations – and its largest members.”

Calls for a global minimum corporate tax rate have grown in recent decades amid increasing scrutiny on the tax practices of multinationals.

The OECD deal, which has an aspirational implementation date of 2023, is designed to set a floor on corporate taxation and stop companies shifting profits to countries with the lowest tax rates they can find.

The OECD says the minimum global rate would see countries collect around USD150 billion in new revenues annually, and that taxing rights on more than USD125 billion of profit will be moved to countries where big multinationals earn their income.

But independent groups say the agreement falls far short of what is needed for a fair global corporate taxation system and has ignored the needs and wishes of developing nations, which rely more heavily on corporate tax than richer states.

According to OECD research Corporate Tax Statistics: Third Edition (oecd.org), in 2018, African countries raised 19% of overall revenue from corporate taxation as opposed to 10% among OECD states.

Critics point out that the 15% floor agreed to is well below the average corporate tax rate in industrialised countries of around 23%, potentially creating a ‘race to the bottom’ as countries cut their existing corporate rates.

It is thought a number of developing states had wanted a higher minimum global rate.

Civil society groups critical of the agreement also have concerns over many exemptions in the deal – there is a ten-year grace period for companies on some aspects of the agreement, and some industries such as extractives and financial services, are exempt.

Meanwhile, they highlight, only 100 of the world’s largest companies would be affected by part of the agreement aimed at getting highly profitable multinationals to pay more taxes in countries where they earn profits. Moreover, the minimum global tax will only apply to companies with a turnover of more than 750 million USD, which would exclude 85-90% of the world’s multinationals.

The fact that countries will have to waive digital services taxation rights, which are important sources of revenue for some developing states, is also problematic. And there are concerns that in many cases extra tax paid by corporations ‘topping up’ their tax bill to 15% will go to countries where they are headquartered. In many cases, this will be in already rich nations such as the US, UK, and Europe.

Chenai Mukumba of the Tax Justice Network Africa advocacy group told IPS: “We have an opportunity to reform the global tax system to make it right for global south countries, but we are settling for so much less. This is a lost opportunity to balance the scales, to put fairness at the centre of the system.”

The deal could have a negative effect on African countries, in particular, she pointed out.

Nigeria and Kenya have not signed up for the fair tax deal. Credit: Muhammadtaha Ibrahim Ma’aji/Unsplash

Kenya and Nigeria are among four countries that have not signed up for the deal.

“A lot of African countries currently have corporate tax rates of 25-30%. If the minimum rate is 15%, there is a great incentive for companies to shift profits elsewhere,” Mukumba said.

“Kenya hasn’t signed up to the deal because it is trying to raise revenue from its digital services taxation rights. It may end up buckling to the pressure [to join the deal],” she added.

OECD impact assessment studies for the deal published in 2020 https://www.oecd.org/tax/beps/economic-impact-assessment-webinar-presentation-october-2020.pdf showed that developing nations would gain as much as 4% extra corporate tax revenue.

The organisation told IPS this month (OCT) that it is now expecting those extra revenues to be even higher because of changes to the agreement since last year.

However, studies Pillar 1 impact assessment – 04.10.21 FINAL (oxfamireland.org) by the global aid group Oxfam estimate that 52 developing countries would receive around only 0.025 percent of their collective GDP in additional annual tax revenue under the redistribution of taxing rights.

The group also says a 25% global minimum corporate tax rate would raise nearly USD 17 billion more for the world’s 38 poorest countries – which are home to almost 39% of the global population – as compared to a 15 percent rate.

Speaking just after the agreement between the 136 countries was reached, Oxfam said in a press release that the deal was “a mockery of fairness that robs pandemic-ravaged developing countries of badly needed revenue for hospitals and teachers and better jobs”.

It added: “The world is experiencing the largest increase in poverty in decades and a massive explosion in inequality, but this deal will do little or nothing to halt either.”

Despite the criticism, OECD officials are adamant that the agreement will benefit developing nations.

They point out that it does not affect any state’s national corporate tax rates, and that the 10-year grace period only applies to a very small amount of income – 5% of the carrying value of a firm’s tangible assets and payrolls in a jurisdiction.

Grace Perez Navarro, Deputy Director of the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, told IPS: “The global minimum tax is aimed at stopping tax competition that is causing a race to the bottom in corporate tax rates.

“It does not require countries that have higher rates than 15% to lower their corporate tax rate, it just ensures that those countries will be able to collect at least 15%, no matter what type of creative tax planning a multinational comes up with.

“It will also reduce the incentive of multinationals to artificially shift their profits to low tax jurisdictions because they will still have to pay a minimum of 15%.”

She added: “It will also relieve the pressure on developing countries to offer excessive, often wasteful tax incentives while providing a carve-out for low-taxed activities that have real substance. This means that developing countries can still offer effective incentives that attract genuine, substantive foreign direct investment.”

But Mukumba said the problem is not that the deal will not bring any extra revenue to developing nations, but that richer nations will get much more out of it.

“Developing nations want a global corporate tax minimum, they have pushed for it in the past. They will get revenue under this deal, yes, but nowhere near as much as richer nations will get out of it,” she said.

This is problematic at a time when many developing nations are struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and need revenue.

“This [deal] will mainly support recovery efforts in the G7 countries instead of developing countries which have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are more in debt, preventing them from generating enough revenues to recover from the crisis and ultimately throwing millions more people into extreme poverty,” said Kohonen.

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Guess Who’s Behind Paralysis on COVID19 in the UN Committee on World Food Security

Aid, Civil Society, COVID-19, Economy & Trade, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

ROME, Oct 19 2021 (IPS) – ‘COVID 19 has multiplied hunger and malnutrition challenges. We need transformative action!’ The first speaker at the UN Committee on World Food Security’s (CFS) 49th Plenary Session, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, turned the spotlight on the disastrous impacts of the pandemic that have afflicted communities around the world for close to two years.


Nora McKeon

He was echoed by the presenter of the 2021 edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World for whom ‘COVID is only the tip of the iceberg’, while keynote speaker, Jeffry Sachs, emphasized the multifaceted nature of the crisis, with chronic poverty and conflict at the center.

Delegation after delegation took the virtual floor to share their concerns: Kenya speaking for the Africa Group, Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Norway, Morocco, Peru, Spain, Indonesia, Mexico, Malaysia, Mali, Cape Verde, South Africa, Uganda, Saint Lucia and more. The impacts of Covid 19 on food security and nutrition are heavy and lasting. The vulnerable are the most effected, within and between countries. Covid has deepened and exacerbated existing structural fragilities and injustices in our food systems. Its causes are multisectoral and cannot be treated in a siloed way.

‘Multilateralism, solidarity and cooperation are key to the way forward’, the President of ECOSOC added, and ‘the CFS is a unique multilateral forum because it brings all the actors together in the name of the right to food’. The text adopted at the end of Day 1 summarized all of these contributions, and deepened concern by drawing attention to the possibility of recurrent pandemics.

With this kind of an opening one could have expected a standing ovation when it was proposed, the following day, that the CFS put together a globally coordinated policy response to the impacts of COVID 19 on food security and nutrition and a proposed precautionary approach towards possible future shocks of this kind.

This proposal was a long time in the building. For a year and a half the CFS’s Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) had been documenting the experience and proposals of its constituencies and communities and bringing this evidence from the ground into the global debate. Earlier this year an informal ‘Group of Committed’ governments and other CFS participants had come together to push for the CFS to take determined action. How could it fail to live up to its mandate in the face of the most serious threat to global food security the world has faced since the 2007-2008 food crisis?

Just a week before CFS49 the Group of Committed had held a seminar where evidence and proposals for global policy action were presented by national governments, regional and local authorities, small-scale food producers, the urban food insecure, along with UN agencies, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and the CFS’s own High-Level Panel of Experts.

The seminar demonstrated that action is being taken by different actors and authorities at local, national and regional levels, while UN agencies have developed and adopted relevant policy instruments and programmes in their respective sectors. What has been missing thus far is a way of putting the different perspectives and initiatives together into a multisectoral, multilaterally coordinated approach. Filling this gap was the proposal that was put on the table in CFS49.

‘We need a globally coherent and coordinated response to support governments’ efforts and the CFS is the appropriate place for this to happen,’ the Ambassador of Mali had exhorted in his opening address.

So what about the standing ovation? The proposal was supported by countries from the Global South led by African countries, the most affected by injustice in access to vaccines, dependency on food imports, and indebtedness, but including also Mexico, Peru, Morocco, the CSM and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. ‘This is the place to deal with COVID!’ he said. ‘It is the priority food issue today. It wasn’t addressed by the UN Food Systems Summit. The CFS has the mandate and the tools, and the other UN agencies are highly committed to cooperate.’

But, incredibly and unacceptably, the proposal did not pass. It was blocked on specious, procedural grounds by a steamroller coalition of big commodity exporters who push back on any possible limitation that might be placed on global trade in the name of human rights, equity, environmental concerns: the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Russia. The EU, shamefully, was silent.

The implications for inclusive multilateralism, democracy, the needed radical transformation of our food systems are severe. ‘A key barrier to transformation is interference from corporations,’ stated the delegate of Mexico. ‘Governments need to assume their role as agents of change, regulators of food systems, and protectors of the planet, but we can’t do it alone. Global attention is needed and the CFS is the right place for it.’

But The CFS is being held hostage. The arrogance with which a few are ignoring reality, evidence and urgency is leading to an unacceptable increase in the violation of the human rights of the many. Patience is wearing thin. ‘If I’m in this room it’s to honor the concerns of those most affected in my region,’ a member of the Group of Committed asserted in the aftermath of the session.

And the people of her region, along with others from around the world, are raising their voices ever more loudly, as in the counter mobilization to transform corporate food systems organized last July in parallel to the Pre-Summit of the UNFSS [hyperlink]. Radical food system transformation is being built from the ground up and the CFS, however handicapped, is the most resounding global echo chamber for people’s claims.

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Argentina’s Small Farming Communities Reach Consumers Online

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Cooperatives, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories

Food and Agriculture

This article is part of IPS’ coverage of World Food Day, celebrated Oct. 16, whose 2021 theme is: Grow, nourish, sustain. Together.

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 14 2021 (IPS) – “The biggest problem for family farmers has always been to market and sell what they produce, at a fair price,” says Natalia Manini, a member of the Union of Landless Rural Workers (UST), a small farmers organisation in Argentina that has been taking steps to forge direct ties with consumers.


The UST, which groups producers of fresh vegetables, preserves and honey, as well as goat and sheep breeders, from the western province of Mendoza, opened its own premises in April in the provincial capital of the same name.

In addition, it has just joined Alma Nativa (“native soul”), a network created to market and sell products from peasant and indigenous organisations, which brings together more than 4,300 producers grouped in 21 organisations, and now sells its products over the Internet.

“Selling wholesale to a distributor is simple, but the problem is that a large part of the income does not reach the producer,” Manini told IPS from the town of Lavalle in Mendoza province.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country.” — Guadalupe Marín

The rural leader argues that, due to cost considerations, farmers can only access fair trade through collective projects, which have received a boost from the acceleration of digital changes generated by the covid-19 pandemic.

Alma Nativa is a marketing and sales solution formally created in 2018 by two Argentine non-governmental organisations (NGOs) focused on socio-environmental issues: Fibo Social Impact and the Cultural Association for Integral Development (ACDI). Their approach was to go a step beyond the scheme of economic support for productive development projects.

“Back in 2014 we began to ask ourselves why small farmer and indigenous communities could not secure profitable prices for the food and handicrafts they produce, and to think about how to get farmers to stop depending on donations and subsidies from NGOs and the state,” Fibo director Gabriela Sbarra told IPS in an interview in Buenos Aires.

Sbarra was a regular participant in regional community product fairs, which prior to the restrictions put in place due to the pandemic were often organised in Argentina by the authorities, who financed the setting up of the stands, accommodation and travel costs from their communities for farmers and craftspeople.

It was only thanks to this economic aid that farmers and artisans were able to make a profit.

“The effort was geared towards finding a genuine market for these products, which could not be sold online because it is very difficult to generate traffic on the Internet and they cannot reach supermarkets either, because they have no production volume. Informality was leaving communities out of the market,” Sbarra explained.

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

E-commerce, the new market

So the founders of Alma Nativa knocked on the doors of Mercado Libre, an e-commerce giant born in Argentina that has expanded throughout most of Latin America. The company agreed not to charge commissions for sales by an online store of agroecological food produced by local communities.

Alma Nativa then set up a warehouse in the town of Villa Madero, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where products arriving from rural communities throughout the country are labeled for distribution.

“The pandemic has created an opportunity, because it helped to open a debate about what we eat. Many people began to question how food is produced and even forced agribusiness companies to think about more sustainable production systems,” said Manini.

Norberto Gugliotta, manager of the Cosar Beekeeping Cooperative, emphasised that the pandemic not only accelerated the process of digitalisation of producers and consumers, but also fueled the search by a growing part of society for healthy food produced in a socially responsible manner.

“We were prepared to seize the opportunity, because our products were ready, so we joined Alma Nativa this year,” said the beekeeper from the town of Sauce Viejo. Gugliotta is the visible face of a cooperative made up of some 120 producers in the province of Santa Fe, in the centre of this South American country, who produce certified organic, fair trade honey.

Argentina, Latin America’s third largest economy, is an agricultural powerhouse, with a powerful agribusiness sector whose main products are soybeans, corn and soybean oil, which in 2020 generated 26.3 billion dollars in exports, according to official figures.

Behind the success lies a huge universe of family farmers and peasant and indigenous communities. According to the latest National Agricultural Census, carried out in 2018, more than 90 percent of the country’s 250,881 farms are family-run.

But the infrastructure and technological lag in rural areas is significant, as demonstrated by the fact that only 35 percent of farms have Internet access.

The deprivation is particularly acute in the Chaco, a neglected region in the north of the country, home to some 200,000 indigenous people belonging to nine groups whose economy is closely linked to natural resources, according to the non-governmental Fundapaz.

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

New platform for indigenous handicrafts

Communities from the Chaco, a vast region of low forests and savannas and rich biodiversity covering more than one million square km in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, which is home to a diversity of native peoples, also began to market their handicrafts over Mercado Libre in the last few weeks.

“This initiative originated in Brazil with the ‘Amazonia em Pé’ programme and today we are replicating it in Argentina, in the Gran Chaco area. It seeks to build bridges between local artisans and consumers throughout the country,” explained Guadalupe Marín, director of sustainability at Mercado Libre.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country,” she told IPS in Buenos Aires.

On Sept. 27, Mercado Libre launched the campaign “From the Gran Chaco, for you”, which offers for sale more than 2,500 products in 200 categories, such as baskets, indigenous and local art, decorative elements made with natural fibers, honey, weavings and handmade games.

It includes not only Alma Nativa, but also Emprendedores por Naturaleza (“entrepreneurs by/for nature”), a programme launched by the environmental foundation Rewilding Argentina, which works for the conservation of the Chaco and now promotes the sale of products made by 60 families living in rural areas adjacent to the El Impenetrable national park, the largest protected area in the region.

“The idea for the project arose last year, after we conducted a socioeconomic survey among 250 families in the area that found that the only income of 98 percent of them comes from welfare,” said Fatima Hollmann, regional coordinator of the Rewilding Argentina Communities Programme.

She told IPS that “people raise livestock for subsistence and sometimes work on fencing a field or some other temporary task, but there are no steady sources of employment in El Impenetrable.”

“That is why we are trying to generate income for local residents,” Hollmann explained in an interview in Buenos Aires. “Our production lines are focused on ceramics, since most people have built their houses there with adobe. Many also know how to make bricks and we have held trainings to teach people to turn a brick into an artistic piece, inspired by native fauna, which transmits the importance of conserving the forest.”

According to the figures released by the expert during the first week of the programme “From the Gran Chaco, for you” in early October, 644 products were offered for sale, of which 382 were sold to buyers from more than 10 Argentine provinces, including 100 percent of the textiles available and 76 percent of the wooden handicrafts.

“The alternative is to cut down the native forests,” Hollmann says. “We are proposing a transition from an extractivist economy to a regenerative one, which contributes to the reconstruction of the ecosystem, and gives consumers in the cities the chance to contribute to that goal.”

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The UN Food Systems Summit and Some Issues of Concern

Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Oxen have been used to plough in agriculture for at least 3,000 years. They are still used today. Painting from the burial chamber of Sennudjem c, 1200 BC, Egypt. Credit: Trevor Page

LETHBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 21 2021 (IPS) – Why is the UN holding a Food Systems Summit? Two issues that need discussion at the international leadership level are: Long before the Covid crisis was upon us, the number of hungry people in the world was increasing. Why ? What is the cause of this disturbing trend? And, can a country really claim to be food secure, unless it produces or can buy enough food to feed its population and its people can access sufficient quantities to keep themselves fit and healthy? Disquietening questions as extreme weather begins to show the destructive power that climate change will have on the planet and its people.


A whole range of food system issues will be discussed at the summit, among them: production, processing, supply chain, consumption, nutrition, malnutrition, food aid and waste.

Food Production

Food, or the nutrients it contains, is fuel for the body. Agriculture and the production of food in an organized way is one of the earliest human endeavors. It started in the fertile crescent of the Middle East, some 10,000 BCE. While mechanization dominates the way food is produced today in the major food producing countries, animal traction is still important in many parts of the world.

Million dollar combines handle reaping, threshing, gathering and winnowing in a single operation on North American and European cereal fields today. GPS programmed, they are set to become driverless within a decade. Fruit and vegetables grown in vertical farms in cities using aquaponics are already springing up around the world. Aquaculture too can be moved to vertical farms, making fish much cheaper for urban dwellers. Vertical farms will greatly reduce labour costs and transportation requirements. Mechanization hugely reduces the number of people engaged in farming and consequently, the cost. Robotics and digital agriculture are already with us in some parts of the world. But where most people live in the world, traditional manual methods and animal traction are set to continue until the high investment needed for cutting-edge technology becomes doable.

Combines harvesting barley for the 2021 annual Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB) food drive, Alberta, Canada. The grain is auctioned and the proceeds matched 4:1 by the Canadian government and used by CFGB to promote agriculture in developing countries. Credit: Trevor Page

Wrestling with nature

Despite the advances in technology, drought can badly affect a crop. Cereal crops in western Canada and the United States have been seriously affected by drought this year. Climate change presents the greatest challenge yet to agriculture, and to the human species, generally.

Agriculture is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses contributing to climate change. According to FAO, the rearing of livestock accounts for the highest proportion because of the methane produced from enteric fermentation as well as manure left on pastures. Also according to FAO, 44% of GHGs are emitted from Asia, 25% from the Americas, 15% from Africa, 12% from Europe and 4% from Oceania.

Is organic agriculture the answer to healthier food and also the way to go because it’s kinder to the planet? Studies have found that there are higher antioxidant levels in organically grown plant-based foods. There is also evidence that organic food has lower toxic, heavy metal levels and less pesticide residue, for instance organic eggs, meat and dairy products. Organic farms use less energy and have lower GHG emissions. They also reduce the pollution caused by the widespread use of nitrogen fertilizer on industrial farms, with the runoff causing the eutrophication of water bodies. Organic agriculture is based on nourishing the soil with composts, manure and regular rotations, keeping it covered with different crops throughout the year. That sequesters carbon, building healthier soil.

The problem is that organically grown food is more expensive that industrially produced food. On average, it retails around 25% more than food sold in supermarkets. Also, most organic farmers need to supplement their income from an additional occupation in order to make ends meet. So, despite the benefits to human health and to the planet, does organic farming have a future? The answer is a resounding “yes!”, both from producers and consumers. Although globally, only 1.5% of farmland is organic, in 16 countries 10% or more of all agricultural land is organic, and the proportions are growing. The countries with the largest organic share of their total farmland are Liechtenstein at 38.5 %, Samoa at 34.5% and Austria 24.7%, according to IFOAM Organics International. Today, organic food is more of a lifestyle choice, both by the producer and the consumer. But if its growth is an indicator of concern for our health and for that of the planet, and more and more people are willing and able to pay the extra cost involved, then organics can be seen as an indicator of wellbeing and a reduction of inequality, which is a major cause of conflict in the world today.

Healthy root formation on Mozart red potatoes on The Perry Farm in Taber, Canada. Regenerative agriculture is practiced on this farm. Credit: Trevor Page

Although humankind has grown up largely on a diet of just three cereals: wheat, corn and rice, potatoes are actually more nutritious. Furthermore, potatoes can be grown on marginal land and they require only one-third of the water needed to grow the world’s three main cereals. Five years ago, China moved to double its potato production and to add them to the diet of its growing population. Should Africa be following suit?

Conclusion

The Food Systems Summit kicks off in New York on September 23 during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. World leaders will come together to find common ground and form alliances that accelerate our way to realizing the SDGs in this remaining decade of action before 2030 is upon us. Will we succeed in making Zero hunger a reality? If we are serious about this goal, the answer includes rethinking and redesigning our food systems to make them more sustainable.

Trevor Page, resident in Lethbridge, Canada, is a former Emergencies Director of the World Food Programme. He also served with the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, FAO, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR and what is now the UN Department of Political and Peace Building Affairs.

 

If Women Farmers were Politicians, the World Would be Fed, says Danielle Nierenberg

Biodiversity, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women in Politics

Food Sustainability

Women produce more than 50 percent of the food in the world but are disadvantaged when it comes to access to resources such as land and financial services. Credit: Busani Bafana, IPS

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Sep 17 2021 (IPS) – Women, key contributors to agriculture production, are missing at the decision table, with alarming consequences, says Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg in an exclusive interview with IPS.


Giving women a seat at the policymaking table could accelerate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and keep the world fed and nourished. This necessitates a transformation of the currently lopsided global food system, she says.

Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg.

Nierenberg, a top researcher and advocate on food systems and agriculture, acknowledges that women are the most affected during environmental or health crises. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global food production, affecting women farmers and food producers who were already excluded from full participation in agricultural development.

“We still have a long way to go in making sure that policies are not gender blind and include the needs of women at the forefront when mass disasters occur,“ Nierenberg told IPS, adding that policymakers need to understand the needs of farmers and fisherfolk involved in food systems.

“I think it is time we need more people who are involved with agriculture to run for political office because they understand its challenges,” she said. “If we had more farmers in governments around the world, imagine what that would look like. If we had women farmers running municipalities, towns and even countries, that is where change would really happen.”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), women contribute more than 50 percent of food produced globally and make up over 40 percent of the agricultural labour force. But while women keep families fed and nourished, they are disadvantaged in accessing critical resources for food production compared to men. They lack access to land, inputs, extension, banking and financial services.

“Until we end the discrimination of women around the globe, I doubt these things will change even though women are in the largest part of the world’s food producers,” said Nierenberg, who co-founded and now heads the global food systems think tank, Food Tank.

Arguing that COVID-19 and the climate crisis were not going to be the last global shocks to affect the world, Nierenberg said women and girls had been impacted disproportionately; hence the need to act now and change the food system. Women have experienced the loss of jobs and income, reduced food production and nutrition and more girls are now out of school.

“It is not enough for me to speak for women around the globe. Women who are actually doing the work need to speak for themselves; they need to be included in these conversations,” Nierenberg said.

“What happens is that in conferences, there are a lot of white men in suits talking on behalf of the rest of the world. But we need the rest of the world, and women included, to be in the room.”

A food system is a complex network of all activities involving the growing, processing, distribution and consumption of food. It also includes the governance, ecological sustainability and health impact of food.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted invisible issues, like the interconnectedness of our food systems, she said it was urgent to invest in regional and localized food systems that included women and youth. Food Tank and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) work collaboratively to investigate and set the agenda for concrete solutions for resetting the food system.

Divine Ntiokam, Food Systems Champion and Founder and Managing Director, Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network Global (GCSAYN), agrees. While youth are ready to engage in promoting a just and inclusive transformation of rural areas, it was unfortunate they were rarely involved in decision-making, she said. They are excluded from the household level to larger political institutions and companies and need better prospects of financial security to remain in the farming sector.

“Young men and women need to be given special attention in formulating legislation to purchase land and receive proper land rights,” Ntiokam told IPS.

“International donors and governments need to invest in youth, particularly young women and girls, for their meaningful participation along with the food systems value network,” he said.

“Youth need to have a ‘seat at the table’, as they have at the Summit, in terms of decision-making on where governments and international donors invest their resources to make agriculture and food a viable, productive and profitable career.”

Researchers say current food systems are unfair, unhealthy, and inequitable, underscoring the urgency to transform the global food system. According to the FAO, more than 800 million people went to bed hungry in 2020, and scores of others are malnourished.

Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

For food systems to be just, there is an urgency to close the gender resource gap, says Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will, on September 23, 2021 host the UN Food Systems Summit during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. The Summit is billed as a platform to push for solid support in changing the world food systems to help the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while spurring the achievement of the SDG by 2030.

The Summit, the UN says will “culminate in an inclusive global process, offering a catalytic moment for public mobilization and actionable commitments by heads of state and government and other constituency leaders to take the food system agenda forward”.

“They (food systems) must also transform in ways that are just and equitable, and that meaningfully engage and benefit women and girls,” Njuki told IPS. She added that harmful social and gender norms creating barriers for women and girls by defining what women and girls can or cannot eat, what they can or cannot own, where they can go or not go should be removed.

“This transformation has to be driven from all levels and all sectors in our food systems: global to local, public to private, large scale producers to smallholder farmers and individual consumers,” Njuki said.

Leaders should enact policies that directly address injustices – such as ensuring women’s access to credit, markets, and land rights, Njuki said, noting that individual women and men need to confront social norms and legal prejudices and demand changes.

Njuki believes that current food systems have contributed to wide disparities among rich and poor.

“These negative outcomes are intimately linked with many of the biggest challenges facing humanity right now – justice and equality, climate change, human rights – and these challenges cannot be addressed without transforming how our food systems work,” Njuki told IPS.

“We are at a pivotal moment on the last decade before the deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This must be the decade of action for food systems to end hunger.”

 

COVID-19 Recovery Requires Justice Beyond Rhetoric

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Education, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy

Opinion

Credit: Global Policy Forum

BONN, Germany, Sep 16 2021 (IPS) – Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have exacerbated rather than reduced global inequalities. On the one hand, the net wealth of billionaires has risen to record levels since the outbreak of the pandemic (increasing by more than US$ 5 trillion to US$ 13.1 trillion from 2020 to 2021), on the other hand, the number of people living in extreme poverty has also increased massively (by approx. 100 million to 732 million in 2020).


These contrasts alone show that something is fundamentally wrong in the world.

In response to the disastrous effects of the pandemic, there was much talk of solidarity with regard to health support, including access to vaccines. But the brutal national competition for vaccines shows that solidarity is embraced by many world leaders merely as a rhetorical flourish.

The World Health Organization (WHO) made an early appeal to countries to agree on a coordinated distribution of vaccines, with available doses distributed fairly according to the size of each country’s population. This has not happened.

By the end of August 2021, more than 60 percent of the people in high-income countries had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but less than 2 percent have done so in low-income countries.

The European Commission, the USA, the UK, and numerous other countries have signed bilateral COVID-19 Vaccine Agreements with pharmaceutical producers to secure vaccine quotas. By the end of August 2021, more than 400 agreements were concluded, securing over 18 billion doses of vaccine.

The European Commission has so far negotiated supply agreements for 4.3 billion doses of vaccine, equivalent to 8 vaccine doses per capita of the EU population. The UK could vaccinate its population 9 times with the contracted doses, the USA 10 times and Canada as many as 16 times.

Exacerbating the problem for many countries in the global South is the enormous cost of vaccines. The producers do not charge standard prices, but vary their prices depending on the quantity purchased and the bargaining power of the purchaser.

Occasionally, they grant preferential terms to rich countries, while countries in the global South sometimes have to pay higher prices. For example, the European Commission received a batch of AstraZeneca vaccine for US$ 2.19, while Argentina had to pay US$ 4.00 and the Philippines US$ 5.00. Botswana had to pay US$ 14.44 million for 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine, or US$ 28.88 per dose, while the USA got Moderna’s vaccine at almost half the price (US$ 15.00).

While the vaccine pharmaceutical oligopoly makes exorbitant profits, countries of the global South are confronted with falling government revenues and rising debt burdens. The situation will worsen as regular vaccine boosters become necessary in the coming years.

What is tantamount to a license to print money for the pharmaceutical companies is a massive burden on public budgets. In view of this dramatic disparity, the promise to “leave no one behind” of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains an empty slogan.

Insufficient responses to the global health crisis

As an immediate response to the global health crisis, the People’s Vaccine Alliance has formulated “5 steps to end vaccine apartheid“. These are in line with the demands derived from the analyses in the Spotlight Report 2021.

Increasing global vaccine production capacity, lowering market prices, and substantially increasing public financial support are vital, especially for the poor and disadvantaged people in the global South.

One way to overcome the vaccine shortage is to accelerate technology transfer. In May 2020, WHO established the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), designed to pool voluntary licenses, research and regulatory data. But most countries with large vaccine production capacity, such as the USA, Germany, China and India, do not support the initiative. Thus, it has so far remained without any noticeable impact.

Faced with scarce global production capacity, India, South Africa, Kenya and Eswatini applied for a waiver under the TRIPS Agreement of the WTO to temporarily remove patent protection for COVID-19-related vaccines, medicines and devices.

The TRIPS waiver is intended to enable manufacturers in the global South in particular to produce medicines and vaccines more quickly and at lower cost. More than 100 countries support this initiative, including the USA as of May 2021.

The EU, the UK, Switzerland and the pharmaceutical companies and lobby groups based in these countries are particularly opposed and have so far blocked an agreement.

In this context, the more fundamental question arises as to whether medicines vital to realize the human right to health should be patented at all. Should they not in principle be considered global public goods, especially when, as in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, billions of dollars of public money have gone into research and development?

In another initiative, the WHO and several partners—including France, the EU and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation –launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX initiative.

This has shifted the centre of the global COVID-19 response from WHO to a multi-stakeholder initiative with its own governance and decision-making structure, thereby further weakening WHO’s role in the global health architecture.

But with the unilateral approach of the rich countries to vaccine procurement, COVAX has failed in its claim to serve a global coordination function. Its primary task is now to provide COVID-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries with the objective to provide at least 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021.

By 14 September 2021, just 270 million doses have been delivered. To date, COVAX has received pledges of US$ 9.825 billion, nowhere near enough to provide sufficient vaccines for about 4 billion people in the 92 countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully demonstrated the absence of a functioning global health system. This reality has led to the proposal to create a Pandemic Treaty – a legally binding framework and improved global governance structures for pandemic preparedness and response.

Whether it can actually overcome structural weaknesses of the global health architecture, such as the underfunding of the WHO, is very unclear. Depending on its design, it could lead to an actual strengthening of the WHO, or to its further weakening by outsourcing pandemic preparedness and response to multi-stakeholder bodies with limited public accountability.

More transformational steps are needed

Beyond responding to the global health crisis, far more fundamental transformational steps are needed.

An essential aspect of an agenda for change is the shift toward a rights-based economy and a concept of human rights that forms the basis of our vision of economic justice.

To make this systemic shift happen, the trend towards privatization, outsourcing and systematic dismantling of public services must be reversed.

To combat rising inequality and build a socially just, inclusive post-COVID world, everyone must have equitable access to public services, which must be reclaimed as public goods and run in the common interest, not for profit.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has repeatedly emphasized that human rights must guide all COVID-19 response and recovery measures. This should also mean strengthening the rights of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis.

First and foremost, that means the millions of workers in the healthcare sector, 70 percent of them women. Most of them experience poor work conditions, low wages and job insecurity.

The situation is similar in the education sector. Research by Education International shows that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers’ workloads have steadily worsened, while salaries have remained the same or even decreased.

The situation has continued to deteriorate as a result of the pandemic. The global teacher shortage, which the UN estimated at 69 million even before the pandemic, will continue to grow so long as teaching remains to be “an overworked, undervalued, and underpaid profession”.

A basic precondition for the adequate provision of public goods and services is that States have sufficient resources. To prevent the COVID-19 pandemic being followed by a global debt and austerity pandemic, governments must be enabled to expand their fiscal space and to implement alternatives to neoliberal austerity policies.

This includes implementing a progressive tax reform, which prioritizes taxes on wealth and high earners.

Over the past year, many UN officials, human rights activists and civil society groups (like in the Spotlight Report 2020) have demanded that the resources of the COVID-19 recovery and economic stimulus packages should be used proactively to promote human rights and the implementation of the SDGs.

During that time, initial studies show that this is rarely the case. A report of the Financial Transparency Coalition that tracked fiscal and social protection recovery measures in nine countries of the global South found that in eight of them a total of 63 percent of announced COVID-19 funds went to large corporations, rather than small and medium enterprises or social protection measures.

Particularly poorer countries, some of which were already facing massive budget shortfalls before the pandemic, need substantial external support to finance additional healthcare and social spending and measures to overcome the economic recession.

In this regard, the general allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) equivalent to US$ 650 billion in August 2021 – the largest distribution ever made by the IMF – has been heralded as a major achievement. However, its distribution will not benefit the countries most in need without rechanneling measures and again illustrates existing imbalances in the global economic architecture.

Only if the world collectively embarks on the path toward transformational policies is there a chance to reduce global inequalities, protect our shared planet and make the proclaimed goal of solidarity a political and institutional reality.

Jens Martens is Director, Global Policy Forum, Bonn, Germany

The Spotlight Report is published by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), Public Services International (PSI), Social Watch, Society for International Development (SID), and Third World Network (TWN), supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

The report will be published on 17 September 2021, 9am EDT and will be available at www.2030spotlight.org

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