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

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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.”

 

Food Systems Summit’s Scientistic Threat

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Sep 14 2021 (IPS) – Timely interventions by civil society, including concerned scientists, have prevented many likely abuses of next week’s UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS). The Secretary General (UNSG) must now prevent UN endorsement of what remains of its prime movers’ corporate agenda.


Summit threat
The narrative on food challenges has changed in recent years. Instead of the ‘right to food’, ‘food security’, ‘eliminating hunger and malnutrition’, ‘sustainable agriculture’, etc, neutral sounding ‘systems’ solutions are being touted. These will advance transnational corporations’ influence, interests and profits.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The call for the Summit supposedly came from the SG’s office. There was little, if any prior consultation with the Rome-based UN food agency leaders. However, this apparent ‘oversight’ was quickly addressed by the SG, which led to the preparatory commission in Rome last month.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was created by the UN-led post-Second World War multilateral system to address food challenges. Later, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) were also established in Rome under UN auspices.

President Donald Trump’s sovereigntist unilateralism accelerated earlier tendencies undermining UN-led multilateralism, especially after the US-led invasion of Iraq. A proliferation of ostensibly ‘multistakeholder’ initiatives – typically financed by transnational agribusinesses and philanthropic foundations – have also marginalised UN-led multilateralism and the Rome food agencies.

Thus far, the Summit process has resisted UN-led multilateral follow-up actions. To be sure, UN system marginalisation has been subtle, not ham-fisted. Besides the Rome trio, the UN Committee for World Food Security (CFS) and its High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) have been casualties.

The CFS has evolved in recent years to involve a broad range of food system stakeholders, including private business interests and civil society. The latter includes social movements – of farmers, other food producers and civil society stakeholders – largely bypassed by Summit processes.

Through the FSS, World Economic Forum (WEF) and other initiatives have been presented as from the UN. In fact, these have minimally involved UN system leaders, let alone Member States. Many refer to the Summit without the UN prefix to reject its legitimacy, as growing numbers cynically call it the ‘WEF-FSS’.

Science-policy nexus takeover
The proposal for a new science-policy interface – “either by extending the mandate of the Summit’s Scientific Group, or by establishing a permanent new panel or coordinating mechanism in its mould” – is of particular concern.

The FSS Scientific Group overwhelmingly comprises scientists and economists largely chosen by the Summit’s prime movers. Besides marginalising many other food system stakeholders, its biases are antithetical to UN values and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Their assessments barely consider the consequences of innovations for the vulnerable. Prioritising technical over social innovations, they have not been transparent, let alone publicly accountable.

Their pretentiously scientistic approach is patronising, and hence, unlikely to effectively address complex contemporary food system challenges involving multiple stakeholders.

Extending the Scientific Group’s remit beyond the Summit, or by otherwise making it permanent, would betray the commitment that the FSS would support and strengthen, not undermine the CFS. The CFS “should be where the Summit outcomes are ultimately discussed and assessed, using its inclusive participation mechanisms”.

Such a new body would directly undermine the HLPE’s established “role and remit” to provide scientific guidance to Member States through the CFS. In July, hundreds of scientists warned that a new science panel would undermine not only food system governance, but also the CFS itself.

Saving UN-led multilateralism
Just as Summit preparations have displaced CFS, the proposal science-policy interface would marginalise the HLPE, undermining the most successful UN system reform to date in meaningfully and productively advancing inclusive multi-stakeholderism.

After the 2007-2008 food price crisis, CFS was reformed in 2009 to provide “an inclusive platform to ensure legitimacy across a broad range of constituencies”, and to improve the coherence of various diverse food-related policies.

Like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the HLPE consults widely and openly with stakeholders on its research assessments and work priorities. Its reports are subject to extensive peer reviews to ensure they serve CFS constituents’ needs, remain policy relevant, and address diverse perspectives.

Last week, several crucial civil society leaders, working closely with the UN system, warned that Summit outcomes could further erode the UN’s public support and legitimacy, and the ability of the Rome bodies to guide needed food system reform.

The group includes UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Michael Fakhri, his predecessor Olivier De Schutter, now UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, CFS chair Thanawat Tiensin and HLPE chair Martin Cole.

Their concerns reiterate those of hundreds of scientists, global governance experts, civil society groups, and the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), among many. The main worry is about “the threat it poses to the role of science and knowledge in food system decision-making”.

Mindful of the controversy around the FSS from the outset, the four urge the SG, “In the wake of the Summit, it will be imperative to restore faith in the UN system…A clear commitment to support and strengthen the HLPE and the CFS would therefore be invaluable”.

They stress, “there is much to be done to ensure that the HLPE of the CFS is equipped to continue playing its crucial role at the interface of food system science and policy”. After earlier setbacks, the UNSG must defend the progress CFS and HLPE represent for meaningful UN-led multilateralism and engagement with civil society.

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Beware UN Food Systems Summit Trojan Horse

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Financial Crisis, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Inequity, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – Undoubtedly, the world needs to reform existing food systems to better serve humanity and sustainable development. But the United Nations World Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) must be consistent with UN-led multilateralism.

For the first time ever, the World Economic Forum (WEF), a partnership of some of the world’s most powerful corporations, is partnering the UN in launching the Summit, now scheduled for September, with its ‘Pre-Summit’ beginning today.


Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Food insecurity is primarily due to inequalities and deprivations as victims lack the means to obtain the food they need. The UN should not serve those who cynically use hunger, starvation and deprivation to advance private commercial interests.

UN-led multilateralism threatened
The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and seemingly unchallenged US dominance in the 1990s posed new threats to UN-led multilateralism. The World Trade Organization was set up in 1995 outside the UN system. Later, ‘recalcitrant’ Secretary-General (SG) Boutros-Ghali was blocked from a second term.

The four UN Development Decades from the 1960s ended with the lofty, Secretariat-drafted Millennium Declaration, bypassing Member State involvement. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were then elaborated by the UN Development Programme with scant Member State consultation.

Growing corporate sway in the UN system got a big boost with the UN Global Compact. Such influences have affected governance of UN agencies, now better known as the World Health Organization struggles to contain the pandemic.

Difficult negotiations followed growing developing country disappointment with the MDGs, not delivering on climate finance as promised in 2009, and failure to better address the 2008 global financial crisis and its aftermath.

Hence, the negotiated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) compromise enjoys greater legitimacy than the MDGs. However, achieving Agenda 2030 was undermined from the outset as rich countries blocked needed funding at the third UN Financing for Development summit in mid-2015.

Summit bypasses UN processes
In the last dozen years after the 2008 world food price spike, the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has become an inclusive forum for civil society and corporate interests to debate how best to advance food security. Unsurprisingly, CFS has long addressed food systems.

CFS’s High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) is widely acknowledged as competent, having prepared balanced and comprehensive reports on matters of current and likely future concern. In the UN system, CFS is now seen as a ‘multistakeholder’ engagement model for emulation. Yet, the Summit bypassed CFS from the outset.

Nominally answering to the UNSG, Summit processes have been largely set by a small, largely unaccountable coterie. UNFSS organisers initially moved ahead without representative stakeholder participation until his intervention led to some consultative processes.

Mainly funded by the WEF and some major partners, they remain mindful of who pays the piper. Hence, they mainly promote supposedly ‘game-changing’, ‘scalable’ and investment-inducing solutions claiming to offer technological fixes.

Agroecology innovation
An HLPE report has approvingly considered agroecology or ‘nature-based solutions’. Many scientists have been working with food producers for decades to increase food productivity, output, diversity and resilience through better agroecological practices, thus cutting costs and enhancing sustainability.

The evidence is unambiguous that agroecology has delivered far better results than ‘Green Revolution’ innovations. A survey of almost 300 large ecological agriculture projects in more than fifty poor countries reported rising farmer incomes due to lower costs and a 79% average productivity increase.

This contrasts with the record of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) launched in 2006. With funding from the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, it promised to double yields and incomes for 30 million smallholder farm households by 2020. Despite much government spending, yields hardly rose as rural poverty grew.

Agroecological innovations have proved effective against infestations. Thus, safer, more effective biopesticides that do not kill useful insects and microbes, and non-toxic alternatives to agrochemical pesticides have been created.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosted its first International Agroecology Symposium in 2014, before committing to ‘Scaling Up Agroecology’. But for Kip Tom, President Trump’s representative, FAO was no longer “science-based”.

Demonising agroecology
The Gates Foundation has been funding the Cornell Alliance for Science, ostensibly to “depolarize the GMO debates” by providing training in “advanced agricultural biotechnology communications”. Why traditional agricultural practices can’t transform African agriculture is only one instance of such sponsored propaganda masquerading as science.

Well-resourced lobbyists are using the UNFSS to secure support and legitimacy for commercial agendas. With abundant means, their advocacy routinely invokes ‘public-private partnerships’ and ‘science, technology and innovation’ rhetoric.

Forced to be more inclusive, Summit organisers are now using ‘solution clusters’ for advocacy. They then build broad ‘multi-stakeholder’ coalitions to advance purported solutions with the UNFSS mark of approval.

With strong and growing evidence of agroecology’s progress and potential, propaganda against it has grown in recent years. Agroecology advocates are caricatured as ‘Luddite eco-imperialists’, ‘Keeping Africa on the Brink of Starvation’, and condemning farmers to ‘poverty, malnutrition and death’.

A public relations consultant has accused agroecology advocates of being “the face of a ‘green’ neocolonialism” “idealizing peasant labour and retrograde subsistence farming” and denying “the Green Revolution’s successes”.

Agroecology solutions are the main, if not only ones consistent with the UN’s overarching commitment to sustainable development. But the propagandists portray them as uninformed barriers to agricultural and social progress. Such deliberate deceptions block needed food system reforms.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Michael Fakhri alerted UNFSS Special Envoy Agnes Kalibata that agroecology is being dismissed as backward when it should be central to the Summit. Concurrently President of AGRA, with its particular commitment to needed food system reform, she is in an impossible position.

Best Summit money can buy?
Investing in the Summit is securing legitimacy and more resources from governments, the UN system, private philanthropy and others to further their commercial agendas. Meanwhile, many are working in good faith to make the most of the UN Summit.

Nevertheless, it is setting a dangerous precedent for the UN system. It has rashly opened a back door, allowing corporate-led ‘multi-stakeholderism’ to undermine well-tested, inclusive ‘multi-stakeholder’ arrangements developed over decades under multilateral Member State oversight.

UNFSS Science Days on 8 and 9 July indicated the Summit is being used to push for a new food science panel. This will undercut the HLPE, and ultimately, the CFS. Hence, the UNFSS seems like a Trojan Horse to advance particular corporate interests, inadvertently undermining what UN-led multilateralism has come to mean.

As both CFS and HLPE are successful UN institutions, the Summit will inevitably undermine its own achievements. Hence, for many Member States and civil society, UNFSS represents a step backward, rather than forward.

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Weaponizing Science in Global Food Policy

Civil Society, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Opinion

SANTA CRUZ, California, Jun 25 2021 (IPS) – In July, the United Nations will convene “Science Days”, a high-profile event in preparation for the UN Food Systems Summit later this year. Over the course of two days, the world will be treated to a parade of Zoom sessions aimed at “highlighting the centrality of science, technology and innovation for food systems transformation.”


Maywa Montenegro

Nobody disputes the need for urgent action to transform the food system. But the UNFSS has been criticized by human rights experts for its top-down and non-transparent organization. Indigenous peoples, peasants, and civil society groups around the world know their hard-won rights are under attack. Many are protesting the summit’s legitimacy and organizing counter-mobilizations.

Scientists are also contesting a summit because of its selective embrace of science, as seen in a boycott letter signed by nearly 300 academics, from Brazil to Italy to Japan.

Through the Summit, “science” has been weaponized by powerful actors not only to promote a technology-driven approach to food systems, but also to fragment global food security governance and create institutions more amenable to the demands of agribusiness.

Recipe for Elite Global Governance

The UNFSS was announced in 2019 by the UN Secretary General as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The announcement came just after the UN signed a strategic partnership with the World Economic Forum. It also elicited outcry from social movements when Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, was chosen to lead the forum — a powerful signal of UNFSS allegiances.

The “multi-stakeholder” structure of the summit has raised concerns from observers who recognize the privatization of multilateral public governance it presages. While Kalibata describes the UNFSS as an inclusive “peoples’ summit,” more than 500 smallholder and peasant organizations signed a letter criticizing the summit’s multi-stakeholder platforms: “Instead of drawing from the innovative governance experiences that the UN system has to offer, the UN-WEF partnership is helping to establishing “stakeholder capitalism” as a governance model for the entire planet.”

Matthew Canfield

Through one lens, multistakeholderism looks like a set of “inclusive” practices: the summit has five Action Tracks (e.g. “Ensuring Access to Safe and Nutritious Food for All” and “Boosting Nature Positive Production at Sufficient Scale”), an endless number of “dialogues,” and an elaborate online forum where anyone can participate.

However, this profusion of spaces obscures the fact that the UNFSS has no built-in structures of accountability. This is particularly troublesome because, as UN special rapporteurs have observed, the summit’s process was pre-determined by a small set of actors: “The private sector, organizations serving the private sector (notably the World Economic Forum), scientists, and economists initiated the process. The table was set with their perspectives, knowledge, interests and biases.”

The scientific ideas shaping those parameters, then, should invite our curiosity and concern. What kinds of science are included — and excluded? What are the implications for the future of global food system governance?

Defining Science as Investment-Friendly Innovation

A new Scientific Group of the UNFSS, created to support a “science- and evidence-based summit,” provides some clues. In theory, the Scientific Group works to “ensure the robustness, breadth and independence of the science that underpins the summit and its outcomes.” In practice, the Group’s practices impoverish the scientific base on which the summit is meant to make policies.

Unlike existing global science advisory panels where experts are nominated through an inclusive and democratic process, the Scientific Group is handpicking experts amenable to “game-changing” solutions — access to gene-edited seeds, digital and data-driven technologies, and global commodity markets.

Alastair Iles

As a result, key areas of expertise, such as agroecology, Indigenous knowledge, and human rights are being excluded while industry and investor-friendly viewpoints are promoted as visionary.

While the Scientific Group appears at first to be diverse in terms of disciplines and geographies, it in fact reflects a set of overlapping, elite networks. Partners include well-worn institutional champions of the Green Revolution (the CGIAR), the central nervous system for “free trade” policy globally (the World Trade Organization), and a powerful consortium of wealthy nation-states (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), among others.

By drawing on these networks, the Scientific Group is serving as a gatekeeper for determining the meaning and boundaries of “science.” An analysis of its publications reveals critical flaws stemming from the Scientific Group’s narrow approach to scientific expertise. These include:

    • Science, technology, and innovation are uprooted from their political-economic and social conditions. As a result, structural drivers that produce hunger even as they generate wealth (e.g. for Bill Gates) are eclipsed in favor of boosting productivity with a twist of sustainability.
    • Biotechnology, Big Data, and global value chains are offered as the solution to all agronomic problems and the crisis of overfishing.
    • Multicultural “digital” inclusion is redeployed to promote Black, Brown, and Indigenous incorporation into an imperial model of Science, Technology, and Innovation. This ignores the rich knowledge these communities already hold — and obscures that Indigenous and agroecological knowledge cannot survive without land.

Science can and should play a role in global food governance. But far from the current UNFSS model, science can support in all its complexity and breadth, alongside many other expertises with equal rights to shape the future of food.

Maywa Montenegro works as an assistant professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, specializing in politics of knowledge, biotechnology, and agroecology.

Matthew Canfield is an assistant professor of Law and Society & Law and Development at Leiden Law School specializing in human rights and global food governance.

Alastair Iles works as an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, researching agroecology policies and sustainability transitions.

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From Climate Change to Covid, Are We Ready to Deal with Disasters?

Civil Society, Climate Change, Education, Environment, Food Security and Nutrition, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, Migration & Refugees, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Opinion

Credit: Bibbi Abruzzini

PARIS, Jun 10 2021 (IPS) – In the last 20 years, disasters affected over 4 billion people. At global level we witness on average one sweeping disaster a day, the majority of which are floods and storms. From the Covid-19 pandemic to climate change, calamities are taking new shapes and sizes, infiltrating every dimension of society. From the emotional to the political, how do we deal with disasters? How can we create a whole-of-society approach to disaster risk reduction?


Right through this vortex of intersecting crises, a new toolkit and interactive website by Forus, the Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR), Save the Children Switzerland and Inventing Futures, with the support of Fondation de France, looks at how civil society organisations coordinate disaster risk reduction and post-emergency interventions. Meant for civil society networks, activists, government officials and community-based organizations, the toolkit provides best-practices from around the globe.

“Today, we are all actors and victims of crises. How can we better understand and learn to cope with them? These practical tools allow us to discover the stakes, the exemplary actions and their effects, through simple definitions and concrete testimonies experienced by civil society,” says Karine Meaux, Emergency manager at Fondation de France.

“Building resilient communities in the face of natural and man-made hazards has never been more important. While disasters don’t discriminate, policies do. Together we can act and put pressure on decision-makers to promote a holistic approach to disaster prevention and reduction and truly people-centred policies,” says Sarah Strack, Director of Forus.

Civil society at the forefront of disaster management

From resilient communities in Nepal, to conflicts in Mali and peace processes in Colombia, the toolkit presents six approaches to disaster risk reduction gleaned from case studies compiled across the civil society ecosystem. The toolkit looks at various topics from capacity building, to local knowledge, resource mobilisation, partnerships with governments and long-term sustainable development and livelihood resilience, ensuring that communities ‘bounce forward’ after a disaster.

Credit: Bibbi Abruzzini

Specifically, the toolkit aims to clarify the crucial role frontline civil society organisations play in reducing the impacts of disasters in the midst of an expanding and intensifying global risk landscape. Bridging governments, communities and experts is the only way we can tackle the multiple ways disasters affect local and social processes such as education, migration, food security and peace. If civil society is not free to operate – or even exist – our collective capacity to deal with disasters and create long-term resilience is hampered.

“You have countries [in the region] in which civil society is not even allowed to exist. This reality changed a lot after the Arab Spring, with countries living in a terrible crisis, with military conflicts, where the role of civil society now is not only to struggle for their existence, but also to provide the population with basic needs and humanitarian interventions,” says Ziad Abdel Samad, Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND).

Everyday disasters and inequalities

Robert Ninyesiga, from UNNGOF, the national civil society organisation platform in Uganda, argues that in most cases, “more effort has been put towards disaster response while neglecting the disaster prevention aspect”.

This therefore calls for continuous intentional awareness and capacity building as regards to disaster prevention and this can only be effectively achieved if sustainable partnerships between central governments, local governments, civil society organisations, media and citizens are strengthened.

Shock events, high-impact disasters, such as conflicts, earthquakes or tsunamis are just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath this layer there are an increasingly high number of “everyday disasters” affecting people around the globe. Localised, small scale, and slow onset disasters are often “invisible” – far from the spotlight. Those at low incomes are the most vulnerable and find themselves at the periphery of infrastructures, response systems and media attention.

For instance, in addition to being often exposed to intensive disasters such as floods and storms, residents in urban slums across Bangladesh are suffering much more than other communities since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Credit: Bibbi Abruzzini

“Most slum dwellers are daily wage earners, but they are not able to earn money. They are not able to maintain social distance, because in one room 4-5 members are living. Many people are using a shared bathroom. It’s very difficult to maintain hygiene. There is not enough space to sit or sleep at home while maintaining sufficient distance. Due to lack of money, many slum dwellers have only one or two meals a day. Violence and sexual harassment are increasing in the community due to cramped conditions. Children are not attending school,” explains the Participatory Development Action Programme (PDAP) which works in the slums of Dhaka .

These pressures add to regular “everyday” challenges of air pollution and garbage management, flooding, water-logged land, and poor quality water.

Local knowledge and Resilient Future

Civil society organisations often fill a tremendous gap and find themselves at the forefront of prevention and emergency efforts. The localisation of responses and partnerships are absolutely crucial to understand the needs of communities in pre and post-disaster scenarios.

In Honduras, civil society has created community-led interventions, to prioritise local plans of action across the country.

“Honduras, and Central America more in general, have been hit in the last 10 years by an intensification of disasters, most of them linked to climate change. Our role in helping communities to adapt to climate change and to deal with disasters, is in terms of capacity building, humanitarian assistance and advocacy by creating links between local, national, regional and global levels,” says Jose Ramon Avila from ASONOG, the national platform of civil society organisations in Honduras.

The intense and cascading nature of risks, such as seen in the cases of Covid-19 and climate change, represent a serious threat to the achievement of a sustainable and resilient future. Growing experience over the last three decades has revealed that disasters and development are closely linked. Ignoring the impact of disasters makes it more difficult to pursue sustainable development.

“Sustainable development can only be achieved when local risk is fully understood. Critical to understanding and assessing the complex threats and risks, challenges and opportunities faced by communities most at risk, is the need to partner with those people. This practical toolkit provides valuable insights and examples from GNDR members and others on how this can be achieved,” says Bijay Kumar, Executive Director, Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR)

It has also been found that much of the negative impact on sustainable livelihoods comes not from large, ‘intensive’ disasters, but from many smaller, ‘everyday’ disasters. It has become crucial to address intensive and everyday disasters and to integrate our responses with overall work to pursue sustainable development.

We need to ask ourselves this question: can we build new bridges of solidarity between civil society, communities and governments? Can we prevent and anticipate disasters? Our future is not disaster-free; to build resilient communities it is crucial to nurture strong roots for our society to flourish.

The author Bibbi Abruzzini is Communications officer at Forus.
Find the toolkit and microsite on Disaster Risk Reduction here. Available in English, French and Spanish.

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CORRECTED VERSION: Struggle for the Future of Food

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Global Governance, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 10 2021 (IPS) – Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.


Longer term perspective
The recent joint report – by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – is ominous, to say the least.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

A Long Food Movement, principally authored by Pat Mooney with a team including IPES-Food Director Nick Jacobs, analyses how food systems are likely to evolve over the next quarter century with technological and other changes.

The report notes that ‘hi-tech’, data processing and asset management corporations have joined established agribusinesses in reshaping world food supply chains.

If current trends continue, the food system will be increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations (TNCs) at the expense of billions of farmers and consumers.

Big Ag weds Big Data
The Davos World Economic Forum’s (WEF) much touted ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (IR4.0), promoting digitisation, is transforming food systems, accelerating concentration in corporate hands.

New apps enable better tracking across supply chains, while ‘precision farming’ now includes using drones to spray pesticides on targeted crops, reducing inputs and, potentially, farming costs. Agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use.

Digital giants are working with other TNCs to extend enabling ‘cloud computing’ infrastructure. Spreading as quickly as the infrastructure allows, new ‘digital ag’ technologies have been displacing farm labour.

Meanwhile, food data have become more commercially valuable, e.g., to meet consumer demand, Big Ag profits have also grown by creating ‘new needs’. Big data are already being used to manipulate consumer preferences.

With the pandemic, e-retail and food delivery services have grown even faster. Thus, e-commerce platforms have quickly become the world’s top retailers.

New ‘digital ag’ technologies are also undermining diverse, ecologically more appropriate food agriculture in favour of unsustainable monocropping. The threat is great as family farms still feed more than two-thirds of the world’s population.

IR4.0 not benign
Meanwhile, hi-tech and asset management firms have acquired significant shareholdings in food giants. Powerful conglomerates are integrating different business lines, increasing concentration while invoking competition and ‘creative disruption’.

The IPES-ETC study highlights new threats to farming and food security as IR4.0 proponents exert increasing influence. The report warns that giving Big Ag the ‘keys of the food system’ worsens food insecurity and other existential threats.

Powerful corporations will increase control of most world food supplies. Big Ag controlled supply chains will also be more vulnerable as great power rivalry and competition continue to displace multilateral cooperation.

There is no alternative?
But the report also presents a more optimistic vision for the next quarter century. In this alternative scenario, collaborative efforts, from the grassroots to the global level, empower social movements and civil society to resist.

New technologies are part of this vision, from small-scale drones for field monitoring to consumer apps for food safety and nutrient verification. But they would be cooperatively owned, open access and well regulated.

The report includes pragmatic strategies to cut three quarters of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift US$4 trillion from Big Ag to agroecology and food sovereignty. These include “$720 billion in subsidies” and “$1.6 trillion in healthcare savings” due to malnutrition.

IPES-ETC also recommends taxing junk food, toxins, carbon emissions and TNC profits. It also urges criminal prosecution of those responsible for famine, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Food security protocols are needed to supercede trade and intellectual property law, and not only for emergencies. But with food systems under growing stress, Big Ag solutions have proved attractive to worried policymakers who see no other way out.

Last chance to change course
Historically, natural resources were commonly or publicly shared. Water and land have long been sustainably used by farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists. But market value has grown with ‘property rights’, especially with corporate acquisition.

Touted as the best means to achieve food security, corporate investments in recent decades have instead undermined remaining ‘traditional’ agrarian ecosystems.

Big Ag claims that the food, ecological and climate crises has to be addressed with its superior new technologies harnessing the finance, entrepreneurship and innovation only they can offer.

But in fact, they have failed, instead triggering more problems in their pursuit of profit. As the new food system and corporate trends consolidate, it will become increasingly difficult to change course. Very timely, A Long Food Movement is an urgent call to action for the long haul.

Food systems summit
According to Marchmont Communications, “writing on behalf of the UN Food Systems Summit secretariat”, the “Summit was originally announced on 16 October 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and was conceived following conversations with the joint leadership of the three Rome-based United Nations agencies…at the High-level Political Forum in July 2019”.

On 12 June 2019, ‘Inspiration Speaker’ David Nabarro announced to the annual EAT Stockholm conference that a World Food Systems Summit (WFSS) would be held in 2021. The following day, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Office of the UN Secretary-General.

It stirred up so much controversy that the MOU was later removed from the website of the WEF, hardly reputed for its modesty. Unsurprisingly, many believe that the WEF “pressed the Summit onto a reluctant UN Secretary-General”, and can be traced to its Food Systems Initiative.

Apparently, initial arrangements had bypassed the Rome-based UN food agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme. Their heads were then consulted and brought on board in July 2019.

With so much at stake, representatives of food producers and consumers need to act urgently to prevent governments from allowing a UN sanctioned corporate takeover of global governance of food systems.

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