Scientific Panel’s Scoping Report Instructive for Global Food Systems Transformation

Biodiversity, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Green Economy, Headlines

Biodiversity

A fisherman displays his catch of the day in Dominica. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

DOMINICA, Sep 24 2021 (IPS) – On September 10th, on a sweltering summer afternoon, three fishers drove a van around the residential community of Castle Comfort in Dominica, blowing forcefully into their conch shells – the traditional call that there is fresh fish for sale in the area.


One of the men, Andrew Joseph, urged a customer to double her purchase of Yellowfin Tuna, stating that at five Eastern Caribbean dollars a pound (US$1.85), she was getting the deal of the summer. (In the lean season, that price can double).

“It’s good fish, it’s fresh, it’s cheap,” he told IPS, adding that, “People eat too much meat. This is what is good for the body and the brain.”

Little did he know that he was echoing the words of a scientist who is rallying the world, and the landmark United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) to put greater emphasis on the financial, nutritional and traditional benefits of aquatic foods.

“Foods coming from marine sources, inland sources, food from water, they are superfood, but this is being ignored in the global debate and at the country level, because we have had a focus on land production systems and we have to change that,” Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health at World Fish told IPS.

The nutrition scientist is also the Vice-Chair of Action Track 4, Advancing Equitable Livelihoods, at the UNFSS.

As the landmark summit hopes to deliver urgent change in the way the world thinks about, produces and consumes food, issues like the linkages between aquatic systems and health are emerging.

So are other linkages a scoping report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says the world cannot ignore. The report, approved in June, paves the way for a 3-year assessment of the interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health.

In the case of the UNFSS, it shows how food systems transformation can be achieved if tackled as one part of this network.

“It will assess the state of knowledge, including indigenous and local knowledge, on past, present, and possible future trends in these interlinkages, with a focus on biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people,” IPBES Executive Secretary Dr Anne Larigauderie told IPS.

“The IPBES nexus assessment will contribute to the development of a strengthened knowledge base for policymakers for the simultaneous implementation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Landscape Ecology Professor Ralf Seppelt was one of the scoping experts for the nexus assessment. He says the science is clear on how food systems impact biodiversity and why agroecology must be a pillar of efforts to transform food systems.

“Micronutrients are lacking a lot. Micronutrients are provided by fruits and vegetables, which need pollination. So, the nexus is really strong between agroecological principles and the nutritional value of what we are producing,” he told IPS.

“Wherever we have to increase production, we should do it on agroecological principles. We should consider what farmers say and do, their needs, their access to production goods such as fertilizers and seeds, and it’s equally important to change our diets. It’s not just reducing harvest losses and food waste, but also about moving away from energy-rich, meat-based diets and feeding ourselves in an environmentally friendly way,” he said.

Professor Seppelt is also hoping that the voices of small farmers and indigenous communities are amplified in the global food transformation conversation. “IPBES made an enormous effort to work with indigenous peoples and local communities and include indigenous and local knowledge in its reports. We organized workshops, to collect a diversity of views about nature and its contributions to people, or ecosystem services to make the assessment as relevant as possible to a range of users,” he said.

For Thilsted, any plan to revamp food systems must come with a commitment to weed out inequality. She says from access to inputs and production to consumption and waste, inequality remains a problem.

“This unequal distribution of who wins, who loses, who does well, who does not do too well, who profits and who does not is putting a strain on food and nutrition and it is limiting our progress towards a sustainable development future,” she told IPS.

“COVID-19 has shown the fragility of the system and it is further displacing the vulnerable, for example, women and children who are being more exposed to food and nutrition insecurity.”

The IPBES nexus assessment hopes to better inform policymakers on these key issues.

It is not the first assessment of interlinkages. Earlier this year IPBES and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched a landmark workshop report that focused on tackling the climate and biodiversity crises as one.

Now, the current nexus assessment on interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health will explore options for sustainable approaches to water, climate change, adaptation and mitigation, food and health systems.

IPBES Executive Secretary Dr Anne Larigauderie says it also shows that there is hope for restoring the balance of nature.

“I would like people to remember and know that they are a part of nature, that the solutions for our common future are in nature; that nature can be conserved and restored to allow us, human beings, to simultaneously meet all our development goals. We can do this if we work together, act more based on equity, social and environmental justice, reflect on our values systems, and on our visions of what a good life actually is.”

 

Nurturing a New Generation of Food Leaders

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Food Sustainability

An European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (EIIS) programme focusses on production, distribution, and consumption issues of food systems. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

NAIROBI, KENYA, Sep 22 2021 (IPS) – Food security experts have raised an alarm that with as many as 811 million people the world over or 10 percent of the global population going hungry, the world is off-track to ending hunger and malnutrition.


More so, after a decade of steadily declining, the number of malnourished people grew by 161 million from 2019 to 2020 alone, a spike attributed to complex global challenges such as COVID-19, climate change and conflict, according to the United Nations.

Against this backdrop, the European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (EIIS) launched a three-month, challenge-based and solutions-oriented food sustainability certificate course in May 2021 to actively help countries fix their food systems.

“Our aim is to provide a comprehensive base for a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics of food, giving course participants the tools and insights to perform better at work, shift careers, and become even more conscious and responsible consumers,” says Sveva Ciapparoni, the Food and Sustainability course coordinator.

With a special focus on G20 countries, as they are most representative of the world’s population and economy, the EIIS food sustainability programme uses the Food and Sustainability Index (FSI) to help learners understand the dynamics behind food systems and their inherent power to promote or derail the attainment of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation, the food index collects data from 67 countries worldwide to showcase best practices and highlight key areas for improvement towards the production and consumption of sufficient, sustainable and healthy food.

The EIIS programme breaks away from traditional food courses solely centred around gastronomy, culinary management and hospitality to focus on production, distribution and consumption issues at the very heart of the SDGs.

Marcela Villarreal, the Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indicates that the “course directly addresses several SDGs. These include fighting hunger (SDG 2), promoting the health of both people and planet (SDGs 3, 13, 15), and encouraging conscious and responsible consumption (SDG 12).”

“The food system approach adopted by the course through specific challenges is particularly conducive to understanding the SDG agenda and proposing solid and interconnected solutions,” Villarreal, also one of the foremost experts from the Food and Sustainability course’s faculty, says.

As such, participants, who were part of the May 2021 cohort of learners, had an opportunity to intersect the three critical pillars of any food system, including sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges and food loss and waste, with the three areas where food experts say solutions to the broken food systems lie: innovation, education and policy.

Also unique to the course, the programme is taught through a Challenge Based Learning approach that “allows for the practical application of the concepts learned throughout the modules.

“How to feed 10 billion healthy foods, preserving the health of people and planet is the ambitious challenge tackled by the participants,” says Villarreal.

Participant Anant Saraf confirmed that being taken through online tuition combined with practical workshops enabled them to analyse food systems, understand the complexities of the food systems, and identify the most pressing problems facing specific food systems to provide solutions.

Importantly, Ciapparoni says that the course is an opportunity to interact with topics increasingly crucial to food production, distribution, and consumption in line with the SDGs and the UN’s first-ever food systems summit that kicks off on September 23, 2021.

Held within the UN General Assembly week in New York, the virtual UN Food Systems Summit will set the stage for global food systems transformation.

To do so, the UN will engage citizens from all over the world, including youth, researchers, food producers, indigenous people, civil society, and the private sector, in a discourse to transform how the world produces and consumes food.

As with the EIIS food sustainability course, the UN Food Systems Summit is a golden opportunity to empower people to understand and use the power of food systems to recover from COVID-19 and get back on track to end world hunger and malnutrition.

Ciapparoni indicates that course participants were aware that they would be contributing to the Summit.

The course challenge aligns with the UN Food Systems Summit agenda as it was developed in consultation with Martin Frick, deputy to the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, he added.

Therefore, at the heart of the EIIS course was an urgent need to build a generation of food leaders that can effectively transform food systems for food security, improved nutrition, and affordable healthy diets for all.

Towards this objective, Villarreal says that course participants were “divided into teams based on their backgrounds, diversity being the main criteria and that each team got assigned a G20 country to be analysed, with a specific focus on its food system.”

“After identifying the country’s key challenges, each team proposed possible solutions to improve their assigned country’s food system. The underlying idea is that, by proposing ways in which single countries can improve the sustainability of their food systems, participants will be able to suggest how to promote food sustainability globally – and thus address the course’s main challenge,” Villarreal adds.

Team South Africa, for instance, discussed the country’s rapid urbanisation and unfolding food production and security challenges in light of climate change and complex social, economic, and environmental challenges.

As for Saudi Arabia, the team concluded that the food system faces numerous challenges, as highlighted in the food and sustainability index of 2021 that ranked Saudi Arabia last compared to other G20 countries.

Saudi Arabia has the highest reliance on food imports among the G20 countries. The team aimed to identify how the country could overcome the food production challenges caused by its dry and hot climate.

Team India had the task of identifying how the country, ranked 13th among the world’s extremely water-stressed countries due to inefficient irrigation systems, groundwater depletion, and high production of water-consuming crops, can overcome these challenges.

With regard to the USA, the team analysed how the country, which has the highest food waste per capita globally, can address this problem.

Team Russia sought to fix the country’s faulty food production systems, processing, and transportation.

Team South Korea’s challenge was found in the globalisation of the country’s food system has increased consumption of highly processed foods leading to a food crisis.

Participants navigated through these challenges under the guidance of food and sustainability experts, including Villarreal. By providing solutions to fix broken food systems in specific countries, the EIIS course will have contributed towards practical solutions on how to feed 10 billion people by 2050 healthy food without harming the planet.

 

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.”

 

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.

  Source

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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