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Tale Of Two Peoples’ Summits – Who Can Help to Feed the World?

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By Kalinga Seneviratne

SYDNEY (IDN) — There were two “Peoples’ Food Summits” held on September 23, one hosted by the United Nations from New York with some world leaders appearing virtually, while the other was hosted completely virtually with peoples’ movements bringing grassroots voices to the world.

The first ever UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) convened world leaders in an effort to spur national and regional action to deliver the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through “transforming food systems”. While the Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems slammed the UNFSS for “paving the way for greater control of big corporations over global food systems”.

In his opening remarks to the UNFSS, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the global community needs to build a world where healthy and nutritious food is available and affordable for everyone, everywhere, but he warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has made this challenge much greater.

“We need food systems that support the health and well-being of all people. Malnutrition, hunger and famine are not forces of nature. They are the result of the actions—or inactions—of all of us,” Guterres told the audience of world leaders, agricultural scientists, agribusiness leaders and civil society representatives. “We need systems that can support prosperity. Not just the prosperity of businesses and shareholders, but the prosperity of farmers and food workers.”

The UN chief appealed to world leaders to “shift our approach” on agricultural subsidies, and employment support for workers, and he also added “we need to re-think how we see and value food—not simply as a commodity to be traded, but as a right that every person shares”.

Grassroots farmers and community leaders meeting virtually at the GPS would certainly agree with those sentiments, but they are suspicious of the UN’s motives because Guterres has organized the UNFSS in close collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF) that represents the interests of big corporations.

“We find it unacceptable that the UNFSS is proclaiming itself as a so-called ‘people’s summit’ when the aspirations and demands of the world’s peoples for a truly radical transformation of food systems are being met with lip service while being side lined by the profit-seeking interests of monopoly corporations,” said GPS in a statement issued via their website on September 24th.

“UNFSS projects an image of inclusiveness and democratic participation with its host of events meetings and dialogues with people’s organizations and civil society, but it remains unclear how the agenda and demands of small landless farmers indigenous peoples, fisher folk, workers, pastoralists, women, youth, consumers and all those that advocate for food sovereignty, agroecology and human rights will be carried in the summit’s outcomes, much less carried out by the global policy,” Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of the Pesticide Action Network Asia-Pacific noted in an opening address to the GPS from Malaysia.

In a long address to the GPS, Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) explained how global agribusiness giants infiltrated the UNFSS process through the partnership the UN struck with the WEF and positioned themselves for the “corporate capture of the UNFSS process”. She explained how they did it by getting assigned as champions to ‘action tracks’ that would guide the UNFCC. “They are influencing these action tracks which would be processing policy proposals,” she said.

Mallari said that during the preparation process in 2020 over 550 civil society organizations came out with position papers including one by PCFS, that “raised concern about the corporate dominance in the coming summer conference, but all of these points that were raised were put aside in fact in June of 2020 as the summit was being operationalized in consultations sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation with the world economic forum”.

Some of the world leaders that addressed the UNFSS reflected concerns the GPS summit speakers made. Fiji Islands Prime Minister Josaia Voreque Bainimarama speaking as the Chair of the 16-member Pacific Island Forum raised the issue of the impact of climate change on food security especially for small island nations.

“For the Pacific, climate change represents a major threat to the maintenance and development of food systems which are vital to food security. Our greatest challenges include sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion, and ocean acidification. All of these combined wills impact our culture, water and food security; livelihoods; biodiversity; health and wellbeing,” he said.

Bainimarama also raised the important of fish stocks for food security in the Pacific and welcomed the “growing recognition that Blue Food Systems serve as an anchoring pillar in the development and maintenance of sustainable food”. He told the meeting that a successful management of Blue Foods requires co-operation among governments and between governments together with relevant stakeholders. “We are supportive of efforts to create a network to ensure that Blue Foods are brought into the heart of discussions and decisions about food systems” he noted and agreed with Guterres’s view that transforming our food systems is central to achieving the SDGs.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina argued that  access to quality food should be considered as a “fundamental right” of the people, while Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto pointed out that his country introduced free-of-charge school meals in the 1940s to overcome post-war poverty and malnutrition, and added that the “school meal system has proven to be an investment in the future and in the economic and social welfare of the society.”

In a media release the UNFSS said that the Action Tracks have clustered a “rich input in a systemic way to build communities of practice and foster new partnerships”. And that through the Champions Network, Global Food Systems Summit Dialogues, and over 900 Independent Dialogues, people around the world have offered ideas on how to transform food systems.

“The UN Food Systems Summit will launch bold new actions, solutions, and strategies to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, the GPS in their statement said: “The nature of this transformation should be a subject of open and honest debate, with people’s rights at the center of all discussions. But the oligopolies of agribusiness including the agro-industrial livestock industry, agrochemicals, genetic engineering, and digital technology in cahoots with research institutions, foundations, and token civil society groups, have dominated and dictated the discussions on food systems transformation, as can be clearly seen in the UNFSS”.

“It was just as we expected. While branding itself as the ‘People’s Summit’ and even the ‘Solutions Summit,’ the UNFSS did not listen to the voices of marginalized rural peoples, nor forward real solutions to the food, biodiversity and climate crises. Instead, it let powerful nations and big corporations play an even bigger role in determining food and agricultural policies” notes Mallari.

The PCFS in their statement warned:  “We will continue to assert that land belongs to those who directly till and enrich the land to produce food and other needs of societies, and not to the landlords or corporations that enormously profit from its wanton exploitation”. [IDN-InDepthNews — 26 September 2021]

Photo source: People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty.

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