By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Colombo, September 28: The World Food Systems Summit, which was held virtually on September 23, evoked both enthusiasm and strong disapproval. The division was between rich and poor countries, the proponents of corporate export-oriented agriculture on the one hand, and people’s movements fighting for food democracy and the interests of the poor farmers on the other.
Even as the US announced a multi-year investment of US$ 10 billion in global food security, climate change and adaptation (subject to Congressional approval), The Guardian reported that 600 groups and individuals had signed a statement saying that they “reject the ongoing corporate colonization of food systems and food governance under the facade of the United Nations Food Systems Summit because the struggle for sustainable, just and healthy food systems cannot be unhooked from the realities of the peoples whose rights, knowledge and livelihoods have gone unrecognized and disrespected.”
Grim Food Scenario
According to food security campaigners, one billion out of the total world population of eight billion, live in extreme poverty. More than a billion people live on less than U$1.25 a day. And extreme poverty is accompanied by other grim features – lack of safe drinking water, sanitation, education and shelter.
Small food producers account of 70% of the global food supply, but they are the most vulnerable to food insecurity. Undernourishment causes 45% of all children’s deaths. Each year, 3.1 million children die from hunger-related causes. More than 99 million children under age five are undernourished and underweight. And poor health means low energy and reduction in mental abilities preventing millions from advancing their prospects in life.
Enough money has not been coming to ensure food security though the demand is modest. It is said that only US$ 33 billion per year is required to free the world from hunger, and this is just 0.12% of US$ 27 trillion that the rich have deployed as a stimulus to address the Covid-19 pandemic.
Domination of Corporate Interests
Critics say that the entire global food system is geared to serving the interest of Western corporate giants rather than the poor farmer in the developing world.
In its latest report entitled: Corporations: The battle over global food and agriculture governance, US-based The Oakland Institute (TOI) notes that the “failed Green Revolution” is being sold as the model for the world. The entire global food system is under a top- down approach with power in the hands of those who serve corporate agriculture often at the expense of local farmers.
In this context TOI criticized the appointment of Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as the UN Special Envoy to the Food Summit. Kalibata, TOI points out, sits on the board of the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) a promoter of chemical fertilizer use. According to TOI, over 15 years, AGRA had spent over US$ 500 million to promote the use of commercial seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides in 13 African countries, and an additional US$ 1 billion per year of government subsidies for seeds and fertilizers. And yet, the number of undernourished people across these 13 countries had increased by 30%. Diverse climate-resilient crops had been displaced by commercial mono-culture to serve large agribusiness.
Founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, AGRA’s finance-intensive and high-input agricultural model is not sustainable beyond constant subsidy, which is drawn from increasingly scarce public resources, TOI argues. The model of fossil fuel-based industrial agriculture is laying waste to the environment, TOI alleges.
It is said that export market-oriented agriculture based on the big use of chemical fertilizers is responsible for 34% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Nitrogen from these fertilizers is poorly absorbed by plants, and subsequently leaches into water systems and escapes into the atmosphere in the form of nitrous oxide. Long-distance transport adds carbon emissions. “Family farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous communities who are the stewards of the land and guardians of agricultural biodiversity are marginalized and forced off their land, replaced by pesticide-reliant monocultures,” TOI says.
UN’s Values Violated
This approach is in sharp contrast with the principles of FAO when it was established in 1945, TOI points out. The FAO, like the UN itself, was based on “multilateralism and international cooperation” and not the business interests of particular countries. The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) was reformed in 2009 to be “an inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all.” The CFS has been very active over the past decade as a policy forum for food and agriculture, allowing space for meaningful consultation, negotiation, and dialogue between states, also involving civil society and producer organizations from around the world. The forum is supported by a High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE).
Together with the FAO, the CFS have produced critical documents of universal scope in relation to the right to food, tenure rights, access to natural resources and other rights of peasants.
Additionally, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018, upholds food sovereignty, the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity. It calls for a rapid transition from corporate-dominated industrial agriculture to family farms working in harmony with nature and maintaining diverse ecosystems. It recognizes agro-ecology as a practical solution for systemic change to ensure dignified rural livelihoods and the right to healthy food and nutrition for all, while freeing farmers from cycles of debt and dependency, TOI notes.
But the CFS suffers from “chronic underinvestment” says Chris Hegadorn, its Secretary. Rich countries and big Foundations have been sidelining the UN and its bodies. According to TOI, for decades, the US has been less than supportive of FAO’s emphasis on agriculture in developing countries, like several other rich nations. The Western world has not taken kindly to developing countries enjoying power, however modest.
Dilution of FAO
TOI quotes a comprehensive, historical report by Matthew Canfield, Molly D. Anderson and Philip McMichael, saying that the FAO has been weakened by the creation of an alternative funding agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); delinking of the World Food Program (WFP) from the FAO; and relocation of agricultural research to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in the World Bank.
The US controls the World Bank, where voting rights are proportional to the amount of funding provided. The Bank closely follows an agenda that is in line with the neo-liberal “Washington Consensus” and US foreign policy and economic goals, promoting policies favorable to agri-business and agrochemical corporations.
The World Food Program (WFP), which heavily relies on US food aid and funding, is always headed by a US citizen. WFP was under FAO but in the 1980s, it was separated from its mother agency. Today, WFP’s budget is bigger than FAO’s, TOI points out. In 2020 (the year it received the Peace Nobel Prize) WFP raised US$ 8.4 billion for its operations, far exceeding the FAO budget of US$1.5 billion for that year, TOI reveals.
Battles within the FAO and CFS
According to TOI, the US government has been repeatedly undermining the negotiations on the Council for World Food Security’s (CFS’s) Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition. In the CFS, the US has objected to the inclusion of references to the UN 2030 Agenda, human rights frameworks, references to the World Health Organization and regional public health authorities, and safeguards against conflicts of interest in public policy-making spaces, TOI alleges.
Sadly, the FAO has also opened itself to the influence of agrochemical firms and announced in 2020 plans to deepen collaboration with “CropLife International” which serves the interest of agrochemical companies that produce and promote pesticides, TOI points out.