The UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) +2 Stocktaking Moment opens today in Rome, Italy, at the premises of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), organized in collaboration with International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Program (WFP), the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub and the wider UN system.
UNFSS +2 Stocktaking Moment
Following the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021, every two years a global stocktaking meeting is being held to review progress towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. With its technical-sounding title and the array of international bodies organizing it, the summit does not immediately sound very accessible to the general public. Still, civil society organizations, small-scale farmers’ associations, environmentalists and all those who care about genuine sustainability related to food systems followed the summit with interest, hoping that it would lead to progress toward healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.
But in 2021 the UNFSS failed to address the most important drivers of growing world hunger and the climate crisis, especially the Covid-19 pandemic, industrial agriculture and corporate concentration in food systems. Instead, it opened the door of the UN to even greater influence by big business, with no corporate accountability framework in place. In short, it failed human rights.
Now the UNFSS+2 Stocktaking Moment is poised to repeat the failures of the first summit.
In response, just as in 2021, a counter-mobilization is being organized by the People’s Autonomous Response to the UN Food Systems Summit, of which Slow Food has been a member since its founding.
Two years later: no change in direction
As noted in the Statement of the People’s Autonomous Response to the UN Food Systems Summit+2, the UNFSS+2 is designed to ignore the need for deep structural transformations in our food systems, emphasizing instead a model that prioritizes profit-making over public interest.
The concrete proposals and demands for the advancement of agroecology, food sovereignty, biodiversity, gender justice and diversity, youth agency, climate justice and economic and social justice in food systems offered by multiple groups over the past three years have consistently been disregarded. This is particularly concerning given the increasing levels of hunger, malnutrition and inequality and the intertwined existential crises that humanity and the planet currently face. FIAN International’s recent policy briefing “Food Systems Transformation: In which direction?” points out that the UNFSS+2 Stocktaking Moment aims to address one of the main deficits of the Summit itself: the fact that there was no intergovernmental process and outcome. There is widespread concern that the UNFSS+2 is a “buy-in” trap whereby governments, through their high-level attendance, facilitate a de-facto and ex-post legitimation of the UNFSS process, thereby accepting its double structures and corporate-driven food systems agenda.
Changing food and farming systems in a genuinely sustainable way can only be done with the support of the millions of people in the local economy who are already struggling to carry out this ambitious and worthwhile transformation. This is why the People’s Autonomous Response is once again voicing the concerns of civil society and Indigenous organizations. The point is to advance dialog, rather than exclude it, but dialog based on a democratic multilateralism and which clearly holds accountable those responsible for the global food crisis.
Instead of listening to the testimonies of the true custodians of the earth, welcoming their proposals, promoting the sustainable solutions that already exist and encouraging their implementation and replication, the summit seems instead an effort by a powerful alliance of multinational corporations, philanthropists and export-oriented countries to capture the narrative of “food systems transformation.” For the UN, businesses and philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation are an important source of funding, so their influence is allowed to be extended. Organizers create an illusion of inclusiveness, but who exactly is in control of making decisions and how those decisions are made remains unclear.
We cannot and should not tire of repeating that the industrial food system is one of the largest contributors to climate change. The IPCC 2019 Report on Climate Change and Land estimated that up to 37% of total greenhouse gas emissions come from food systems. Meeting the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of remaining between 1.5° and 2°C of warming will not be possible without reducing emissions from global food production and consumption (Clark et al., 2020). Global food and agricultural production are also the number one cause of deforestation, decreasing biodiversity and loss of topsoil. A cataclysmic loss of biodiversity, as documented by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, will further affect human health through declines of critical ecosystem services ranging from pollination of crops to avoidance of pandemics arising from the spillover of wildlife diseases into human populations.
Despite the increasing recognition that industrial food systems are failing on so many fronts, agribusiness and food corporations continue to try to maintain their control. They are deploying digitalization, artificial intelligence and other information and communication technologies to promote a new wave of resource grabbing, wealth extraction and labor exploitation and to re-structure food systems towards a greater concentration of power and ever more globalized value chains.
The conflict between the perpetuation of corporate-driven industrial food systems and the imperative of a human-rights-based, agroecological food system transformation that moves towards food sovereignty is evident throughout the world.
In many African countries, governments are not investing in the agricultural sector. Public resources are not being allocated to local areas. We have strategies at the regional and African level, but there is no will to go in this direction. We cannot continue to be polluted by philanthropic associations that condition and distort the funding landscape.
What is needed to solve food crises? Simple: It is the small-scale producers who feed our continent. These farmers, who are the majority of the population, must be able to produce and eat what they produce. To strengthen their fragile position, we need clear support policies to boost sustainable production systems, first of all the seed system, which ensures the availability of diverse food. Africa has become a symbol of struggle. We need to organize, build alliances and fight for states to stop being complicit.
Looking to the global north, one of the biggest challenges comes from industrial animal farming, including energy production through animals. Farmers disappear or are isolated from nature as biodiversity is destroyed. Computer programs with no connection to nature are deciding our nutrition. Technofixes and high-tech “nature-based” solutions are just a means to retrieve dizzying amounts of data about seeds, livestock and consumption habits, data that are not being used in the service of consumers and food security, but to boost companies’ profits. Instead the technologies being used in a democratic and open way, the data are being used to consolidate control over the world’s food production. The summit also opens the door to the increasing trend of industrial technology companies being able to force farmers to adopt their products.
Agroecology, the right solution
A solution to these problems has already been found: agroecology. Agroecology is an alternative way of living and interacting with nature, an approach that systematizes. We want governments to listen to us and understand that we propose agroecology not only as a response to food production but also as a way of life and social organization, based on ancestral knowledge.
The agroecology movement will continue to grow, as localized, diverse and ecologically and socially sound food systems are more resilient to crises. Governments and the UN should actively support this movement and acknowledge the role agroecology can play to regulate economic problems and gender inequality, stabilize yields, reduce dependence on expensive and hard-to-get external input and generate employment for young people.
Slow Food is joining the People’s Autonomous Response to urgently demand that governments and the UN listen to the voices of those most affected by the current crises, to change direction and to support their efforts for real food systems transformation, based on respect for all human rights, care for people and the planet and the advancement of agroecology, food sovereignty, biodiversity, gender justice and diversity, youth agency, climate justice and economic and social justice across the food system.