A global summit on food security is at risk of being dominated by big business at the expense of farmers and social movements, according to Olivier De Schutter, the former UN special rapporteur.
“There’s a big risk that the summit will be captured by corporate actors who see it as an opportunity to promote their own solutions,” said De Schutter, who criticised the opaque evolution of plans to hold the meeting, which he said emerged from “closed-door agreements” at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
De Schutter, who is now co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, said the opinions of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) committee on world food security (CFS) risked being drowned out during the summit. The CFS was formed in 2009 with the aim of giving farmers and communities an equal say with big businesses.
“If anything, CFS has been more successful than anticipated,” said De Schutter. “The reality is the private sector has felt, whether correctly or not, it was marginalised in the CFS and thus it was tempting for them to establish other forums where they might feel more comfortable and set the tone for discussions.” He called for the summit to be built around the CFS and to highlight and support sustainable systems that worked for small-scale farmers.
Food security groups around the world had expressed misgivings about the UN food systems summit, which is due to take place in 2021 and could be crucial to making agriculture more sustainable.Agnes Kalibata, the former Rwandan minister for agriculture, would lead the event, despite her role as president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which has been accused of promoting damaging, business-focused practices.
176 organisations from 83 countries signed a letter to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, saying Kalibata’s appointment was “a deliberate attempt to silence the farmers of the world” and signalled the “direction the summit would take”. Signatories to the letter, published on the website of the Oakland Institute, accused Agra of being “puppets of agro-industrial corporations and their shareholders”.
The letter to Guterres said:“With 820 million people hungry and an escalating climate crisis, the need for significant global action is urgent to deliver on the sustainable development goals by 2030”. However, Agra’s involvement would “result in another forum that advances the interests of agribusiness at the expense of farmers and our planet”, said the signatories.
The letter accused Agra of “diverting public resources to benefit large corporate interests”.
Since 2006, Agra has worked to open up Africa – seen as an untapped market for corporate monopolies controlling commercial seeds, genetically modified crops, fossil fuel-heavy synthetic fertilisers and polluting pesticides.
“This is an ill-conceived approach focused on monocultural commodity production by large agribusiness at the expense of sustainable livelihoods, human development, and poverty eradication,” the letter said.