Friday, March 05, 2021

The Politics of Food

The UN estimates that more than 820 million people are undernourished, a jump of 60 million in five years. 

Nearly a quarter of all children under five are stunted. 

1.9 billion adults are overweight.

An international food summit called by the UN secretary general, António Guterres to address growing hunger and diet-related disease is due to take place in September.  Its brief was to examine ways to reduce hunger and improve global food systems as the climate crisis intensifies and biodiversity is threatened. The summit was welcomed for recognising that farming has been mostly ignored in climate talks. 

But the summit is already involved in arguments over who is to blame for the growth of hunger and disease, and whether the meeting is biased in favour of corporate, hi-tech intensive farming.

Guterres appointed Agnes Kalibata to head the event. The former Rwandan agriculture minister is president of the Gates-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), set up in 2006 to open the continent up to genetically modified crops, high-yield commercial seed varieties and intensive farming.  Suspicions that big business was dominating the agenda came when the summit’s concept paper mentioned precision agriculture, data collection and genetic engineering as important for addressing food security – initiatives supported by big technology companies and philanthropists – but made no mention of ecological farming or civil society involvement.

The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, wrote to Kalibata in January saying the summit appeared focused on science and technology, money and markets, and did not address “fundamental questions of inequality, accountability and governance”.  Fakhri wrote,  “The business sector has been part of the problem of food systems and has not been held accountable.”

Olivier De Schutter, a former UN special rapporteur on food, and Olivia Yambi, a nutrition expert and former Unicef official have argued that the summit should be broadened into a more inclusive world food congress, and that initiatives such as agro-ecology, endorsed by scientists, civil society and farmers, and food sovereignty be put firmly on the agenda.

 The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism – a group of more than 500 civil society groups with more than 300 million members – said they would boycott the summit and set up a parallel meeting.

“We cannot jump on a train that is heading in the wrong direction. We are questioning the summit’s legitimacy. The summit appears extremely biased in favour of the same actors who have been responsible for the food crisis.” said Sofía Monsalve Suárez, head of Fian International, a group working for the right to nutrition.

148 grassroots groups from 28 countries, which make up the People’s Coalition on Food Security, wrote to the UN to urge it to sever the “strategic partnership” with the World Economic Forum, the organisation that hosts the annual Davos economic summit for the global elite.

“The WEF will exploit the summit to streamline neoliberal globalisation. It will mean that global inequality and corporate monopoly would be sidetracked rather than confronted as the root cause of hunger and extreme poverty,” said the coalition.

Timothy Wise, senior adviser at the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said the UN has missed a trick by not giving a wider hearing to farmer-led groups, whose initiatives are successful and important.

“A growing number of farmers, scientists and development experts now advocate a shift from high-input chemical-intensive agriculture to low-input ecological farming. They are supported by an array of new research documenting both the risks of continuing to follow our current practices and the potential benefits of a transition to more sustainable farming,” said Wise.

Farmers and rights groups boycott food summit over big business links | Global development | The Guardian

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