Hdozens of civil society groups, academics and social movements are boycotting the UN’s first world food summit amid growing anger that the agenda has been hijacked by an opaque web of business interests.
Called the People’s Summit by UN organizers, groups representing thousands of small farmers and indigenous communities, who produce 70% of the world’s food through sustainable agriculture, are among those withdrawing from the ‘event on Thursday, claiming that their knowledge and experience was ignored.
The declaration, signed by around 600 groups and individuals, states: “[We] reject the continued colonization of food systems and food governance under the facade of the United Nations Summit on Food Systems… The struggle for sustainable, just and healthy food systems cannot be unhooked from the realities of peoples whose rights, knowledge and livelihoods have gone unnoticed and disrespectful.
Some have criticized the importance of companies, such as Nestlé, Tyson and Bayer, in the summit’s efforts to identify solutions for the food system.
About 90 world leaders are expected to attend the summit in New York, with at least 130 countries making commitments on issues such as free school meals, reducing food waste, healthy diets, biodata and carbon capture.
The summit, which took two years and millions of dollars to organize, was called to secure political commitment to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) amid growing public criticism of the contribution of the food industry to hunger, malnutrition and obesity, as well as environmental destruction, biodiversity loss and climate chaos.
It was touted as a landmark initiative in which the UN would act as a conduit to gather opinions from a wide range of experts – academics, NGOs, philanthropic donors, farmers, community and indigenous groups, businesses and professional associations. – to generate sustainable and equitable solutions. .
Yet critics say the role and responsibility of transnational corporations – which dominate every part of the food system, from seeds and pesticides to slaughterhouses, breweries and supermarkets – have not been sufficiently taken into account. Neither can human rights or the pandemic, despite the fact that it has led to a dramatic increase in global food insecurity and exposed serious vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.
“The audacity of the UN to continue to call this summit a people even as it continues to lose its support is arrogant,” [as is] underlining my participation without listening to any of the substantive things I said, ”said Michael Fakhri, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food and summit advisor.
Fakhri and those boycotting the summit claim that the UN has given the private sector a dominant role in almost all parts of the summit, which will lead transnational corporations and their allies in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to have a greater impact. great latitude to guide food policies, financing and governance.
As a result, they say solutions will be market-driven, piecemeal, voluntary, and heavily focused on increasing food production through capital investments, big data and proprietary technologies. Critics say this approach will allow a handful of businesses and individuals to expand their control over the global food system to the detriment of the vast majority of people and the planet.
“The UN has provided a legitimacy blanket for businesses to capture the narrative and deflate public pressure – it has not been an honest middleman,” said Sofia Monsalve, secretary general of the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN) , a research and advocacy organization based in Germany.
“Refusal to discuss major issues such as concentration in every part of the food system, corporate land grabbing, taxation and human rights accountability means the summit will fail,” Monsalve added.
According to Special Rapporteur Fakhri, it took months to persuade the organizers to include human rights in the discussions, and even then the right to food only appears on the fringes. “We are seeing the same companies that have caused irreparable damage to our health, climate and environment trying to create a new game, gain more influence and create new economic opportunities.”
Agnès Kalibata, special envoy to the summit, vehemently rejected the criticisms. She told the Guardian that farmers, youth groups and academics were represented in unprecedented numbers and those boycotting the event were speaking for problems, not people. “The summit is not about companies [sic], it is about working together to transform the food system and achieve the SDGs, which are based on human rights … every country has made a commitment, people have been invited and listened to, ”she said. . “If Michael Fakhri really didn’t agree, why did he stay?”
But a new analysis released on the eve of the summit suggests that non-corporate attendees have been sidelined in favor of large corporations represented by and allied with trade associations, nonprofits and philanthropic groups..
For example, the summit is divided into five areas called action tracks. Those tasked with finding solutions to ‘stimulate positive production for nature’ (Action Line 3) include a single indigenous group but 26 private sector companies such as Nestlé, Tyson, Bayer and the International Fertilizer Association. , according to the study commissioned by a global body. popular campaign opposing the direction of the company.
Yet about 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity is found in the territories of indigenous peoples, who have practiced sustainable agriculture for millennia and who, along with small farmers, are at the forefront of the development of agroecology. – modern and sustainable agricultural practices that work with nature and communities rather than exploiting them.
Nettie Wiebe of La Via Campesina, a global peasant movement representing small farmers, rural workers and indigenous farmers, said his organization had pulled out and started organizing against the summit because it was “deeply undemocratic, irresponsible and contemptuous of those who had neither wealth nor power ”.
“The big agricultural solutions being promoted undermine what the vast majority of the world’s food producers are trying to do to protect the environment and cool the climate so that there is hope for the future.
The analysis also found that influential business associations, think tanks, and philanthropic organizations that represent, fund and advance business interests in sectors such as agriculture, retail and finance, are emerging as are given important leadership roles.
The World Economic Forum, a transnational business-funded organization of business, political, intellectual and civil society leaders (known as Davos), played a leading role in the summit while striving to unlock $ 90 billion in new investments and infrastructure. So does the World Business Council on Sustainable Development – an international coalition led by CEOs that promotes the idea that corporations and wealthy elites can tackle climate change and environmental degradation caused by extractivism.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a strong advocate for biotech solutions for food insecurity, is linked to several summit attendees with ties to business. She co-founded and contributes to the financing of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which promotes the diffusion of industrialized agriculture on the continent. The president of Agra, who has close ties to the agrochemicals industry, is the summit’s special envoy, Kalibata.
“This corporate juggernaut must be stopped, or we risk further environmental injustice and human rights violations,” said Kirtana Chandrasekaran, report co-author and food sovereignty program coordinator at Friends of the Earth International. . “Hiding behind their associations and business platforms, powerful business players are leading the policy making, funding, storytelling and science at the top… the agribusiness, fossil fuel and tech giants are doing it. promoting bogus market-based solutions that are designed to increase profits and tighten their grip on food systems.
Kalibata denied that grassroots groups and poor countries struggled to make their voices heard and said the private sector was vital in solving crises in the food system. “I want them to solve the problems they are causing – we need their help to find the solutions.”