CSM Declarations on the VGFSyN during the CFS 47th Plenary

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Speech by Shalmali Guttal | 10 February | CSM Policy Briefing

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Shalmali Guttal and I am joining you from India. My organisation, Focus on the Global South, is a participating organisation in the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism—the CSM. We are also in the CSM Liaison Group on the UN Food Systems Summit.

I will share with you our key messages regarding the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition—the VGFSyN—and its nexus with the UN Food Systems Summit.

The CSM is not able to take a decision today regarding our endorsement, or not, of the VGFSyN.  The CSM is a collective space with participating organisations from 11 constituencies and 17 sub regions across the world. We need to conduct a comprehensive process of consultations with our participants to reach a final decision, which was not possible in the five days since the negotiations were concluded.

But at this time, we want to make clear that the CSM is deeply disappointed with the outcome and process of the negotiations, and we have profound reservations about the content of the VGFSyN, given that most, if not all our priority issues are not meaningfully reflected in the final document.

  • These include: the absence of human rights as the central pillar of food systems transformation; omission of the right to safe drinking water; no recommendations on reduction of pesticides and dangerous agro-chemicals; the dilution of the importance of agroecology, which could narrow the scope and ambition of the upcoming negotiations in the CFS on agreocology; no recognition of territorial markets as crucial economic spaces for food systems; lack of clear identification of the harm caused by misleading marketing; and inappropriate funding of nutrition interventions.
  • The document does not recognize the roles of industrial agriculture and food production in precipitating the climate crisis, ecological destruction and related pandemics; of ultra-processed foods on malnutrition and chronic health problems; and of long supply chains and trade agreements on local/domestic food systems, livelihoods, and access to food and water.
  • The VGFSyN has walked away from the recognition of the public purpose of food systems: the regulation of trade, investment and corporations in the public interest is almost non-existent in the document; as is guidance for recalibrating public policies towards addressing power imbalances in society, and strengthening local and resilient food systems based on agroecology, and the communal and public economy upon which local and national food systems heavily rely.

Located in the CFS, the VGFSyN should and could have been a “trailblazer” in terms of both, content and process, drawing from the report of the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) and showing what inclusive multilateralism means in practice.

Instead, the knowledge sources best placed to shape the VGFSyN— HLPE reports, human rights resolutions, codes and guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other relevant multilateral bodies, the lived experiences of vulnerable and marginalised peoples, and even content from CFS’s own policy outcomes–were ignored and shockingly undermined to produce a document that offers no meaningful or substantive input to future policy processes on building sustainable, resilient, healthy and just food systems.

Throughout the VGFSyN negotiations, a common refrain we heard was the importance of producing a document for the Food Systems Summit. Now we have a document that fits well the world of the Summit: we have a document that does not protect broad based public interest, public health, our eco-systems; or the rights and capacities of the millions of small-scale food producers, workers and communities who have built multiple, diverse food systems around the world, and who are the proven lifelines of our societies, economies and environments.

Instead, we have document that protects a system of globalised, corporate dominated trade, investment and finance, that benefit the world’s 10 percent, but has wreaked havoc on our planet and majority of the world’s people.

The VGFSyN and the Food Summit have different starting points but are converging in the same direction: advancing a market capitalist and corporate friendly conceptualisation and framework of governance of food systems.

We reiterate our concern that the Summit is advancing a dangerous, deceptive and insidious form of multi-stakeholderism in the multilateral system of the United Nations, which:

  • blurs the identities and responsibilities of rights holders and duty bearers;
  • through the language of “partnerships” enables wealthy, powerful corporations and their organisational extensions to assume crucial decision-making positions with no democratic accountability;

The organising and outreach processes of the Summit are an elaborate theatre to get people to endorse the transformation of the United Nations to a privatised, corporate driven system of global governance–this is the transformation we are seeing, not the urgently needed transformation of globalised food systems towards genuine sustainable and healthy food systems.

We will continue to engage with the CFS, the Food Systems Summit and all multilateral spaces important for our goals, but on our own terms, maintaining our autonomy and agency.

Thank you.

More information about CSM’s position on the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

Follow the conversation on social media around the VGFSyN


Speech by Isabel Álvarez | 10 February | Morning CFS 47 Plenary Session

We begin by thanking Mexico, Switzerland and the African group for their interventions, which highlight the points necessary for food systems transformation that have fallen far short in these guidelines. As CSM, it is hard to believe that, in 2021, words such as the right to water, sustainability, planetary boundaries, transformation, agroecology, local markets, healthy and sustainable diets… have been left out of the Guidelines on food systems and nutrition. This gives an idea of how little ambition this document has and how it falls short of what was expected of it. It was decided months ago that the mandate of these guidelines would be conditioned by a Summit which, although deemed important by some, cannot replace this space, which we consider to be the most inclusive for addressing food security issues.

In the midst of a crisis in which the planet is speaking more and more clearly, many have chosen to ignore it. At a time when people are calling for transformation, you have chosen not to listen to them. In the midst of a pandemic, far from adapting for the benefit of the people, you have adapted for the benefit of others.

We understand the CFS as a space whose purpose is to respond to the challenges that food security poses today. This process has not fulfilled this purpose neither in content nor in form. We have witnessed a totally irregular process, with hours and hours of Friends of the Chair meetings, this theoretically “informal” space where everything was supposed to be resolved, and where in practice, most of the document has been negotiated in non-inclusive conditions. We have clearly seen how the use of terms such as flexibility or consensus, and the pressure to reach consensus, was not the requested in same way of everyone. We have even seen how even the language of the CFS is not accepted by the CFS itself. We have seen the attempt to renegotiate here what we do not like in other agreements and we have seen the attempt to undermine the principles of multilateralism and human rights.

In terms of content, many of our red lines are to be found in the key points mentioned at the beginning, as you know and as you knew. What we find difficult to accept is that some of them are not also yours. This text mentions the word ‘evidence’ on many occasions and at the same time refuses to see the obvious, the need for a transformation and the fact that other models are not only necessary, but indispensable. Some of you have decided to pick and choose the parts of the evidence that prove you right. In each paragraph of the guidelines, you have generated more uncertainty than a real direction to follow, with sentences that are more conditional than directive. The interests of agro-exporting countries and corporate agribusiness have dominated. We do not know what to believe – are you protecting certain short-term interests? Are you simply foolish or blind? Or do you see yourselves as immune to the consequences of global crises?

This whole process becomes impossible to believe until the day negotiations are finalised, barely a week before the plenary, with no time for consultations and no time to comply with a basic CFS rule, inclusiveness. As we have said before, this is no longer a question of who benefits from the content, this is a question of ensuring that this space, the CFS, is what it is supposed to be. For us it has been impossible to make a proper inclusive consultation process, we don’t know how you have done it in such a short time. Maybe in your case this decision was in very few hands and that made it easier. We also share a question, particularly with the governments of lower income and food dependent countries: is this document really acceptable to you? And we question very seriously the legitimacy of adopting this document today.

From the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism we are disappointed at this moment because we have really put a lot of energy into this process, nobody can deny our commitment. Our position today is one of disappointment and the many reservations we have given that our main priorities have been excluded. Inclusiveness has never been a priority in this process and this has meant that, due to the lack of time for an inclusive process with our sectors, we do not have the possibility today to take a position on the approval or rejection of the guidelines. We ask that this be recorded in the notes of this plenary. Likewise, when this Mechanism has a response, we will share it with all of you and we would like it to be public and accessible on the CFS website.

Our sectors are analysing and evaluating the text, with the reservations that we have already pointed out, because it is also far removed from the results of the regional consultations, to see if it contributes in any way to the path towards food systems that really feed us. Today we see how many of them support problematic processes, with so many failures and shortcomings. We ask you to reflect on this. In doing so, do take into account the multiple crises we face today, the people who are starving as we debate, and the rights of future generations and Mother Earth.

More information about CSM’s position on the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

Follow the conversation on social media around the VGFSyN


Speech by Hamadi Mohammed | 10 February 2021 | CFS Plenary, afternoon session

Mr. Chairman of the CFS, Mr. Chairman of the Open-ended Working Group, distinguished delegates,

It is with honour that we thank you for your efforts to make the CFS a lively platform. This is a good opportunity to recall the remarkable courage of the participants in the negotiating process, especially from our own sectors.

In the Sahel in Africa, my sub-region, there is a humanitarian crisis that poses a great risk for populations affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts for several years. Due to the combined effects of climate change and armed conflict, it is worth noting the efforts of small-scale producers in the primary sector who are trying to meet the challenges of adapting to climate change to meet food needs in order to survive. This context is not conducive to sustainable food systems. On the other hand, it influences the eating habits of indigenous populations, including nomadic herders whose diet is largely based on animal products (milk, butter, cheese and meat).

Whether they are nomadic herders or cereal producers, retraining is more than a necessity in order to live in a difficult environment due to persistent insecurity and frequent natural disasters. All this to explain the harshness of people’s practices in order to survive.

Humanitarian aid programmes are implemented by States and their partner actors, in the form of food vouchers or cash, for the benefit of vulnerable groups in the most exposed areas. However, these actions are insufficient in relation to the number of people affected by the crisis.

The Right to Food is fundamental and as a reference tool, CFS documents should allow the adequacy of policy decisions and practices of actors, notably States and their partners in the field, including farmers’ organisations, small food producers and natural resource operators, for the promotion of healthy and sustainable food systems.

However, we have seen that the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition process has not met the goal of improving the current living conditions of the world’s inhabitants and those of future generations.

During the last weeks of negotiations on the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition, we sensed rigid positions from some delegations and the rejection of our proposals, even though they were formulated in a spirit of compromise. We are thus expressing our surprise at this stage of the process, as we believe that this attitude discourages and limits the scope of the Guidelines and is detrimental to the principle of consensus and the success of the Guidelines.

In the case of CSM, we cannot take a firm stand on these Guidelines until we have held an inclusive consultation to make a transparent and democratic decision with our constituencies. We note that the process of negotiating the Guidelines has responded more to the Summit agenda than to the mandate of the CFS, which enshrines the inclusive nature of this space.

As CSM, we therefore ask: has this fictional consensus not lowered the standards of the document? Does the document really give directions towards healthy, equitable food systems? Where is the collective vision and strategy to respond to the current crises?

We would like to broaden and share these reflections with the members present today. In particular, we encourage the representatives of the countries most affected by global inequalities, hunger and the environmental crisis to join these questions. How will you use these guidelines? What will they be useful for the citizens you represent? Faced with the final outcome, we have heard in the room today a great deal of unease. This discontent should be duly reflected in the final report of the 47th CFS Plenary Session. We also note that a number of countries did not approve the guidelines.

Our small producers will continue to be committed so that CFS can learn from this hard lesson and surpass and win this challenge by stimulating, through its future documents, new socially, economically and environmentally acceptable behaviours without compromising the future of the next generations, and that this global dynamic be replicated at the level of each country.

More information about CSM’s position on the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition

Follow the conversation on social media around the VGFSyN