CSM Positioning on the CFS Policy Recommendations on agroecological and other innovative approaches

The CFS Policy Recommendations on agroecological and other innovative approaches were endorsed by Member States at the 48th Plenary Session of the CFS in June 2021.

We, the constituencies[1] of the of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM), reaffirming our commitment to the principles and mandate of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), have been very actively involved throughout the CFS process to develop Policy Recommendations on Agroecological and other Innovative Approaches (Adopted document or Recommendations), adopted by Member States at the 48th session on 4 June 2021.

For the CSM organisations, agroecology is at the heart of our daily work, lives and our vision of a fair, sustainable food system centred on the realisation of human rights. Therefore we had high expectations in achieving recommendations that would contribute to the realisation of the right to food for all and the transformation of food systems, which is becoming increasingly urgent in order to face the social, economic, environmental, health and hunger crises that the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened.

We acknowledge the changed environment in this process with regard to the negotiation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition; as well as the commitment, dedication, patience and management of the Rapporteur, Ambassador Yaya Olaniran, to pursue a more inclusive and participatory negotiation, including efforts to provide more time towards the desired but nevertheless elusive goal of consensus building. We also acknowledge the technical team for their continued guidance and support, and the role played by several Member States at some critical moments in facilitating consensus on the importance of the agroecological transition.

However, we note that the self-imposed time pressure to fit into the schedule of the UN Pre-Summit on Food Systems severely limited the ability to have a much deeper and serious discussion on many aspects of the Recommendations. While commitment to consensus building is part of the negotiation, too often this commitment was abandoned, with discussion cut off prematurely and requests from the floor ignored, forced by these false time constraints, rather than adhering to a proper consensus building process that could have produced a far better result. We ended up having sessions without interpretation and this was a severe structural barrier that made it difficult for many CSM delegates and member states to participate.

Similarly, the virtual modality in processes of this kind represents an often-unsolvable challenge for social movement representatives as well as for government delegates particularly from smaller countries of the Global South, due to connectivity problems, time differences and serious difficulties in following text changes on an English-only screen. The disparity in resources between wealthier countries and those with small or single person delegations led to inequitable outcomes, as seen when delegates could not join CFS sessions due to competing demands and ongoing responsibilities such as attending meetings in their home capitals.

Furthermore, it is essential to us to highlight that the process moved radically away from the CSM’s initial proposal to the CFS to develop a policy process on agroecology, and resulted in policy recommendations that conflate agroecology with diametrically opposed approaches, completely ignoring the policy assessment framework provided by the 2019 HLPE report 14, “Agroecological approaches and other innovations for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition”.

The idea that we can just choose between opposing conflicting approaches and settle on the so-called incremental innovations — in the absence of a clear concrete commitment and plan to keep moving towards transformative approaches—ignores the “opportunity cost” of doing so, namely that there will be significantly less funding and fewer resources available at the end of the day for the transformative innovations that are desperately needed. This not only increases the risk that a transition process stalls at the lowest level of mitigating the worst harms and proceeds no further, but even more dangerously, mires us in problematic approaches that actively undermine the practice of agroecology and the needed agroecological transformation.

Regarding the content of the Recommendations, we recognise that, thanks to the sustained commitment of some Member States, the CSM and a number of other participants, in some passages of the preamble and in some of the recommendations: some important and critical elements of agroecology are highlighted, as reflected in the ten elements of the FAO and in the HLPE report; language of respect and protection of human rights, women’s rights, the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas and the rights of Indigenous Peoples is included, although always with caveats; the need to reduce pressure on natural resources is recognised; the participation and inclusion of people in situations of vulnerability is encouraged; and adaptation to different contexts is promoted. In addition, there are some useful elements such as the need to: raise awareness among decision-makers about the risk of pesticides; promote greater integration of biodiversity for food and agriculture; and support participatory research.

However, when considering the Adopted document as a whole, we understand that: i. it does not place the protection and realisation of human rights at the centre; ii. it does not assign a central role to agroecology nor its transformative potential is adequately recognised, while putting agroecology on an equal level with unsustainable approaches, without also recognising the imbalances between support for these and support for agroecological approaches; iii. fails to recognise the social, economic and environmental impacts of the industrial agri-food system; iv. fails to recognise the power imbalances within the food system; v. fails to recognise the ancestral and traditional knowledge of indigenous and peasant peoples and communities; and vi. includes recommendations that are antagonistic to agroecology, such as the use of agrotoxics.

Moreover, many of the “non-negative” passages in the document are in response to our extensive damage control efforts. In the end, the resulting recommendations, while not a step backwards, are not a step forward either. At a time on the “clock of the world”, when the CFS simply cannot afford to sit back and avoid providing member states with meaningful and clear guidance on how to move forward with the transformative changes that are urgently needed, this “missed opportunity” is unacceptable and indeed deadly.

Our reasons substantiating these points are outlined further below.

Does not place the protection and realisation of human rights at the centre

The Adopted document fails to recognise the centrality that the protection and realisation of human rights must have in any transition to sustainable food systems. In this sense, it does not make appropriate reference to human rights – the rights of women, peasants, indigenous peoples and workers. The CFS was reformed with a mandate to achieve the progressive realisation of the right to food, and it is absolutely unacceptable to the CSM that the CFS does not take on board the interconnectedness of the right to food with the rights of women and those who produce most of the food.

The resistance of some actors to the inclusion of women’s rights – including CEDAW General Recommendation 34 on rural women’s rights – in these policy recommendations was evident. We find it alarming that in 2021 we still have to continue to demand that recognition and affirmation of these rights be included in a UN document. The fact that they have only been included in the Preamble and not in the recommendations themselves undermines the normative force of the document.

Agroecology and the transformation of food systems cannot be supported without recognising the role of women in saving and transmitting ancestral knowledge about seeds, food production and organisational practices.

The Adopted document also fails to adequately incorporate the rights recognised in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) adopted by the General Assembly, which establishes a strong legal basis for the recognition and respect of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, who are the most vulnerable to production systems that put at risk both the lives of peasant collectives in their wide diversity and environmental sustainability.

Furthermore, an alignment of the Recommendations with UNDROP would contribute to the fulfilment of the UNDROP objectives, which proposes Agroecology as a response to the problems of hunger and environmental sustainability.

The rights recognised in Universal Declarations and Conventions adopted by the UN system, such as UNDRIP, UNDROP and CEDAW, should inform the work of its Agencies. The CFS should not fail to adequately incorporate them into its policy recommendations, as they codify the rights of those who contribute most to food production in an ecologically sustainable manner and are most affected by the lack of adequate policies.

The CFS must be the space to celebrate these rights and have them inform all CFS policy outcomes. The fact that this is not happening is very worrying for the present and future of the CFS.

Does not assign a central role to agroecology, fails to adequately recognise its transformative potential, while putting it on an equal level with unsustainable systems, and also fails to recognise the imbalances between support for these and support for agroecological approaches

The main objective of these policy recommendations should have been to support agroecology. Instead, the policy recommendations have reduced it to a forced coexistence with other unsustainable approaches.

The Recommendations should differentiate agroecology from unsustainable approaches and promote agroecology as the preferred holistic solution for a transition to just and sustainable food systems, in line with the analysis in the HLPE report and the strong evidence from the territories and authoritative literature.

To this end, the Recommendations should recognise that agroecology does not operate on a level playing field and that the share of support for any sustainable agriculture effort is minimal compared to the incredible support for industrial agriculture.

In parallel, the Recommendations should encourage better access to markets for agroecological products and strong support for the development of short circuits that support the livelihoods of small-scale producers and food and agriculture workers, while ensuring people’s access to healthy food. In a context of a pandemic where local markets have ensured food security for millions of people, we cannot accept that they have been ignored as a central alternative for a real transformation of food systems. 

Furthermore, although there was good damage control work on the inclusion of language addressing digitalisation, the Adopted document not only fails to provide a clear conceptual elaboration on the meaning of digitalisation, but also fails to consider the problems of access, control, and governance involved, especially in the case of the use of Big Data. These concerns were highlighted in the HLPE report.

Promoting digitalisation in such a document would have required a serious and thorough discussion of the political economy associated with who owns and controls digital technologies to ensure that their application is rooted in the real needs of small-scale food producers and  therefore be context-specific and/or locally adapted.

Small-scale producers and their organisations should have agency in determining the types of innovation that support their needs and be considered as the main representatives and implementers of innovations to support the transition towards fair and sustainable agri-food systems.

Does not recognise the social, economic and environmental impacts of the industrial agri-food system

The Adopted document fails appallingly to address the impacts of the industrial agri-food system, which is largely responsible for the hunger, environmental, biodiversity, water and land crises.

It was rejected both to use the framework provided by the HLPE report to assess the different productive systems, and to refer to the concept of the “ecological footprint” of the different systems, which is essential to be able to properly assess the impacts of the different systems and to build sustainable transitions. The inclusion of the concept of externalities is done in a very light manner, and associated to the concept of trade-offs, when it comes to accepting negative impacts in order to preserve private benefits and interests and without any accountability mechanism.

The central role of small-scale producer organisations in territorial management/planning is also not recognised.

Does not recognise the power imbalances within the food systems

One of the biggest problems of the current food system is the concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations and their influence on both the development and implementation of public policy and consumer decisions. A policy recommendations document with an agroecological approach should at least acknowledge the imbalance of power and supports existing between agribusiness and the millions of agroecological food producers, resulting in a lack of public policies, including financial support and infrastructure, to promote and implement agroecology, as opposed to the enormous scale of incentives and subsidies for unsustainable industrial practices.

Inadequately reflects the diversity of motivations and potential entry points for youth seeking engagement and employment in agroecological transitions

As noted above, the Adopted document contains several problematic points regarding digitalization, including a recommendation on the use of digital technologies as an entry point for the involvement of young people in agri-food systems. The policy outcome misrepresents the problem, failing to recognize the various social, economic, and environmental reasons why young people are forced out of the countryside and pushed away from agriculture. Holistic agroecological transitions require a radical redistribution of wealth, power, and resources in agri-food systems and society more broadly. Food systems transformations require, first and foremost, the realization and protection of human rights, particularly the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. Agrarian reform and social peace constitute two of the most important factors for ensuring that young people can become involved and stay engaged in agriculture with agency and dignity. The CSM rejects the promotion of supposed technological fixes rather than actually solving the underlying problems of inequality, poverty, marginalization, and oppression that prevent young people from practicing agroecology and constructing food sovereignty.  

Fails to identify and provide guidance on the elimination of social, political, and economic marginalization, particularly for women, youth, and Indigenous peoples

The Recommendations do not recognise the concept of marginalization as a problem to solve, due to resistance from some Member States which insisted on using the phrase “people in vulnerable situations” instead. The transformation of agri-food systems requires structural solutions to combat against systemic and acute forms of social oppression and economic exploitation. The most powerful social actors maintain their dominance by actively excluding, discrediting, dispossessing, co-opting, and criminalizing opponents and critics organized within civil society and social movements in particular. Simply referring to people as experiencing “vulnerable situations” avoids naming the root causes of vulnerability and risk, particularly economic inequalities, sexual and gender-based oppression, and the expansion of corporate control over agri-food systems.

Does not recognise the ancestral and traditional knowledge of indigenous and peasant peoples and communities

Agroecology is built from the ancestral knowledge of indigenous and peasant peoples and communities, in a process of co-creation of participatory knowledge to which other actors, including public and research institutions, have been joining throughout history. The Recommendations do not adequately stress the importance of this knowledge or recognise its central role. Instead, they put those who promote agroecology in a defensive position towards the promoters of an exclusionary scientific and academic knowledge paradigm that is functional to corporate interests.

Includes recommendations that are antagonistic to agroecology, such as the use of agrotoxics

Agroecology is a way out of dependence on external inputs. The fact that these recommendations promote the optimisation of pesticide use and risk undermines not only our objectives and efforts to defend the health, livelihoods and survival concerns of peasants, family farmers, indigenous peoples, agricultural workers and other small-scale food producers who have practised agroecology for centuries, but also contradicts existing UN agreements, policy frameworks and agreed guidelines on pesticide and chemical management.

These internationally agreed guidances on pesticides clearly prioritize first and foremost reduction in reliance on pesticides.[2] Nowhere in any UN or internationally agreed documents, nor in the HLPE report itself, is optimisation of pesticides ever identified as a desirable or appropriate approach. The Adopted document thus turns established international agreements on their head, reflecting the dominance and outsized influence of the one government that insisted upon it in a bizarrely abbreviated special session that excluded consideration of other member states’ and CSM proposals for alternate language. “Optimising pesticide use and risk” is completely unacceptable to the CSM.

Furthermore, the Adopted document fails to recognise the rights of peasants and Indigenous peoples (UNDROP and UNDRIP) to not use or be exposed to pesticides. This is also unacceptable, as it places the burden of “avoiding exposure and poisoning” entirely on the people and communities themselves.


Other paragraphs relating to agrochemicals (3h and 4e) are acceptable, but at the same time, they do not add anything new or build significantly on existing agreements and guidance documents. The slight restatement of what already exists elsewhere does not compensate for the serious harm mentioned above.

In addition, this content blocks the aspirations raised by several member states to make a complete transition to agroecology, away from harmful chemical dependencies that interfere with the human right to a healthy environment and healthy ecosystems.

CSM’S POSITION

In this document, the CSM shares its final position on the CFS Policy Recommendations on Agroecological and other innovative approaches.

This position has been decided collectively, through an inclusive and transparent process with all sectors of the CSM, guaranteeing adequate time to ensure the participation of all constituencies and territories.

This position also follows up on our analysis of the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition and reiterates our broader call to the CFS to raise awareness about the continuing tendency to avoid mentioning the responsibilities of those actors who clearly participate in the negotiations to defend their economic interests and advance the corporate capture of the conceptualisation and governance spaces for agri-food systems.

The CSM reaffirms our commitment to the mandate and the principles of the CFS, which should play a leading role in developing critical analysis and policy recommendations that realize the right to food by promoting and nurturing transitions to just, sustainable agri-food systems. However, he CSM does not support the adoption of CFS Policy Recommendations on Agroecological and other Innovative Approaches, approved by Member States at the 48th session. This adoption moves away from our vision for including Agroecology within the CFS’ MYPOW and reflects how in the upcoming period great efforts will be needed to raise again the ambition within the CFS.

The Adopted document as a whole, undermines key international agreements, puts at risk the jobs and livelihoods of our populations and is detrimental to the long-standing efforts of our organisations and movements to promote and build agroecology as a holistic transition pathway for achieving agri-food systems based on social, economic, environmental, gender and intergenerational justice. While containing some useful elements – for example, references to the FAO’s 10 Elements of Agroecology and the HLPE’s 13 principles of agroecology – the policy recommendations fail to underscore the urgency of food systems transformation based on human rights, particularly considering the worsening effects of climate change, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the numerous protracted crises around the world caused by armed conflict, land grabs, and other territorial disputes. Furthermore, the Adopted document undermines key international agreements concerning human rights, such as UNDROP, and therefore poses yet another grave threat to the lives and livelihoods of CSM constituencies struggling to survive and achieve economies of well-being.

Whenever the CSM is asked to work with this CFS policy outcome – for example, during current and future CFS policy work streams – we will raise our serious concerns not only about the content, but also about the conditions and imbalances under which the Recommendations were developed. Certain aspects of the recommendations could potentially prove useful in some contexts, but the CSM does not consider the Approved document to be “agreed language” in its entirety, and we will apply the critical rationale of this position statement during active and future CFS policy processes.

From the outset of this process, the CSM has been vocal in our efforts to ensure that the outcomes achieved within the reformed CFS reach high ambition and address the growing urgency to transform food systems. Our disappointment with the latest negotiating outcomes is not an expression of resignation but is intended to convey the need to re-raise ambition towards policy guidelines that truly respond to the multiple crises facing the planet and humanity.

We remind States of their responsibility as duty bearers to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all people. We ask the CFS to monitor the effects that these Recommendations will have and urge an ongoing evaluation of its resulting impacts in terms of advancing the food systems transformation that is needed.

We demand that the CFS, participating entities and all member states renew their commitment to a process that centers the voices, concerns and well-being of the peasants, food system workers, women, youth and Indigenous communities who will be most directly impacted by its policy outcomes, rather than deferring to the interests and agenda of a few dominant governments and multinational corporations.

Through our active participation and advocacy for our vision, coming from experiences of resilience in our territories, we will continue to protect and advocate for the CFS that has been successfully reformed 12 years ago with the core mandate of eradicating hunger in the world, and hold the CFS accountable to communities on the ground.


[1] The CSM consists of 11 constituencies: smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolks, Indigenous Peoples, agricultural and food workers, landless, women, youth, consumers, urban food insecure and NGOs.

[2] For example, the FAO Guidance on Pest and Pesticide Management Policy Development, developed and approved through the established Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Management, refers to reducing reliance six times; the FAO Guidance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides refers to reducing reliance twice and the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management also points to reducing reliance. Reducing reliance is also in line with SDGs 2, 3 and 12.

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