Summary of positions presented by the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism at the 49th plenary session of the UN Committee on World Food Security, held on 11-14 October 2021.

CFS policy response to COVID-19

The CFS must provide global policy guidance and adopt a coordination role to urgently tackle the food security and nutrition crisis exacerbated by the pandemic.

  • COVID19 has severe and lasting impacts on food security and nutrition and on the right to food and related human rights, particularly of the most vulnerable. The pandemic has revealed and exacerbated existing structural fragilities and injustices in our food systems and has increased inequalities within and between countries, calling for a radical transformation of our food systems in the direction of greater resilience, equity and sustainability. Countries that suffer from debt and dependency on food imports are particularly affected and will continue to be so over the coming period. They require support and solidarity at the global level in order to help them strengthen domestic food production, improve links between producers and consumers, valorize traditional knowledge, and put in place needed social protection.
  • The crisis is multidimensional. Strong interconnections operate between food systems and a wide range of other factors, including health, livelihoods, workers’ rights, gender equality, the climate, and others. Public health, human rights and economic recovery all have impacts on food systems: food affects everything, and everything affects food. A siloed approach to addressing specific impact areas of COVID19 cannot succeed. Given the complex, deep-rooted causes of the crisis it is also necessary to build capacity to foresee the likelihood that the current pandemic could be followed by others in the future and to attenuate such occurrences.
  • Action has been taken, and continues to be, by different actors and authorities at local, national and regional levels to address both the short and the long-term impacts of the pandemic. It is important to understand the territorial context in which local initiatives are being developed, to share experiences and strengthen synergies between the different levels and groups of actors, and to ensure that their efforts receive the coherent and coordinated support they need from the global level. An ‘everyone for themselves’ approach will not get us out of the pandemic.
  • At the global level, UN agencies have developed and adopted relevant policy instruments and programmes in their respective sectors. The ‘One Health’ initiative points to the importance of coordinated frameworks, as does the transversal need to adopt a human-centered approach, an economy based on care and solidarity, and a human rights framework that can address the underlying structural problem of inequalities by protecting people from factors of discrimination. The FAO-African Union covid task force is a promising support initiative in the area of agriculture.  What has been missing thus far is a process that makes it possible to put the different perspectives and initiatives together into a multisectoral, multilaterally coordinated approach to identifying and effectively responding to immediate needs engendered by COVID19 while laying the bases for a transformation of food systems. We have enough knowledge now, what we need is action.
  • The UN Committee on World Food Security is the appropriate forum in which to undertake this task due to its mandate rooted in the right to food, its inclusive composition and mode of working, its capacity of outreach from the local to the global levels, and the strong knowledge-based support provided by the HLPE. Governments need to assume their role as agents of change, regulators of food systems and protectors of the planet, but they cannot do it alone. COVID-19 is the priority issue today particularly for the more vulnerable countries, an inclusive, multisectoral, multilateral approach is required to address it, and the CFS is the place to begin to build it. WHO, ILO and the OHCHR express their willingness to participate in a CFS-based initiative in this direction. CFS49 should agree to insert into the rolling section of MYPOW the activity of developing globally coordinated policy guidance to the impacts of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition. This does not mean engaging in a new, heavy policy convergence process but simply exercising the CFS’s coordination function and its convening capacity to put existing policy instruments together holistically in order to meet member governments’ and communities’ needs. 
  • CSM’s more than 380 million affiliated members from all continents – peasants, smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolks, Indigenous Peoples, agricultural and food workers, landless, women, youth, consumers and urban food insecure – continue to fight the dramatic impacts of COVID-19. One of the goals of CSM at the 47th Plenary is to bring the evidence from the ground and remind delegates and governments their realities cannot be ignored.
  • The concrete proposal, developed by the Group of Committed CFS MSs and participants, is to include the following text into the CFS decisions of this Plenary:
    • 1.       Recognizing that COVID19 has severe and lasting impacts on food security and nutrition, the ability to live healthy lives and on the right to food and related rights, particularly of the most vulnerable; that the pandemic has revealed and exacerbated existing structural fragilities and injustices in our food systems; that the multidimensional and multi-level nature of the crisis and the possibility of recurrent pandemics calls for a multilaterally coordinated policy response;
    • 2.       The CFS decides to establish a Covid-19 task force, with  scientific support from the HLPE, open to MSs from all regions and interested regional authorities, the RBAs and other interested UN agencies, the CSM and PSM, with the mandate to a) prepare a high-level special event  on developing globally coordinated policy response to COVID19 in the first months of 2022 and, b) building on the  outcomes of the event and existing expert evidence and advice, prepare a draft policy coordination document in response to the food security and nutrition crisis exacerbated by COVID-19, for discussion and adoption by CFS 50.

Concerns and Demands about the UN Food Systems Summit and its potential implications for CFS

The concerns of the CSM about the UNFSS are many and have been eloquently articulated through many broad sign-on letters, massive autonomous counter-mobilizations, research, and policy statements from every CSM constituency and from every region of the world.

Key concerns are:

  • Despite claims by the UNFSS organizers, the Summit and the opaque, corporate-friendly processes leading up to it, has failed the People and its own self-stated goals of inclusion and transformation. The intentionality to miss the mark in recognizing and addressing the most important drivers of growing world hunger and the climate crises has been clear – industrial agriculture, corporate concentration in food systems, and the systemic social, political, and economic disparities that exacerbate hunger and malnutrition were not central to the agenda. As our food systems continue to struggle through the impacts of COVID 19 – if ever there was a moment for systemic change from the status quo it has been these years leading up to the UNFSS.
  • Instead we have seen the focus of the UNFSS doubling down on a narrow focus on finance, corporate technologies and innovation as solutions, which are poised to exacerbate a range of structural problems such as intellectual property rights in seeds and knowledge, privatization of data on farmer practices, and land and sea grabbing, problems that will undermine small-scale food provision that the world’s vulnerable and marginalised communities depend on.
  • Secondly, the multistakeholderism concept that was imposed all levels of the summit, has never accounted for the stark imbalances of power between food producers and corporate agribusinesses, between OECD countries and many nations in the global South, and has simply ignored issues of conflict of interest, which collectively have undermined the legitimacy of the Summit. These governance failures further marginalize the communities and grassroot voices already too often ignored by powerful governments and corporate actors; and this system is also failing member states – who have lost control over what is under their responsibility as duty bearers.
  • Third the Summit has failed on the foundational issue of human rights: A non-normative UN Secretary General’s event cannot undermine existing human rights norms, instruments, and human rights-based institutions. Critiques on the weak human rights grounding of the Summit have been expressed eloquently and frequently by many actors from inside and outside the Summit process throughout the process, but have been consistently ignored.
  • Finally, we highlight our concerns that the UNFSS continues to overstep its mandate in continuing beyond September 23rd in the form of a “coordination hub” within the Rome-based UN agencies. Member States did not request or negotiate or agree to put these new structures and mechanisms in place, which threatens to further degrade the public’s trust in these institutions.  This coordination hub has been framed as a mechanism to promote the many ambiguous and opaque national food system pathways and Coalitions of Action. These Summit remnants will not deliver credible or meaningful participation from civil society and social movements at national and international levels, and therefore we as the CSM do not recognize them.

Over the past two months the political declaration of the Autonomous People’s Response, which articulates these warning signs, has received overwhelming support with over 1000 organizational endorsements and signatures – this collective condemnation cannot be ignored and must shape how we maintain the essential role of the CFS in the global food governance architecture of the UN.

Strengthening the CFS and democratic global food governance

  • The UNFSS did not meet the basic requirements of legitimate, intergovernmental, and transparent UN procedures. In contrast, the CFS, as foremost inclusive intergovernmental and international policy platform takes its decisions on the basis of a negotiated process with the participation of those most affected by food insecurity.  Given the strongly divergent views among Member States, scientists and civil society and Indigenous Peoples organizations, the CFS must ensure a bold and honest assessment of the Summit preparatory process and its intended follow-up with respect to the legitimate architecture of existing institutions and their mandates, and how it exercised undue influence on two important negotiations which in our view led to heavily suboptimal outcomes.
  • Further, this CFS should not shy away from controversial issues such as the long-waited debate on the impacts of trade and corporate concentration on food systems. After the discussion in plenary, additional broad discussions may be necessary. The CFS draft decision box should reflect this. It would be not wise if the Bureau rushes a decision on this without properly consulting Member States and CFS participants.
  • The CSM shares the strong concerns expressed by the CFS and HLPE Chairs and the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food and on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on the proposals for a new science-policy interface to be established, risking to undermine the role and remit of the HLPE, exclude the voices of many food systems actors, fragment the governance of food systems and critically undermine the CFS. We call MS and CFS participants to unequivocally commit to support and strengthen the HLPE. 
  • We reaffirm our commitment to strengthen and further democratize the United Nations, our public institutions and food systems, and defend them against corporate capture. We count on Member States and the CFS to take seriously their roles and responsibilities, and to fulfill their obligations to the people of the world in both letter and spirit. You as governments and we as rights holders and societies must join hands and work together, to ensure that we do not continue to fail the people and the planet.

Youth Working Group policy demands

Key expectations from the Youth constituency towards the upcoming CFS policy process are: This policy process on youth is an opportunity for the CFS to truly demonstrate ambition. No more false solutions! Or, as Greta from the youth climate movement recently stated so eloquently: No more “blah blah blah…”

We expect that some governments will add a series of caveats to any mention of transition or systems change, watering down the recommendations to the point at which they become shamefully inadequate for urgently responding with holistic solutions to the intersecting crises that youth face today.

We are anticipating some Member States to argue against use of the term “marginalized people” or “marginalized social groups.” Simply referring to people as experiencing “vulnerable situations” avoids naming and solving 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.

We foresee some governments to resist recognition of the rights of women. Women’s rights and the autonomy of women are central to our work in the CSM Youth, as well as the rights of LGBTQ+ communities. These rights cannot be framed only in the context of food security and nutrition. We cannot solve social problems in isolation. We must be holistic.

Moreover, we expect further denial and disrespect for international law. The rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas will be a major reference point for the CSM Youth in these negotiations. There’s no future without food sovereignty, and peasants’ rights are the basis of democratic, localized, and ecologically sound food systems.

The HLPE’s report – Promoting youth engagement and employment in agriculture and food systems – identifies four pillars to protect and strengthen youth engagement in transforming food systems and building economies of well-being: rights, equity; agency; and recognition.

The major challenges and threats to securing dignified livelihoods for youth are climate change, environmental destruction, lack of access to productive resources (land, water, seeds) and systemic racism, gender discrimination and social exclusion.

There are many youth-led, community-based solutions centred around the realization of human rights, re-establishing healthy environments, and holistic food systems transformation to overcome these challenges.

Social transformations are needed for restoring ecosystems and achieving economies of well-being. Highlighted examples include farmer-to-farmer training, land redistribution programs, and workers’ rights campaigns. Following from the HLPE report, the Youth Working Group emphasizes the diversity of youth experiences in food systems and society and underscores the need for policy instruments based on intersectional, relational, anti-oppression, and context-specific approaches which nurture heterogeneity and intergenerational connections within and between rural and urban communities.

Watch or read the statements delivered by CSM at the 49th CFS plenary


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