Cartoon by Nando Motta

CFS 50 was hijacked by geopolitical interests and stolen by governments that want to cripple the Committee

The CFS 50th Plenary ended in the evening of 13 October without a proper conclusion. Hours and hours of expected intergovernmental negotiation were spent in trying to find a compromise in a battle of words between two geopolitical blocs. Hours that were supposed to have been dedicated to finding a solution to the  systemic global food crisis were lost ; meanwhile, increasing numbers of people continue to die from hunger, climate change and inequalities between people and countries. 

The CFS was reformed almost 15 years ago to prioritize and give voice to those most affected by food insecurity. But their voices have not been heard. The CFS 50th Plenary opened with a full-day ministerial segment intended to discuss how to  coordinate a policy response to the global food and food price crises. Many interventions reiterated the intentions to leave no one behind, and underlined the need and the mandate of the CFS to act urgently. The CSIPM presented the evidence from our constituencies in all the regions, showing sharp increases in inequalities and pointing to the interconnected structural issues that reinforce and perpetuate the food and food price crises, such as debt, food import dependency, and unfair trade and investment rules. 

All of this was ignored. There was no discussion in the Plenary about what the CFS should do to address the global food crisis between now and the CFS 51st Plenary in October 2023. Instead, the discussion remained stuck, trying to accommodate acceptable wording on war and sanctions. Although the South African Ambassador did her best to steer the Friends of the Chair group towards a conclusion, the geopolitical controversy led by Russia and the United States impeded any agreement.

‘When the elephants fight it’s the grass that is trampled.’ The so-called compromise text presented on the crisis response ignored the substance of the CSIPM proposal to develop a globally coordinated policy guidance addressing the food crises. This compromise proposal avoids any discussions on the CSIPM’s proposal and simply garnishes the text that had been agreed to in the Bureau. The Plenary itself, the sovereign governing body of the CFS, must dedicate time to meaningful debates and a thorough decision on CFS’s role in responding to the crises. 

This deadlock was not about geopolitics alone. We noticed again how quickly Russia and the United States easily align when it comes to undermining the role of the CFS. It seems that they would both prefer to see a weakened CFS, unable to address relevant issues such as human rights, trade or food systems transformation. Other agro-exporting countries such as Brazil and Argentina are on the same page. And EU Member States, although open to an active CFS role in response to the crisis, did not move sufficiently to avoid the geopolitical deadlock. It is clear that the most powerful countries do not have any interest in addressing the crises, as this would change the status quo and jeopardise the dominant food and economic system. On the opposite side, Member States from Africa and Latin America as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food strongly supported the need for a globally coordinated policy response led by the CFS.

The mandate of the CFS is under attack even more broadly. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WFP are profiling themselves as the main UN agencies responsible for responding to the crises, but are limited in their scope and adopt problematic approaches such as linking them to the outcomes of the contested UN Food Systems Summit. The UN Global Crisis Response Group (GCRG) is being positioned as the legitimate effort for a coordinated response. However, the GCRG was established to share information; it is not the mandated space for inter-governmental deliberations and inter-agency coordination. We urgently need a debate anchored in a human rights approach and democratic principles that allow the most affected countries and constituencies to participate in defining the responses.

Given the growing urgency of the food crises in many countries, we strongly demand that Member States act decisively. We call upon Governments to engage in an inclusive member-led dialogue to discuss an approach for a global, coordinated policy guidance to prevent future crises and to present it at the CFS 51st Plenary.

The CFS should not be abused to clash on security issues. The CFS mandate is to coordinate a response to the alarming food insecurity in the world, based on the human right to adequate food. It is CFS’ mandate and obligation to act now.

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