Civil society representatives from around the world successfully put agroecology on the agenda of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, as the truly innovative pathway to resolving environmental, hunger, health and inequality crises, and ensuring the right to food.

This year’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS), 14-18 October in Rome, was held in the context of deepening crises. World hunger and malnutrition are on the rise. Since 2015, the number of people without access to sufficient, nutritious food has been increasing. Over 800 million people — that’s one in every nine of us on Earth — experienced severe levels of food insecurity in 2018. Alongside this, malnutrition due to obesity is soaring, now at over two billion people. At the same time, the industrial food system is now recognized as a leading contributor to the multiple crises facing humanity.

The CFS is the foremost inclusive, intergovernmental and international political platform on food security and nutrition, with a vision to foster the right to adequate food for all. Since 2009, the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) organizes the participation of civil society representatives – namely smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, agricultural and food workers, landless, women, youth, consumers, urban food insecure and NGOs. It is the largest international space of civil society organisations working to eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition.

“Here people from the global South, from the grassroots, come together with allies like Friends of the Earth International and La Via Campesina, to transform our messages into a political dimension, which we can take to negotiations with member governments.”

Bertrand Sansonnens, Pro Natura-Friends of the Earth Switzerland

“There are two words that people must always respect to be a good advocate within civil society: inclusiveness and solidarity. You cannot get that alone.”

Musa F Sow, West African peasants and producers network (ROPPA)

Civil society side event at the Committee on World Food Security

Agroecology on the agenda

For several years the CSM has been demanding that governments gathered in Rome discuss policy recommendations to promote agroecology.

It marks a huge achievement for civil society — led by small scale food producers that have been practicing agroecology for decades, even centuries — that governments agreed to a year of negotiations to set out policy recommendations on agroecology. This is in the face of huge opposition and counter lobbying from agribusiness-led governments.

It was also a significant success that a landmark report by experts advising the CFS, on “Agroecological approaches and other innovations for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition”, clearly differentiated between agroecology and sustainable intensification approaches.

“The High Level Panel of Experts report demonstrates that agroecology is the only transformational option to address all the structural changes needed in our food system in a systemic and integrated way. It shows that Sustainable Intensification and Climate Smart Agriculture can only provide one dimensional solutions via incremental change.”

Ali Aii Shatou, Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC)

“It is heartening that there was broad acceptance for the report which reflects our vision of agroecology as system change, especially in the face of huge opposition from powerful governments such as the USA, Australia and Canada. This is the result of people building our political power and joint vision over several years – which itself is also a success of the food sovereignty movement.”

Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Friends of the Earth International food sovereignty program coordinator

As leaders pointed to weather change, conflict, weak markets and migration as the drivers of food insecurity, civil society highlighted the structural causes behind these phenomena, including the contribution of industrial farming to ecological collapse, and the deepening inequality caused by increasing agribusiness control and grabbing of resources. The CSM highlighted that small-scale food producers in vulnerable regions face the worst impacts of droughts, fires, and hunger caused by climate change. Their call was for a fundamental transformation of our food systems, in favour of agroecology and food sovereignty, and based on human rights.

The CSM envisions agroecology as the transformative solution that encompasses widespread adoption of ecological food production and social and economic changes. It tackles unequal power relations whilst ensuring ownership of resources, gender justice, socially beneficial innovations and technology, and horizontal processes for knowledge, research and learning. They reject ‘Sustainable Intensification’, which co-opts the terminology of agroecology but in reality promotes biotechnology, industrial livestock farming and other agribusiness interests.

This year, member states also continued the process of elaborating national-level Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition (to be adopted in 2020), and agreed the Multi-Year Program of Work for 2020-2023. Civil society encouraged these plans to remain ambitious in their scope to transition towards more people and community-centered policies. Women and youth led dynamic discussions at side events, including about the impact of extractivism on women’s right to food and the struggle for a just transition, and the future of food and youth involvement in the agricultural sector.

Civil society in plenary at the Committee on World Food Security

Fighting the corporate capture of global food governance

Looking ahead to the CFS’ 47th session in October 2020, the challenges are multiple. Multilateral state governance spaces like the UN are seeing increasing capture by the private sector, who are pushing ‘multistakeholder’ initiatives. Through these, corporations try to place the rights and interests of small-scale food producers and the public at the same level as corporate interests.. Governments with strong agribusiness and biotechnology investments have already used geopolitical tricks to block CFS processes. Civil society will need strong articulation, to bring evidence and coherent demands at the global level, and to put pressure on their national governments.

“The challenge would be how to bring this back to our countries, our localities, our communities; how to make our constituencies really mobilize themselves and act on the messages. Because without that, this will be just talk.”

Sylvia Mallori, People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty

Committee on World Food Security flags

Image credits: Amelia Collins, Philipp Heilemann, Madeleine Race.