UN food summit will be ‘elitist’ and ‘pro-corporate’, says special rapporteur

The UN global food summit is “elitist and regressive” and has failed in its goal of being a “people’s summit”, according to the special rapporteur on food rights.

As world leaders prepare to attend the virtual event on Thursday, which aims to examine ways to transform global food systems to be more sustainable, Michael Fakhri said it risked leaving behind the very people critical for its success. In an interview with the Guardian, Fakhri said neither the worsening impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the right to food, nor fundamental questions of inequality, accountability and governance were being properly addressed by the meeting.

“The summit is being led by scientists and research institutes who are pro-corporate sector,” Fakhri said. “People say, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, let’s see if it is the ‘people’s summit’ it is claiming to be.”

“But they have failed in what they had set out to do. It is not the people’s summit. It is elitist.

“In the day-to-day operations of the summit, corporations do not have a role,” said Fakhri. “But the leadership picked comes from organisations that believe corporations are part of the solution.”

Called by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, the meeting was welcomed for recognising that farming has been largely ignored in climate talks. But its progress has been mired in controversy, as arguments continue over the causes of growing hunger and diet-related disease and whether the event is biased in favour of hi-tech intensive farming.

Guterres’ choice of Agnes Kalibata, the former Rwandan minister for agriculture, to lead the summit was met with protests last year, given her role as president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which has been accused of promoting damaging, business-focused practices.

En marzo, la Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism, a group of more than 500 civil society groups with at least 300 million members, said it would boycott the summit and set up a parallel meeting. In a separate initiative, 148 grassroots groups from 28 los paises, which make up the People’s Coalition on Food Security, urged the UN to sever the “strategic partnership” with the World Economic Forum, the organisation that hosts the annual Davos economic summit for the global elite.

Kalibata responded to criticisms at the time dicho: “The entire purpose of the summit is to embrace not only the shared interests of all stakeholders but also – importantly – the areas of divergence on how we go about addressing the harsh reality humanity faces. If we are to build more inclusive food systems, we must be prepared to have inclusive debate.”

Fakhri said: “They claim to be listening to people. They invited me to provide human rights advice. But I haven’t seen any substantive response to my criticism.

“What I witnessed was a summit that was called for before the pandemic and continued as if there was no pandemic. What we are going to see is a summit whose value is a snapshot of all the problems we had before the pandemic. But the problem has got worse.”

En 2020 the number of people without access to adequate food rose by 320 million to 2.4 billion – nearly a third of the world’s population, de acuerdo a Fakhri’s interim report on the right to food. The increase is equivalent to the previous five years combined.

The boycott of the event by organisations representing millions of people highlighted how “regressive the summit is in terms of human rights”, él dijo. “This is the first regressive move in the summit’s 60-year history.”

Fakhri said the summit’s multilateral approach, which he claims is driven by the private sector, has not provided a meaningful space for communities and civil society to participate, with the risk of “leaving behind the very population critical for the summit’s success”.

He wrote to Kalibata in January, saying the global food crisis was “chronic, urgent and set to intensify” but that the summit appeared focused on science and technology, money and markets. It failed to address “fundamental questions of inequality, accountability and governance”, él dijo.

Fakhri said that “everyone is in agreement” that, with famine and food insecurity on the rise, food systems are not sustainable, but the summit is not dealing with the “power balance” many believe is responsible.

“The summit doesn’t want to answer those questions or deal with corporate power," él dijo.

The most inclusive space, that of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), has been “marginalised”, él dijo, along with human rights. The CFS was formed in 2009 to give farmers and communities an equal say with big businesses.

Farmers and others have been demanding a food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty and agroecology for a decade, Fakhri said, but it required a questioning of economic assumptions, protection of human rights and a rebalance of power.

“Food systems are being transformed in real time and people need solutions today, en realidad, not this fantasy that has been going on.”

He believes nevertheless, that good things had emerged from the summit, including activating governments to devote their energy to national food policies.

“The second good thing is, despite its shortcomings and problems it has created new relationships. A lot of people committed to human rights were frustrated by the summit process but found new allies and opportunities for solidarity.”

He urged those who felt sidelined to take action and to “hold corporations accountable”. “People who are frustrated, don’t let the summit lead you to despair. Take your ideas, there will be a local food justice group or trade union, go join and participate there.”

In response to Fakhri’s comments, the spokesperson for the secretary general, Stéphane Dujarric, dicho: “Preparations for the UN food systems summit have been structured to ensure everyone around the world had the opportunity to participate through different platforms, in person and virtually. Several leaders from producers, farmers, mujeres, Indigenous peoples, youth, and civil society engaged in the summit, representing millions of constituents from these groups. It is also important to note that the summit cannot achieve its objectives without engaging with the private sector.”

Dujarric said more than 100,000 people have engaged in summit dialogues and more than 2,000 ideas on transforming food systems emerged within six months of public engagement, de los cuales 400 came from farmer and producer groups, Indigenous communities and civil society.

El martes, a report by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development showed profits for large food companies escalating, while people producing, processing and distributing food were trapped in poverty and hunger. It calls for a “revolution” to place small rural farmers, who produce a third of the planet’s food, at the centre of the world’s food systems.

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