Saturday, October 16

The UN summit on food systems took two years to plan. It offers nothing to help feed families | Food safety

The role of the dozens of independent UN experts, or special rapporteurs, is to inform and advise on various human rights. My role revolves around the right to food, which is under enormous threat.

The world’s food systems have been failing people for a long time. The climate crisis is devastating the planet, biodiversity is decreasing every day and food insecurity is increasing.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted what we have known for decades: hunger, malnutrition, and famine are not caused by inadequate amounts of food. They are caused by political failures that restrict people’s access to adequate food.

Today, the secretary-general is convening a UN summit on food systems. The event took about two years to prepare and I was an independent official advisor.

Let’s start with what the summit has achieved. It has successfully directed governments’ attention to developing national food plans that could be transformative. Meanwhile, the summit preparation process has attracted thousands of people to share and develop their ideas on how to transform food systems.

However, sadly the summit has left many people disappointed, including other UN human rights experts who participated in its elaboration. In response, thousands have organized their own village summit and countermobilization in the last days.

Sadly, the food systems summit has offered governments nothing substantial to address the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the food crisis it triggered. The summit has offered people nothing to help them overcome their daily struggles to feed themselves and their families.

We must do better.

I believe that how people, businesses and governments respond to the current food crisis will be what will transform our food systems for the future. The key is to make sure that how we respond to the pandemic puts us on the path to a fairer and more flourishing food system as soon as possible.

Even at the peak of the pandemic, the greatest threat to food security and nutrition was not lack of food. Many people did not eat or did not eat well because they lost their livelihood or home, they could not afford to buy good food, and they had inadequate social protection. Famine and the risk of famine hit a growing number of communities due to armed conflict and financial instability.

Turn political energy into action

Within the United Nations system, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the only place where governments and people are working to address the current pandemic and food crisis. The CFS is the place where governments, civil society organizations, international organizations, business and experts from around the world meet and negotiate the guidelines of world food policy. It is one of the few bodies of its kind that prioritizes a human rights-based approach. Through the Mechanism of Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples (CSM), popular organizations have an effective seat at the CFS table. The CSM is an autonomous space that allows different organizations of food producers, unions, indigenous peoples and advocacy organizations to work together and shape the policies of the CFS.

The CFS is celebrating its annual meeting from October 11 to 14. This year it will be totally virtual and any organization can register to attend. It will be there that governments and organizations will exchange ideas about the summit. It will be there that the CFS panel of eminent science and policy experts will showcase their latest UN report on the pandemic and food crisis and recommend what to do in response. And it is to be hoped that this is where the governments of the world decide to cooperate and design a multilateral plan on how to overcome the food crisis.

The reason I say “hopefully” is because a small number of powerful governments have been reluctant to cooperate with others to address the food crisis. However, a growing coalition of governments, international organizations, food producer organizations, trade unions, and indigenous peoples have come together to work in solidarity through the CSA to form an informal “Committed Group”. They will hold an online seminar on September 30 to discuss why a coordinated global response to the food crisis is necessary, what existing measures are working, and identify what needs to be done. The seminar is open to the public and the details of the seminar are still being finalized. But I have already been invited to facilitate that final discussion on what a globally coordinated policy guide would look like.

At times like these, human rights can sound like empty words, repeated by those in power to justify their plans. But human rights start with the power that people already have. People are continuously organizing and mobilizing to fight inequitable food systems and assert their human rights, forcing governments to respond accordingly. Everyone can pressure their national governments to commit to a multilateral and human rights-based response to the food crisis. People’s organizations can join the CSM to work with others and expand their demands on a global stage. National leaders can use the CFS to encourage others to cooperate. In October, we will see if this political energy can be turned into political action.

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