In September this year, the United Nations will host the Global Food System Summit in New York. The organizers of this summit promoted it as a key debate defining the next decade of agriculture. They are designed to bring together various stakeholders from all sectors that play a role in the global food system.
However, organized farmers and indigenous movements from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas collectively represent most of the world’s small-scale food producers, and they called for a total boycott of the summit. In April of this year, dozens of scientists, researchers, faculty and educators working in agriculture and food systems also publicly called for a boycott of the event.
To understand why social movements and scientists do not participate in UN-sponsored summits, it is important to understand how the world’s food system works.
A few multinational companies dominate the current global food and commodity trade. For example, only two companies—Dow DuPont and Monsanto-Bayer CropScience—have a 53% market share in the seed industry. Only three companies have a 70% share of the global agrochemical industry, which produces and sells chemicals and pesticides used in crops. This kind of enterprise concentration is also obvious in the fields of animal husbandry, animal pharmaceuticals, agricultural machinery, and commodity trade.
Therefore, from the sowing of seeds and the cultivation of crops to the processing, distribution and consumption of food, multinational agricultural enterprises control and decide everything. Most of these companies are now establishing partnerships with large technology companies to digitize the global food system to consolidate its dominant position.
But here is the amazing thing about these big companies. Although they control nearly 75% of the world’s natural resources related to food production, they can only feed one third of the world’s population. In addition, they are responsible for most of the annual food losses and large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions worth 400 billion US dollars.
In contrast, we — smallholder farmers, fishermen, farm workers, farmers, herders, and indigenous peoples — account for only a quarter of the world’s natural resources related to food production, and are often overlooked in public policy — continue to provide approximately 70% of the world’s food. When the industrial food supply chain collapsed under the COVID-19 pandemic, our network of local small-scale food producers gained a foothold in every corner of the world.
However, when it comes to defining the future of our food system, guess who the United Nations invites to conceive and build the plans, principles, and content of the global summit. This is a large agricultural enterprise!
Since the announcement of the UN Food System Summit in December 2019, its exclusivity has been controversial. In March 2020, 550 organizations including the world’s largest farmers and indigenous movements wrote to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, warning him that the World Food Summit is not built on the legacy of past World Food Summits , These meetings were once convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
FAO is given the task of organizing these events by its member countries and allows civil society to actively participate through parallel self-organizing forums.
However, no such authorization was provided for the organization of the 2021 Food Systems Summit. The Secretary-General of the United Nations made the decision to establish the summit in close cooperation with the World Economic Forum, a private sector organization that represents the interests of global businesses.
The governance of the summit is still firmly in the hands of “experts” known as staunch defenders of industrialized agriculture, and some states with many large multinational companies are pushing the agenda. Through charitable foundations run by billionaires and their partners, they also managed to ensure the participation of a small part of global civil society as a testament to the inclusive character of the summit.
However, some of the largest food producer networks and campaigns, including La Via Campesina and the World Fishermen Forum, refused to participate in the preliminary consultations set up by the organizers, and firmly decided to boycott the leaders.
It is undeniable that fundamental changes must take place in the global food system. The COVID-19 pandemic and the logistics bottlenecks faced by many countries after its outbreak will only accelerate the demand for systemic reforms.
Twenty-five years ago, at the World Food Summit in 1996, the social movement insisted that the food system built around the concept of food sovereignty provided a path to a better and healthier future. Food sovereignty is the right of people to determine their food and agricultural systems. It addresses people’s most pressing needs: to grow healthy, nutritious and climate-friendly food in their places or communities.
Agricultural ecology and localized farmer food production respect and coexist with our natural environment, and promote the humanistic principles of unity and collectivism. Unlike the industry practice of a single crop, it stays away from harmful pesticides and fertilizers, and cultivates a variety of nutritious crops.
In the past two decades, social movements have made some progress in this regard and persuaded the United Nations and some member states to adopt and implement this idea when drafting public policies. Through more than two decades of hard work, the peasant movement has found space for representation in the United Nations, including FAO and the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
But these two institutions were initially excluded from the summit organization. The current and the first two special rapporteurs on the right to food criticized the current summit format for not building on the experience of past food summits, and pointed out that “the CFS already has a structure that the summit organizers have rushed to rebuild”.
The summit organizers only invited the Chairman of the CFS to join the summit advisory committee in November and invited the FAO Right to Food Office to participate in March (albeit with limited tasks).
Despite these last-minute changes, the defenders of agribusiness still have the right to set the agenda for the summit. This means that the event will not only promote corporate interests, but will also further reduce the already limited space for social movements and civil society within the United Nations.
The Secretary-General’s decision to give this kind of influence to agribusiness at the summit contradicts Article 10.1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Farmers and Other Rural Workers, which stipulates that we actively and freely participate in the formulation and implementation of policies Rights, plans and projects that may affect our lives, land and livelihoods.
However, in the face of this blatant attempt to determine our lives and livelihoods without our participation, we will not remain silent.We will boycott the 2021 UN Food System Summit and join People’s Anti-Summit, Will start on July 25. There, we — small-scale food producers and indigenous peoples — will reaffirm our principles of solidarity and food sovereignty, which are rooted in our territory and our way of life.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.