A battle for the future of our lands, food, and rights is underway.
In July 26-28, the secretariat of the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) will convene for a Pre-Summit in Rome, Italy. They are set to unveil the so-called “game-changing” solutions that they have gathered from the dialogues that they have initiated since 2019. These solutions will supposedly “transform” global food systems to accelerate toward meeting global goals including eradicating hunger, reducing poverty, and facing the climate crisis.
A closer look reveals the same neoliberal premises, frameworks, and “solutions” that have pushed us deep into the multiple crises of inequality, hunger, and poverty that we experience today. Furthermore, the same transnational corporations (TNCs) and financial actors from a handful of nations that have championed these policies since the Green Revolution are at the helm of the Summit.
The Summit, which will be held in New York in September, is expected to map out the policy agenda on food, agriculture and food systems for the decades to come.
As global food prices jump 39% in a single year, reaching heights not seen in a decade, global land grabs continue to surge, and peasant killings and conflict-driven famines rise, we need to reclaim our voices for our lands, seeds, and rights.
We must rise up and demand an end to neoliberal food systems now.
Radical Transformation: An urgent call
Rural people’s movements and CSOs have long sounded the alarm on the need for a radical transformation of our food systems, especially since the global food crisis of 2008.
The current neoliberal food systems perpetuate and exacerbate global hunger, the yawning chasm of inequality within and among nations, and the climate crisis we face today.
Hunger, far from being eradicated, is on the rise. Around a billion people go to sleep hungry despite peasants producing enough food to feed 1.5 times our global population.
Farmers and indigenous peoples are being displaced in their millions each year to give way to plantations, mining, and large infrastructure projects. Decades of trade liberalization and export-oriented production have impoverished mostly agrarian countries, demolished domestic self-sufficiency, ejected communities, and deforested a huge swath of what’s left of the forests in the Global South.
Agricultural workers who comprised 1.053 billion workers in 2012, on the other hand, are among the poorest of the poor. They are landless and do not have assets and their wages are the lowest in the rural sector, even lower than the amount required to subsist.
Other than the above, agricultural workers are denied fundamental rights to organise and collectively bargain. In fact, they are more subject to categories of forced labour than other categories of workers.
Wealth, especially that produced by rural peoples, is increasingly concentrated at the hands of a few corporations from a handful of rich countries which control entire supply ecosystems and markets. Only four transnational corporations from the US, China, and EU own and control more than half of the global seed, fertilizer and agrochemical markets. The global oligopoly in grain and crop trade, dominated by US’ ADM, Bunge, and Cargill, EU’s Dreyfus, and China’s COFCO, are entrenched in controlling food supplies.
Decades of World Bank-led land market reforms have concentrated ownership and control of agricultural lands at the hands of domestic elites and, more recently, large multinational corporations. It is estimated that 1% of farms (read: plantations) operate at least 70% of the global farmlands. These funnel food into the corporatized global supply chains which are built atop neocolonial trading patterns and neocolonial trade rules enshrined in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and megatrade deals. Even the seas are overfished and exploited almost exclusively by wealthy nation-states — controlling 97% of operations both in the high seas and global exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
The price of rejecting the neoliberal order and the resource extraction which drives it has been witnessed time and time again. The threat of violence which hangs over asymmetrical trade deals and asymmetrical policy negotiations transforms into attacks on land, peoples, and food systems, a violence which lines the pockets of the warmongers and opens new extractivist and invasive markets in the wake of catastrophe. In many rural areas across the Global South, State and paramilitary forces are killing peasants and indigenous people by the hundreds — all in the name of corporate interests.
These military-backed corporations and corporate-backed militaries have worked to ensure that the poor will only be fed by their food or else go hungry. The same actors and their allies now promise to bring “game changing” solutions. This has not been a game for the billions kept from the wealth of the markets these figures have built while watching their own markets close under external economic pressures. It has not been a game for those who feel the full force of sanctions and war when their governments have staked a claim for food and resource sovereignty. It has not been a game for those whose lands continue to be colonized and occupied. But change is needed. The people are hungry for it.
In times of crisis, and probably more so in times of ‘prosperity’, the neoliberal global food systems have failed the poor, hungry, marginalized peoples of the world, especially the rural people of the Global South.
And it is now, more than ever, that a truly radical transformation is needed, as the global pandemic exposes and intensifies these global crises.
Corporate Capture of the UNFSS
Despite the UNFSS being announced at the heels of a resurgence in global protests against neoliberal globalization in 2019, it is apparent that it’s not poised to “transform” the global food system.
The signs of corporate capture are clear:
The undemocratic decision of the UN General Secretariat, in the same year, to enter into a strategic partnership with the billionaire’s club World Economic Forum (WEF); the appointment Agnes Kalibata, head of Bill Gates-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and member of WEF’s Global Agenda Council, as the Special Envoy; the FAO’s alliance with the agrochemical industry association CropLife International; entrenchment of numerous corporate-funded GM, pesticide and biofortification lobbies like the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition in the Summit’s Action Tracks; among others.
The choice to do the process in a ‘multistakeholder approach’ points to the true nature of the Summit. Multistakeholderism, which is just public-private partnership in governance, not only includes but puts big TNCs at the helm of decision making and drowns out the voices of the few handpicked NGOs that participate.
Even the representation in the so-called “Independent Dialogues” are overwhelmingly tilted in the favor of big businesses and TNCs. Almost a third of participants who identified their sectors are either from national big businesses. multinational corporations or international finance institutions.
At best, the multistakeholder push of the UNFSS makes the presence of large TNCs in global food governance ubiquitous, benign, and justified. It lends the credentials of the UN to global land grabbers and plunderers, rebranding them as ‘saviors’ and ‘champions’ of the global food systems.
At worst, it’s a surrender of global food governance to the hands of unelected and unaccountable TNCs and billionaires from the most powerful nations — US, EU and China. It’s only brightside is the forthrightness to which it states that transnational capital is the only real policy-maker in the world today.
“New” or old neoliberal solutions
If we are to eradicate hunger, lift billions out of poverty, and solve climate change, it is clear that business-as-usual (read: neoliberal policies) is not an option. Yet the ideology of market-based, tech-driven, and corporate-led solutions guide the UNFSS.
By framing hunger as a “shortage” and “market inefficiency” issue instead of a function of inequality, it shuts out the voices of the landless, the urban and rural working poor, of women and youth.
By advocating for ‘multi stakeholder’ partnerships at all levels, blended financing, and public-private partnerships (PPP), it puts corporations and, in effect, profit at the center of transformation.
By putting the interests of TNCs and billionaires at its helm, it makes the killings of farmers and indigenous peoples, for the gains of such companies, at best an issue for a side panel. and silences the voices of those occupied, colonized, and sanctioned for profit.
Without holding TNCs accountable for poisoning our land and waters, mowing down our forests for plantations, and evicting IPs and communities which protect the environment, ‘nature-positive’ agriculture has no meaning.
Reclaim our land, seeds, and future
The Global People’s Summit on Food Systems (GPS) is committed to exposing the intricacies and dire impacts of the unjust, unequal, unhealthy, and unsustainable food systems we have today, in opposing a surrender of global food governance to TNCs and uplifting the voices of the marginalized rural peoples of the Global South.
There is an urgency to assert and fulfill the human right to safe, affordable, adequate, and healthy food for everyone, for community-led agroecology, peasant rights to land and resources, and people’s food sovereignty.