Hunger crisis: UN Committee on World Food Security at a crossroads

Will this week's negotiations bring more of the same proposals, or lead to structural changes that put people at the centre?

Photo: Friends of the Earth International

Starting on Monday 10 October through to Thursday, the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) will hold its 50th session, in Rome, Italy. This year, it faces the challenge of the third massive hunger crisis to hit the world in the past 15 years. But, will it be able to put in motion the structural changes needed to solve this human crisis?

So far, the implementation of real solutions to the food crisis is only a promise.

“There is an ongoing perpetual crisis of hunger. Almost every year, over 2 billion people are moderately or severely food insecure.  At the moment we have almost 3 billion people who cannot afford a really healthy diet,” said Kirtana Chandrasekaran, co-coordinator of the Food Sovereignty programme at Friends of the Earth International. She is present in Rome.

The CFS, which meets at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is the intergovernmental space in charge of food security and nutrition matters. It is supposed to implement measures to realise the Right to Food. Although the CFS meets annually, this week’s session is the first face-to-face meeting since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

Kirtana reaffirmed that the CFS is the only body that should promote solutions to overcome the hunger crisis. She also warned that existing crisis response groups, even within the UN, are following a neoliberal corporate agenda. Their focus is limited to thinking about how to extend the role of global markets and provide conditional loans or finance.

“They are not talking at all about any of the structural solutions that are really needed to deal with the food crisis, and are certainly not talking about what really needs to happen to implement the Right to Food.”

Although the production of food has been enough to feed everybody an adequate diet, hunger has been on the rise since 2015. According to Kirtana, this has not been addressed in a serious way.

“We are living in a situation where the neoliberal, market-led global food system has become the dominant food system since the 70s and 80s. This has been pushed onto the majority of the world, along with the kind of green revolution technologies, which really focused on a few crops, monocultures, backed by industrial food production.”

“This has left us in a situation where many, many countries that used to be self-sufficient in growing their food over the last 20-30 years, since the 80s, have become dependent on inputs. Those inputs are just from a handful of countries,” she added. “Our entire food system is extremely dependent on energy and fossil fuels because of the industrial nature of food production.”

These features of the food system make it particularly vulnerable to geopolitical factors, like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Such events expose the flaws of the system. As Kirtana explained, about 30 countries are dependent on Russia and Ukraine for at least 30% of their wheat imports. In Eastern Africa, about one third of cereal consumption is from wheat products alone, even though wheat is historically not local to Africa. 84% of wheat is imported mainly from these two European countries.

Kirtana added that power in the industrial food system is highly concentrated. It is dominated by a few corporate oligopolies, whose main goal is profits. Their focus is to produce agricultural commodities, such as animal feed or oil palm, not to feed people. These commodities are also subject to financial speculation, another factor which pushes up food prices.

In terms of alternatives to a food system which is dominated by transnational corporations and the market, Kirtana highlighted that the problem is not a lack of solutions.

“The problem is of course, as usual, whether there is the will to confront this kind of ideological adherence to neoliberalism in the food system, the lack of market regulation and the lack of investment in public services.”

She made reference to some of the solutions which are needed urgently now:

  • culturally-appropriate humanitarian support for family farmers and local communities;
  • regulating and stopping speculation of food commodities;
  • cancelling the millions of dollars of illegitimate debt for countries in the Global South, which is holding them back from investing in public services or social protection;
  • a ban on agricultural commodities that are not meant for food;
  • and taxing extreme corporate wealth to be able to fund social policies.

In the long term, there are other key measures:

  • breaking the dependence on food imports, and putting in place a plan to support countries to produce their own food at national level, with policies that encourage family and small-scale farming;
  • implementing food sovereignty
  • limiting corporate power and breaking oligopolies in the sector;
  • stopping illegitimate free trade agreements that promote North-South dependence relations;
  • and not letting agriculture come under the thumb of the World Trade Organisation.

This week, the CFS has an opportunity to take on its responsibility and address the hunger crisis with deep and structural solutions, rather than making the same old mistakes. Kirtana believes that the CFS must ensure a real multilateralism, by listening to the people affected by agribusiness instead of the corporate lobby. It must ensure the respect for human rights. Finally, it has to face off the powerful countries – home to transnational food corporations – who will try to stop attempts from developing countries to become self-sufficient again.

Agenda highlights in Rome this week

For years, Friends of the Earth International has worked with the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples´ Mechanism (CSIPM) at the CFS. The Mechanism gathers hundreds of social movements and organisations from all continents to lobby governments to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, aiming to ensure the Right to Food. They are united by the principle of Food Sovereignty.

The CSIPM will present a report, entitled “Voices from the ground 2: transformative solutions to the global systemic food crises”. The report summarises the proposals and recommendations that came out of a popular consultation held throughout this year. The consultation focused on the impacts of COVID-19, conflicts and crises on the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty. It counted 539 submissions from 63 countries.

“The main message that emerged from the consultations is that food sovereignty based on agroecology provides the most sustainable solution to these crises. It guarantees the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods,” summarises CSIPM’s press release issued on 29 September.

In addition, the CSIPM will demand a renegotiation of the “Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition”, which have been under negotiation for the past few years. Kirtana explained that the process “has ended in a very unsatisfactory way. We are demanding that there is more discussion really to embed language on gender transformative approaches, intersectionality, sexual and reproductive health rights, sexual and gender based violence and gender diversity”.

Follow Friends of the Earth International or CSIPM on Twitter for updates.

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