KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Sep 14 (IPS) – Timely interventions by civil society, including concerned scientists, have prevented many potential abuses from next week’s United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS). The Secretary General (UNSG) must now avoid UN backing of what remains of his prime movers‘corporate agenda.
The narrative on food challenges has changed in recent years. Instead of the “right to food”, “food security”, “elimination of hunger and malnutrition”, “sustainable agriculture”, etc., neutral sounding “systems” solutions are being promoted. These will promote the influence, interests and profits of transnational corporations.
The call for the Summit allegedly came from the SG’s office. There was little or no prior consultation with the leaders of the Rome-based UN food agency. However, this apparent “oversight” was quickly addressed by the SG, leading to the preparatory commission in Rome last month.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was created by the post-WWII UN-led multilateral system to address food challenges. Subsequently, the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) were also established in Rome under the auspices of the United Nations.
The sovereign unilateralism of President Donald Trump accelerated previous trends undermining UN-led multilateralism, especially after the US-led invasion of Iraq. A proliferation of seemingly ‘multi-stakeholder’ initiatives, generally funded by transnational agroindustries and philanthropic foundations – they have also sidelined multilateralism led by the UN and Rome’s food agencies.
So far, the Summit process has resisted UN-led multilateral follow-up actions. To be sure, the marginalization of the UN system has been subtle, not clumsy. In addition to the trio in Rome, the United Nations Committee for World Food Security (CFS) and its High Level Panel of Experts on Food Safety and Nutrition (HLPE) have been victims.
The CSA has evolved in recent years to engage a wide range of food system stakeholders, including private business interests and civil society. The latter includes social movements – of farmers, other food producers, and civil society stakeholders – largely ignored by the Summit processes.
Through the FSS, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and others initiatives have been presented as from the UN. In fact, these have minimally involved the leaders of the UN system, much less Member States. Many refer to the Summit without the UN prefix to reject its legitimacy, as more and more numbers cynically call it the ‘WEF-FSS’.
Acquisition of the science-policy nexus
The proposal for a new science-policy interface – “either expanding the mandate of the Summit Scientific Group, or establishing a new permanent panel or coordinating mechanism in its mold” – is of particular concern.
The FSS Scientific Group is overwhelmingly made up of scientists and economists chosen in large part by the main proponents of the Summit. In addition to marginalizing many other stakeholders in the food system, their biases run contrary to UN values and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Their evaluations hardly consider the consequences of innovations for the vulnerable. By prioritizing technical innovations over social ones, they have not been transparent, much less publicly accountable.
His pretentiously scientistic approach is protectiveand is therefore unlikely to effectively address the complex challenges of the contemporary food system that involve multiple stakeholders.
Extending the mandate of the Scientific Group beyond the Summit, or by making it permanent, would betray the commitment that the FSS would support and strengthen, not undermine the CFS. The CFS “should be the place where the results of the Summit are ultimately debated and evaluated, using its inclusive participation mechanisms”.
Such a new body would directly undermine the “role and mandate” established by the HLPE to provide scientific guidance to Member States through the CFS. In July, hundreds of scientists warned that a new scientific panel would undermine not only the governance of the food system, but also the CSA itself.
Saving UN-led multilateralism
Just as the Summit preparations have displaced the CFS, the proposed science-policy interface would marginalize the HLPE, undermining the most successful reform of the United Nations system to date in significant and productive advancement of inclusive multi-stakeholder.
Following the food price crisis of 2007-2008, the CFS was reformed in 2009 to provide “an inclusive platform to ensure legitimacy across a wide range of groups” and improve the coherence of various food-related policies.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the HLPE consults widely and openly with stakeholders on its research evaluations and work priorities. Their reports are subject to extensive peer reviews to ensure they meet the needs of CFS constituents, remain policy relevant, and address diverse perspectives.
Last week, several crucial civil society leaders, working closely with the UN system, warned that the Summit outcomes could further erode public support and legitimacy for the UN, and the capacity of the UN bodies. from Rome to guide the necessary reform of the food system.
The group includes UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, his predecessor Olivier De Schutter, now UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, CFS President Thanawat Tiensin and HLPE President, Martin Cole.
Their concerns echo those of hundreds of scientists, global governance experts, civil society groups and the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), among many. The main concern is “the threat it poses to the role of science and knowledge in decision-making in the food system.”
Aware of the controversy around the FSS from the start, the four urge the SG: “In the wake of the Summit, it will be imperative to restore faith in the UN system … Therefore, a clear commitment would be needed to support and strengthen the HLPE and the invaluable CFS. ”
They highlight that “much remains to be done to ensure that the CFS HLPE is equipped to continue to play its crucial role at the interface of food system science and policy.” After previous setbacks, the UNSG must champion the progress that the CFS and HLPE represent for meaningful UN-led multilateralism and engagement with civil society.
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service