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A Colombian farmworker carries a bag of avocados after a harvest on November 21, 2019 near Medellín, Colombia. (Photo: Jan Sochor via Getty Images)

A Colombian farmworker carries a bag of avocados after a harvest on November 21, 2019 near Medellín, Colombia. (Photo: Jan Sochor via Getty Images)

300+ Civil Society Groups Counter-Mobilize Against UN Food Systems Summit

"Repeating the agri-business-as-usual model to solve the food and climate crisis cannot deliver on the holistic and systemic transformation of our food systems we need today."

Kenny Stancil

Characterizing this week's United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit as a corporate-friendly affair, a coalition of more than 300 civil society and Indigenous peoples' organizations—representing over 380 million agricultural workers and other food justice advocates—has launched a parallel gathering to advance "a radical, human rights-based and agroecological transformation of food systems."

The People's Counter-Mobilization to Transform Corporate Food Systems began on Sunday with a virtual rally that featured the voices of small-scale food producers.

It continued on Monday with three roundtable discussions about the challenges posed by Covid-19, the ongoing hunger and climate crises, and the "false solutions" that progressive critics say are being promoted at the Pre-Summit—a collaboration, according to Slow Food, "between the U.N. and the World Economic Forum, a body that brings together the world's top 1,000 corporations."

The counter-mobilization, also known as #FoodSystems4People, will feature additional events on Tuesday and Wednesday, both online and in Rome, where the Pre-Summit is being held to "set the stage for" the full-fledged U.N. Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September.

Tuesday's sessions will focus on "people's alternatives and visions on food systems" that prioritize workers' rights and sustainable agricultural practices. Wednesday's closing panel will offer preliminary conclusions and brainstorm "ways to challenge the UNFSS in September."

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) said Monday that the UNFSS "could've been an opportunity for a step toward putting global food systems on a more sustainable and equitable path."

Instead, according to a blog post published last week by IATP media coordinator Cecelia Heffron and senior policy analyst Shiney Varghese, which cited recent scholarship, the event is shaping up to be "an effort by a powerful alliance of multinational corporations, philanthropies, and export-oriented countries to subvert multilateral institutions of food governance and capture the global narrative of 'food systems transformation.'"

Dozens of researchers in recent weeks have boycotted the UNFSS due to what they described as "a top-down exclusion of many food systems actors and an impoverished view of whose food system knowledge matters."

In a statement released last week, Carlo Petrini, founder and president of Slow Food, said that "the aim of changing food and farming systems in a genuinely sustainable way can only march on the legs of millions of people in the local economy who are carrying out this ambitious and worthwhile transformation."

Slow Food vice president Edie Mukiibi added that "we are deeply concerned that the current rushed, corporate-controlled, unaccountable, and opaque process for this UNFSS will not lead towards the transformation and the change in the food system we envision."

IATP and Slow Food are just two of hundreds of organizations that have signed onto the People's Autonomous Response to the UNFSS, which calls for dismantling the corporate food regime's power over governments and the U.N. and pursuing the "preconditions for lasting peace," including "food sovereignty, gender justice, climate justice, economic and social justice, biodiversity, and people's and planetary health."

Citing the latest U.N. Report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, the open letter notes that the number of people who are "chronically undernourished" has increased to 811 million, with 118 million more people suffering from hunger in 2020 than in 2019. It goes on to say that the pandemic "held up a mirror to our food system":

The pandemic ratified the great failure of the industrial food system that permanently affects our territories and bodies, and causes serious damage to our health, biodiversity, and natural ecosystems. In addition, Covid-19 showed to the whole world the depth of the structural inequalities, discrimination, exploitation, racism, and sexism prevalent in our societies, exacerbating their consequences on hunger, health, and poverty.    

Despite the fact that "the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the already existing deep structural problems of corporate and increasingly globalized food systems," the letter continues, "the UNFSS is not building on the legacy of past World Food Summits, which resulted in the creation of innovative, inclusive, and participatory global food governance mechanisms anchored in human rights, such as the reformed U.N. Committee on World Food Security (CFS)."

Noting that "the World Economic Forum is also calling for a 'transformation of food systems,' and the FSS is self-proclaiming as a 'people's summit,'" the letter characterizes these rhetorical moves as an attempt by pro-corporate actors to co-opt the language used by food justice movements while agribusinesses are "deploying digitalization, artificial intelligence, and other information and communication technologies to promote a new wave of resource grabbing, wealth extraction, and labor exploitation; and to re-structure food systems towards greater concentration of power and even-more globalized value chains."

According to the hundreds of progressive groups that are signatories to the open letter, the UNFSS exemplifies "how corporate-driven platforms in close cooperation with like-minded governments and high-level U.N. officials intend to use the United Nations for supporting and legitimizing a corporate-friendly transformation of food systems."

Alluding to the UNFSS, Mukiibi stressed that "repeating the agri-business-as-usual model to solve the food and climate crisis cannot deliver on the holistic and systemic transformation of our food systems we need today."

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