"Don't appoint the goat as gardener, a peasant proverb says," one advocate said of inviting agricultural companies to weigh in on issues of global food security.
World leaders will
gather in Rome next week for the United Nations Food Systems Summit +2 Stocktaking Moment, but local producers, Indigenous people, and the world's largest global food justice movements are sounding the alarm that the U.N. process favors the industrial agriculture status quo over true transformation.
The various groups, who claim to represent millions worldwide and gather under the banner of the People's Autonomous Response to the U.N. Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), say their primary concern is that large corporations and their proxies will unduly influence the U.N.'s new and contested approach to food security.
"Don't appoint the goat as gardener, a peasant proverb says," Patti Naylor of the National Family Farm Coalition said in a statement Monday. "The corporate ag, food, and data giants don't care about democratic governance in the U.N.—they just use it for their profits. Like the goat, corporations will eat the salad and the roses, if you don't stop them."
"The intention of the summit organizers is to sell us the corporate and industrial project as transformation."
The world's food system is in crisis. In 2022, acute food insecurity impacted around 258 million people, the People's Autonomous Response said in a declaration issued July 12. That was an increase from 193 million people in 2021 and 155 million people in 2020. A U.N. report published the same day found that a combination of the climate crisis, war, and the Covid-19 pandemic had forced an additional more than 100 million people into hunger since 2019.
The U.N. is therefore not on track to meet its sustainable development goal of ending hunger by 2030. The People's Autonomous Response believe they have a solution rooted in food sovereignty, centering frontline communities,, agroecology, encouraging biodiversity, territorial markets, and an economy based on solidarity.
"The evidence is overwhelming—the solutions devised by small-scale food producers and Indigenous peoples not only feed the world but also advance gender, social, economic justice, youth empowerment, workers' rights, and real resilience to crises," Shalmali Guttal of Focus on the Global South said in a statement. "Why are policymakers not listening to them and providing them with adequate support?"
One example of this lack of listening, the People's Autonomous Response says, was the UNFSS in September 2021. The summit raised alarms in part because it moved from a multilateral approach—with member states coming to an international agreement at the end of the talks—with a "multistakeholderism" approach that opponents argue allows private interests and large corporations a disproportionate influence on decision making. They worried at the time that the summit would muscle out the already existing Committee on World Food Security (CFS) that uses multilateral and human rights-based decision making.
During the summit, the voices of wealthy nations, companies, and large, corporate-linked nonprofits were raised over other member states, particularly from the Global South, the People's Autonomous Response said. At the same time, the summit failed to take into account some of the root causes of the global food crisis: Covid-19 pandemic, industrial agriculture, and the influence of large corporations on global food systems.
"The UNFSS has not only overlooked our rights and the structural causes of the crises…The intention of the summit organizers is to sell us the corporate and industrial project as transformation," said Saúl Vicente from the International Indian Treaty Council.
The original summit inspired a massive countermobilization, with more than 9,000 people speaking out against a pre-summit in July 2021 and more than 700 organizations and over 300 activists and academics endorsing a declaration to the summit in September.
"In these times of growing hunger and multiple crises, it is more urgent than ever that governments and the U.N. listen to us."
Despite all this, global food justice activists are concerned that the coming stocktaking moment, which will run from July 24 to 26, is "poised to repeat the failures of the FSS itself, further advancing industrial food systems, and opening the door of the U.N. to even greater influence by large private companies and their networks, without a corporate accountability framework in place."
In particular, they worry that member states will lend the process undeserved legitimacy by attending and sharing their plans for improving their food systems.
The People's Autonomous Response argues that world leaders should turn away from corporate-backed proposals for addressing food insecurity and heed the knowledge of people working on and in the ground.
"In these times of growing hunger and multiple crises, it is more urgent than ever that governments and the U.N. listen to us," Perla Álvarez from La Vía Campesina said in a statement. "We call on you: Change direction, and support our demands and efforts for a food sovereign future based on human rights and the principles of agroecology, care, justice, diversity, solidarity, and accountability."