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The latest recommendations of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) on investments in smallholder agriculture to promote food security are an important progress at the multilateral level for raising awareness about the role of smallholder farming in feeding the planet. They also imply the recognition of many key actors, such as peasants, indigenous and pastoralists, which are part of different social movements.
However, the CFS recommendations on agrofuels go in the opposite direction. This special report aims to analyse the progress and retreat of the CFS, which has become a space for the civil society’s active participation by facilitating discussion with governments, as pointed out by social movements themselves.
The recommendations on investment in smallholder agriculture should, nonetheless, be recognised.
The CFS is a multilateral space reformed in 2009 to give way to the participation of different parties interested in food security and nutrition. For example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) member states are part of the CFS, as well as the members of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). Non FAO member states which are UN member states can also be part of the CFS. There is also a strong presence of corporations.
The novelty is the presence of social movements and organizations in the Committee, which are part of the “Civil Society Mechanism”. The Civil Society Mechanism comprises peasants, small farmers, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fisherfolk, women, youth, consumers, ecologists, human rights defenders, etc.
“The vision of the reformed CFS is to be the most inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together in a coordinated way to ensure food security and nutrition for all”, reads the CFS section on the FAO website. “The Committee reports annually to Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC).”
The CFS recommendations in its 40th session (which took place in Rome, Italy, from 7th to 11th October) about investments in smallholder agriculture for food security and nutrition were based on a report made by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition. The study had been commissioned by the Committee in 2011.
Activist and coordinator of the Food Sovereignty Program of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), Martin Drago, attended the CFS meeting in Rome. He said the report was “very good” and said academics working closely with social movements participated in drafting it. The recommendations by the High Level Panel of Experts were negotiated during the week, where social movements and organizations played a key role.
Drago said: “The recommendations by the CFS set a standard of what investments in smallholder agriculture and the role of smallholder farmers represents, why it is important to invest in it. This is the basis both for CFS negotiations, but also to negotiate with governments at a national level, and even in regional groups, to demand such a standard”.
The first point highlighted by Drago, as part of the issues agreed upon in October, is that the CFS recognises that smallholder farmers play a key role in food security and that they are the main investors in their own agriculture. “The ones who globally invest the most in agriculture are farmers themselves. It is neither a bank, nor a financial institution, not even governments, it is the farmers. Sometimes they do so with a lot of sacrifice and work, not even with money”. Besides, their investment is not only useful for them, but it benefits the rest of the society”.
An important recommendation is that governments and interested parties, especially organizations of smallholder farmers, are invited to develop a national vision of smallholder agriculture that goes with a broad framework of public policies and budget to support it.
Thirdly, Drago underlined that the importance of the legal recognition and respect for smallholder farmers’ rights was highlighted, as well as the need to strengthen their organizations.
The CFS also recommended to promote the capacity of smallholder farmers to access, improve, produce, keep, exchange and use the seeds they need.
“Producers should be able to produce their seeds, harvest them and improve them. They play an important role in the improvement of animal and plant varieties”, said Drago. “They do not require external actors and we do not want transnational corporations” playing that role, he added.
According to the CFS, the conservation and development of agricultural biodiversity should be supported. They even included agroecological approaches. “We had a big dispute so that these were included”. The governments of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the US were very strong in rejecting the social movements’ initiative.
The Committee also went back to decisions made in the past and called the governments to promote responsible governance of land and natural resources. It stressed the importance of securing access, land tenure and resources for smallholder farmers. “It also mentions, and this is very important to us, the need to prioritize public investment in support of smallholders’ own investments. That is to say, there is a need to support smallholder farmers’ production, but we do not let that support rely on the market”. Another important aspect is related to the role of research. The CFS suggests to strengthen participatory research by combining “farmers’ and indigenous’ traditional knowledge with the findings of scientific research” (‘although, to us, the improvements used by the farmer in his land are also considered science’).
The CFS also mentioned the need to support the development of local markets and the access of smallholder farmers to those markets. They talk about “remunerative access” that will allow farmers to “live on their production and keep it”. The CFS also recognises the importance of non-monetary exchanges and of local food systems. Farmers do not always exchange products for money, they also exchange their products. “This also plays a role in investment, it is important to recognise it and not punish it”, emphasized Drago.
Meanwhile, Food Sovereignty co-coordinator of Friends of the Earth International Kirtana Chandrasekaran, who was also present in Rome, talked about the CFS recommendations on biofuels or “agrofuels”, as social movements prefer to call them. The CFS had also requested recommendations to the High Level Panel of Experts in 2011.
Chandrasekaran said the panel reached important conclusions. For example, the experts discovered that agrofuel imports as well as the governments’ goals and mandates to produce them have impacts on food price volatility. “Because when the demand for biofuels goes up, the impact on prices of food crops also tends to go up”.
So, generally speaking, the High Level Panel of Experts found a strong correlation between price volatility and food availability, and between food security and agrofuels.
For this reason, the Panel recommended the governments to act accordingly. “But very unfortunately the governments who were present at the world committee on food security did not take into account these findings and they made a very weak set of recommendations on how governments should address biofuels”, said Kirtana.
She explained that many of the negotiations were running in parallel and there were a few very pro-biofuels governments like Argentina and Brazil and the USA and Canada who were pushing very hard so that the recommendations of the High Level of Panel of Experts were disregarded. “There was a very strong presence of the biofuels industry, probably for the first time at the CFS, who were obviously lobbying very hard on their governments to make changes”, said Chandrasekaran.
Meanwhile, some governments were very concerned about the negative impact of agrofuels, including the governments of some African and Middle East countries.
They tried to play a “positive role”, according to FoEI’s coordinator, but they found it impossible stand up to the big tactics and strong arms of the countries in favour of crop production to produce fuel.
“It was very disappointing”, she lamented.
Kirtana assessed that the bad outcomes on agrofuels should lead the civil society to reflect more on how to tackle this issue. We need to think “on how much public and political pressure we were able to put on the process on biofuels and food security in the run up to the CFS and during the CFS”.
However, Chandrasekaran emphasized “At least we have a document now that recognizes that biofuels have an impact on food security and hunger but doesn’t actually mandate governments to take any action, which is where we lost, which is a big problem”.
She added that the report is still very strong and it still gives a good evidence base on which to lobby around governments and get them to take notice.
The CFS as a Space for Active Participation: the Civil Society Mechanism
Activist Otto Bruun, of Friends of the Earth Finland, also attended the 40th CFS meeting. He highlighted the importance of the previous meetings of the Civil Society Mechanism because they were useful to prepare for and have a common position at the negotiations.
He believes the civil society space has also forced a lot of NGO in Europe to understand that they are not legitimate representatives of peoples and social movements, but they can work with them and facilitate the space for them. He said “I think there is a lot of work to do to continue that work and also to keep reminding us that this is not about the NGO and their circles, but rather real action and that people have to speak in their own name. And this kind of idea of representation is an empowering one that can lead us also forward”, said Bruun.
The activist said that “it is very motivating to keep working in that direction and insisting in whatever processes we have that in the civil society mechanisms the social movements are the ones that are talking on behalf of people that they are organizing”.
Bruun highlighted the mechanism also unites groups from different countries that can establish clear links between the realities they face.
Meanwhile, Chandrasekaran said the current CFS process is “unique” because it is a “very well organised space” in which various global actors from the civil society and social movements can all come together to really discuss some of the most pressing issues on food sovereignty, food security. She added that the Civil Society Mechanism is a space for discussion that enables social movements to participate in the CFS negotiations with previously agreed positions.
Chandrasekaran said “One of the best things about this space for the civil society and the way that it engages is that it is really led by social movements and this makes it quite unique because the mechanism is designed to be led by people actually affected by the policies the governments are making and it really lends credibility and political weight to what the civil society is saying”.
Meanwhile, Drago highlighted that the CFS is a multilateral space of governments “therefore, a public space”. “We have to reclaim access to public decision-making spaces or spaces to make recommendations. We understand that civil society has the right to participate, and the private sector should not have the same right”, he said.
Drago said the CFS is an example of how social movements and organizations can participate in an organised way, with input and debates, with arguments about their positions to influence in governments’ decision making. “We believe this is a space we need to reclaim, promote and for which it is essential to secure real participation of the civil society”.
He added that “participating in an organised way, with agreed positions, with different and important organisations of all over the globe requires organisation, coordination and budget. We believe the governments should fund this participation”, he concluded.
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