La Via Campesina South Asia members call for the Boycott of the UN Food Systems 2021

The UN World Food Systems Summit (FSS) is being organized by the UN Secretary-General with key actors of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The Secretary-General signed an MOA with the WEF, particularly on economic goals, with corporations and large business communities to officially enter UN Systems. Thus, the WEF has a huge influence on how the UN Food Systems summit was conceptualized. It has a very complicated structure (e.g. Action Tracks, Champions Coalitions). But essentially, these structures are generally opaque and lack the accountability it wishes to promote, to begin with. A glaring issue in the FSS is corporate capture in the food systems approach, for example, the debate in the World Trade Organization (WTO) where food should not be treated as a multifunctional tool nor mere commodities. We have seen how food systems are captured by productivism, technology, digitalization, even scientific evidence that distorts its value. We have also seen capture in terms of governance, where de facto displacement within intergovernmental spaces that have existed for a long time are replaced by new governance ecosystems led by “multistakeholderism” and corporate influence.

We are particularly concerned about the preparation of the “summit” and by the excessive emphasis put on technological solutions that are introduced as a universal solution to food systems problems. On the contrary, we are truly convinced that digitalization, robotization, and other inventions are largely escaping producers and are increasing the dominance of large digital companies whose wealth and power have grown exponentially, especially during the COVID19 pandemic. The parallel dispossession of farmers and other food producers of their means of production increases rural poverty and the problems of the food system that we are committed to solving. In this context, the priority should be to wholly fulfill the human rights of food producers as stated by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas.

In the case of India, not much debate has happened at the UN Food Systems Summit. India in the past few years has been witnessing thrust in public policies towards the corporatization of agriculture. The 3 Indian agricultural laws brought out on June 5, 2020, have been flagged for their pro-corporate content and intent. Even though farmers have been protesting against these laws, in Delhi and various other places, the Indian government has not heeded their advice in scrapping these laws. There are various other measures that are intended to increase the corporatization of Indian agriculture. Implications of such corporatization of agriculture on food and nutrition access to communities in India need to be analyzed. Food systems, the way they are built, do also impinge on access to land, water, food, nutrition, and sustainability. Ownership of natural resources becomes a critical issue.

At the time Indian governments have been grappling with the second wave of Covid, a national dialogue has been taking place and the process is not inclusive and people’s representations are cherry-picked by both government and corporations (e.g. farmers groups supported by corporate philanthropies). Some issues arising from the Indian dialogues are how industries and corporations are represented in the UNFSS process, where position holders incorporate bodies are transformed into sectoral representatives in the national processes. There are also government/corporate-backed NGO/Civil society organizations joining these processes. The same has been the case with other south Asian nations too.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how neoliberalism is incompatible with humanity and destructive to nature. We have witnessed the industrial food system grind to halt during the pandemic, disrupting global food production and distribution. As the pandemic began, many import-dependent nations worried about their food security. Agribusiness corporations responded by forcing the migrant farmworkers to work under risky conditions, with poor protection, little access to healthcare, and no regard for their well-being. Amidst this chaos, the local agriculture systems based on peasant production proved their resilience and became a lifeline for many. It highlighted the need for building local food systems on the principles of food sovereignty.

As La Via Campesina, we believe that no systemic transformation is possible without recognizing and protecting at the local level the rights of those who are the heart of the food systems: the peasants, fisherfolks, indigenous people, pastoralists, forest dwellers, agriculture workers, as well as consumers in the cities and rural areas.

We want food sovereignty in our territories. Food Sovereignty is our autonomy to design our local food systems, using local resources, using peasant agroecological methods. We want a food system that respects crop and cattle diversity that is climatically, culturally appropriate, and diverse for each locality and community. We cannot achieve this by creating a one-size-fits-all solution for the world. It has to emerge from each village and urban unit in every corner of the world. The locally elected councils, producer cooperatives, and consumer cooperatives must hold a centrality in creating this food system. The national governments must bring this diversity to the FAO, and from there, a conversation about radically transforming the food system must begin. 

The global food system should become a co-existence of a million local food systems, each diverse and yet harmonious with nature and functioning on solidarity and social justice principles. 

The UN Food Systems Summit 2021 has no legitimacy and is meant to sideline the views, participation, and centrality of small-scale food producers. We will not legitimate it by being part of it in any way. So as part of the global peasants’ movements, La Via Campesina, representing millions of peasants, indigenous peoples, fishers, migrants, and other small-scale food producers in 82 countries, we have decided to boycott this UN Food Systems Summit. We do not think the UN Food Systems Summit, which is centrally managed and following a top-down template for the world, can offer any meaningful solution to hunger, malnutrition, global warming, and food wastage. LVC will instead focus on highlighting the nuances and problems within the UNFSS and will utilize this opportunity to highlight stories of food sovereignty. LVC is also planning to mobilize virtually during the month of July with a social media campaign -“Not In Our Name.” We demand support for the policies centered around peasant-led agroecology and built on the principles of food sovereignty, social justice, and peasants’ rights.

Media coverage – As concerns over the UN Food Systems Summit mount, civil society’s hunger for change deepens