Analysis | UN Food Systems Summit advocates

The message from the secretary general of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, during World Food Week in October 2020, highlighted the risks and major impacts of the globalized food system. He also highlighted the fragility of food distribution, which the pandemic had opened wide, and, as a solution strategy, affirmed the importance of the United Nations Food Systems Summit of 2021.

The summit is an activity of the United Nations Decade of Action, since the time remaining for governments to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. This agenda is a document in which its action plan indicates 17 goals that promote the eradication of poverty and a dignified life for all within the limits of planet Earth.

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These are goals for countries, in resonance with their priorities, to act in the purpose of a global partnership so that we can seek social, economic and environmental balance.

According to Guterres, “we need global engagement and action for inclusive and sustainable food systems.” One of the main reasons why “we have not been able to stay within the ecological limits of our planet” is the impacts of the current model of a globalized industrial agrifood system.

We have lost knowledge and flavors, following diets based on a few varieties of crops that are similar around the world.

An increasingly standardized food, based on the excessive consumption of rice, wheat, corn and potatoes, which are among the 12 species that together represent 80% of our diet. Encouraging a monoculture and extensive system agriculture highly dependent on external inputs such as pesticides, industrial and transgenic seeds, chemical fertilizers and heavy machinery. A food that travels long distances to reach places of consumption, that is, to your table.

These management practices still have serious consequences, such as the poisoning of scarce sources of drinking water, salinization and soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and the great emission of greenhouse gases. We have undergone considerable climate change over the years, resulting in major environmental catastrophes, such as long periods of drought, with a direct impact on agriculture.

The improvement of varieties carried out over centuries by the experimentation of farmers using traditional and agroecological practices, such as seed selection, has been left aside in favor of new techniques and industrial inputs that threaten food sovereignty by reducing species and varieties of plants, as well as animal breeds, as the researcher Esther Vivas Esteve emphasizes, in the book “The food business: Who controls our diet?”, from 2017.

But the big question is how on a planet with such an abundance of food, where waste reaches stratospheric numbers, are there so many people who have nothing to eat?

According to Josué de Castro in his book “Geografia da Fome”, hunger is “manufactured by men against men”. Your class position decides what and if you are going to eat. There are also obese people, a result of the food supply model fast food and because fresh food is less affordable.

It is a complex system, with a globalized consumption pattern, that defends and is financed to serve corporate interests at all times. The process called “green revolution” promised to modernize the countryside and end hunger, and it keeps repeating the same promises and leaving us at the mercy of privatized agriculture, in the hands of a small group of corporations.

About 84% of the global pesticide market is controlled by 4 companies: Bayer-Monsanto, headquartered in Germany, and 27.4% of the market; Syngenta-ChemChina, based in Switzerland/China, and 26.9% of the market; Dow-Dupont (Corteva), based in the US, and 16.8% of the market and Basf, based in Germany, with 12.9% of the market. These same companies control the seed and chemical fertilizer business. It’s a lot of power in a few hands.

Ten multinationals control the world food market, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mondelez, Coca-Cola, Mars, Danone, Associated British Foods (ABF), General Mills and Kellogg’s, leading the sector’s sales volume worldwide. In Brazil, among the largest supermarket and hypermarket retailers are: Carrefour, Grupo Pão de Açúcar and Grupo Big (formerly Walmart). The sector is responsible for 15% of total retail sales.

These corporations impose a model of agriculture and food that ‘swallows’ the peasantry.

The objective is to control the entire chain from raw material to the table, reduce production costs and increase the final price of food, in order to obtain more profit. The farmer is paid the lowest possible amount, they determine how the production should be, how it should be produced, under what conditions and where it should be sold.

the summit

In times of climate change, a globalized food system strategy is the use of eco-flags as a marketing strategy. They appropriate, for example, systems such as organic ones and implement the proposal, emptying it of any pretense of social change, in order to neutralize the suggestions. It is an ecological agriculture at the service of capital, with traveling food and lack of labor rights, as Esther Vivas Esteve also highlights.

This appropriation process is imminent and also takes place at the 2021 Food Systems Summit, which took place between the 23rd and 24th of September, in New York, in the United States.

According to Via Campesina (2020), the organization has become yet another space of influence for corporate lobbies defending the interests of agribusiness, putting food sovereignty and the future of the planet at risk. The summit was not designed for social participation, which could be a sum of the voices of peasants, indigenous peoples’ organizations, quilombolas, rural social movements, agricultural workers, as well as city consumers, participating in the formulation of food policies.

The convening of the 2021 Food Systems Summit was announced by the UN Secretary General in response to a request made by the World Economic Forum, which is a private sector organization representing global corporate interests.

It also had the crucial support of some “more developed” national states. It shows itself at the service of an elite that, using its transnational corporate arms, continue to accumulate capital and destroy the planet, supported by the fallacy they wear as a fight against hunger.

Such attitudes only demonstrate how food systems will continue to be defined in a way that facilitates corporate capture.

If the objective is a profound transformation of the agrifood system, as presented in Guterres’ speech, the United Nations Summit on Food Systems 2021 must be inclusive and representative.

Guide the local production of foods that are biodiverse and agroecological. Providing systemic changes in the protection of the environment and implementation of public policies to adapt and mitigate climate change, recognizing the dangers of inefficiency in industrial agriculture and strengthening agroecological and peasant production.

It is necessary to promote autonomy, development and access to popular social technologies for a pesticide-free production, of excluding biotechnologies (transgenic and others) for access to quality food, associating with local organizational processes, for the production and marketing of food and involving farmers, consumer workers, from the countryside and the city, guaranteed by public policies.

In the construction of food sovereignty, it is necessary to implement concrete actions to extinguish hunger in the world, preserve the life of the forests, waters and people’s quality of life.

*They are members of the Small Farmers Movement (MPA).

**This is an opinion piece. The authors’ view does not necessarily express the newspaper’s editorial line Brazil in fact.

Source: BoF Rio de Janeiro

Edition: Mariana Pitasse

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