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Agribusiness Interests Hijack 2021 UN Food Systems Summit

October 14, 2020

Viewpoint by Anuradha Mittal

OAKLAND, USA (IDN) – This World Food Day (October 16) amidst the ongoing pandemic and the devastating impact of the climate crisis, a Food Systems Summit is being planned a year from now by the United Nations, to fulfil the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals. As the Summit takes shape, it is obvious that it does not intend to trigger the deep systemic changes necessary to address the massive challenges that we face. The Summit will do more of the same – green and poor wash – to preserve and perpetuate interests of agribusiness and agro-chemical corporations at the expense of people and the planet.

The key reason for that is its leadership. The deeply problematic appointment of Dr Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), as Special Envoy to the Summit, has been challenged by hundreds of organizations, academics, and social movements, via letters sent to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, to deter the event’s leadership coming from an organization promoting industrial commercial agriculture.

In the face of this global challenge, a mere twelve individuals from development banks, academic institutions, and private firms, expressed their support of Dr Kalibata’s appointment to lead a global food summit. All but one of the affiliated institutions are funded by AGRA’s primary funding source – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Recent research has exposed the failure of AGRA on its own terms. After nearly 15 years and a spend of over US$500 million to promote the use of commercial seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides in 13 African countries, and additional US$1 billion per year of government subsidies for seeds and fertilizers, AGRA  fails to provide evidence that incomes or food security increased for smallholder households across its target countries.

In fact, since the onset of the program, the number of undernourished people across these 13 countries has increased by 30 per cent. Even where staple crop production did increase, there was no reduction of rural poverty or hunger, but instead, often displacement of diverse, climate-resilient crops. These findings reaffirm AGRA’s ill-conceived approach promoting monocultural commodity production by large agribusiness at the expense of sustainable livelihoods and human development.

Despite AGRA’s well-evidenced failure, the composition of the Summit’s Advisory Committee and Scientific Group exposes AGRA’s inordinate power.  While representatives from civil society and social movements remain outnumbered, the same corporate voices that have shaped the current food system that the Summit allegedly seeks to “rapidly change,” are dominant.

Five “Action Tracks” were announced in September to “offer all constituencies a space to share and learn, with a view to supercharging their progress by fostering new actions and partnerships and by amplifying existing initiatives.” Among the leaders of the “Action Tracks” are the Global Alliance for Increased Nutrition (GAIN), the EAT Forum, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).