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UN Food Systems Summit: The Battle Over Global Food and Agriculture Governance

September 21, 2021
Agroecology in Andhra Pradesh, India. © Rucha Chitnis


September 21, 2021, 6:00 AM PT

Media Contact:
Anuradha Mittal, [email protected] +1 510-469-5228
Frederic Mousseau, [email protected] +1 510-512-5458

Oakland, CA — The Food Systems Summit, hosted by the United Nations, has been reduced to a day-long virtual event on September 23, 2021 — a result of an unprecedented counter mobilization around the world. Hijacked by proponents of corporate industrial agriculture, the summit faced a united front from farmers, civil society groups, and social movements around the world, who rejected and mobilized against the takeover of global food and agriculture governance.

People Vs. Agribusiness Corporations: The Battle Over Global Food and Agriculture Governance, a policy brief released today by the Oakland Institute, offers a detailed look and analysis of how the 2021 Food Systems Summit became the most uneventful UN event. The appointment of the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), as UN Special Envoy of the summit, was the lightning rod that catalyzed global opposition. AGRA’s push of monocultural, fossil fuel-based agriculture and promotion of genetically engineered crops has failed to deliver on its much touted promises, while devastating the livelihoods of farmers, holding national budgets hostage to chemical inputs and foreign corporations, and resulting in worsening hunger. In the months leading to the summit, an unprecedented number of petitions, public communications, and other advocacy actions mobilized millions around the world, including the organization of national and global counter summits. From Nigeria and the Philippines, to Zimbabwe and Peru, calls for a radical shift in our food and agriculture system — from destructive and polluting industrial corporate production to farmer-centred agro-ecological systems — made the summit moot.

“Farmers and civil society organizations were not consulted when the summit was being organized and it is not inclusive, but only focusing on the big agribusiness players… that is why the boycott has been so intensive.”

— Elizabeth Mpofu, organic small-scale farmer from Zimbabwe, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina

Elizabeth Mpofu headshot

People Vs. Agribusiness Corporations calls out a number of powerful actors — the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, some Western governments, the World Bank, and others — who actively prevent the much needed transition as they continue to peddle corporate industrial agriculture. By leveraging financial support to countries to expand the use of agrochemicals and pesticides, their efforts undermine the principles of cooperation and multilateralism upheld by the United Nations institutions responsible for global food and agriculture such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

On the eve of the summit, a two-part podcast released by the Oakland Institute goes inside the global resistance and maps out the solutions advocated by farmers, researchers, and civil society organizations in the Global South. Featuring Nnimmo Bassey (Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria), Elizabeth Mpofu (La Via Campesina, Zimbabwe), Alejandro Argumedo (Swift Foundation, Peru), Kristen Lyons (University of Queensland, Australia), Chivy Sok (Tikvah Grassroots Empowerment Fund) and Anuradha Mittal (the Oakland Institute), the podcast elevates the voices of those on the frontlines of challenging the failed industrial agriculture model and working to ensure food sovereignty from the bottom up.

Nnimmo Bassey headshot

“We need to liberate the food system, decolonize the food system. We need to promote agriculture that works in line with our ecological systems.”

— Nnimmo Bassey, Health of Mother Earth Foundation

While there were no expectations of the Food Systems Summit, it did catalyze and coalesce global opposition to Western corporate industrial agriculture. Millions of farmers and citizens rose up to hold international institutions and their own governments accountable.

The United Nations were created by states. In today’s globalized and interconnected world, when governments capitulate to corporate influence, civil society organizations, with cross border and multisectoral alliances, are the central force that defends the universalist values and principles on which this institution was built.