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UN Under Fire Over Choice of 'Corporate Puppet' as Envoy at Key Food Summit

March 12, 2020
Screenshot from the Guardian website
The Guardian

Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Kaamil Ahmed

A global summit on food security is at risk of being dominated by big business at the expense of farmers and social movements, according to the UN’s former food expert.

Olivier De Schutter, the former UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said food security groups around the world had expressed misgivings about the UN food systems summit, which is due to take place in 2021 and could be crucial to making agriculture more sustainable.

“There’s a big risk that the summit will be captured by corporate actors who see it as an opportunity to promote their own solutions,” said De Schutter, who criticised the opaque evolution of plans to hold the meeting, which he said emerged from “closed-door agreements” at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

His comments followed protests last month over the announcement that Agnes Kalibata, the former Rwandan minister for agriculture, would lead the event, despite her role as president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which has been accused of promoting damaging, business-focused practices. De Schutter emphasised that his comments were not directed at Kalibata personally.

In February, 176 organisations from 83 countries signed a letter to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, saying Kalibata’s appointment was “a deliberate attempt to silence the farmers of the world” and signalled the “direction the summit would take”.

Kalibata was appointed by Guterres to serve as his envoy to the summit.

Last year, the US national academy of sciences awarded Kalibata the public welfare medal for her work in improving livelihoods. The UN pointed to her accomplishments as an agricultural scientist and policymaker and said her time as minister had driven “programmes that moved her country to food security, helping to lift more than a million Rwandans out of poverty”.

But signatories to the letter, published on the website of the Oakland Institute, accused Agra of being “puppets of agro-industrial corporations and their shareholders”.

Agra was established in 2006 as an African-led, Africa-based institution. According to its website, it “puts smallholder farmers at the centre of the continent’s growing economy by transforming agriculture from a solitary struggle to survive into farming as a business that thrives”. Over the past decade Agra has been funded by the UK, as well as Canadian and US government agencies.