Beyond COVID-19: The Global People’s Summit on Food Systems

The COVID-19 pandemic both exposed the structural flaws of the global food systems and underscored the urgent need for a truly radical transformation.

We are yet again at a critical turning point in transforming food and agriculture worldwide. It’s not just because the United Nations and intergovernmental processes decided to adopt a supposedly “food systems approach” in transforming the sector.

An unjust, inequitable, unhealthy, and unsustainable food system brought about by global monopolies in agriculture production and trade; by decades of global landgrabs and environmental devastation intended for profit; by unequal treaties and agreements like those under the WTO; by neoliberal reforms bankrolled by the IMF-WB; by national policies that perpetuate corporate and landlord control of lands and agricultural trade; and proliferation of capitalist farms at the expense of smallholder producers and landless rural peoples. This is imperialism in action, with its laws and inherent contradictions underlying the anarchic and wasteful production and consumption of the world’s food.

The extent and intensity of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the government actions at its heels have surfaced and exacerbated long-standing injustices and inequalities in, and unsustainability of global monopoly capitalism, including in the food systems.

The upswell of those in chronic hunger, collapse of local food production, and surge in food price volatility amid Covid-19 point to one thing:

the current neoliberal food system is not working for us, for our people, and for our planet.

We are at a conjunction – either we allow the perpetuation of such food systems or we rise up and transform it. For the deprived and famished, the choice is clear – the people are hungry for change.

To transform our world to one without hunger, without trading off our rights and our planet – towards just, equitable, healthy, and sustainable food systems.

We must reclaim our voices to demand food systems which put our fundamental rights above profit, our planet over corporations, and our sovereignty over monopolies.

It’s time for a true Global People’s Summit for Just, Equitable, Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems.

The fight for just, equitable, healthy, and sustainable food systems has never stopped nor wavered. From local farming and indigenous communities standing up against landgrabs and destructive investment projects to advocates advancing sustainable ways to end hunger. The Global People’s Summit on Food Systems or People’s Summit provides an opportune venue to build on these struggles and assert the people’s demands.

The Global Peoples Summit on Food Systems aims to:

  1. Put the voices of the marginalized at the helm of agenda-setting in the transformation of our food systems;
  2. Expose the neoliberal agenda and corporate capture in the UN Food Systems Summit; and
  3. Present an actionable, pro-people and pro-planet alternative to radically transform the food systems.

The People’s Summit is part of the #Hungry4Change campaign, an ongoing initiative of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) and its network to highlight the people’s right to just, equitable, healthy, and sustainable food systems.

Through the People’s Summit, we hope to develop further and broaden the Nine Demands to include an extensive range of right holders and peoples, especially from the Global South. A People’s Action Plan to realize the Just, Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Food Systems will be the major outcome of the People’s Summit.

At its core, our food systems should embody the right to life and human dignity. Yet the current food systems are stacked against the poorest of the poor, structured to maximize profit.

A human-rights based approach to transforming our food systems is critical in realizing the right to safe, healthy, and culturally appropriate food for all. It is unacceptable that almost a third of the world do not have regular access to safe and nutritious food despite the growing surplus in production. Rural food producers, especially in the Global South, do not own the land they till, control the seeds they sow, nor decide on the destination of their produce. In many countries, indigenous peoples, farmers, and land defenders are under constant threat of eviction, harassment, and even murder.

Just food systems put land and life at the center of transformation.

Our food systems today connect us like never before. Yet, this connection is built atop unequal trade routes, inequality, and plunder.

A people’s right framework in transforming our food systems is the key in rebuilding production and trade towards decolonization, solidarity and lasting peace. Neoliberal reforms of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation since the Green Revolution has corporatized and denationalized food systems. Transnational and multinational companies from a handful of rich nations have monopolized the ownership and control of seeds, inputs, production machineries, and tradelines of poor agrarian nations. Food aid and embargoes are also weaponized by powerful nations as political tools against poorer and food-deprived countries.

Equitable food systems uphold the people’s right to development and sovereignty.

Malnutrition, especially among the poorest of the poor have been plaguing the world for centuries without end in sight.

Poverty has shackled half the globe into hunger and a huge chunk of the other half into consuming cheap and heavily subsidized sources of carbohydrates. The current chemical-intensive corporate-driven agriculture is fostering collapse in food and seed diversity while further profiting from unhealthy diets. Zoonotic diseases emerging from corporate farms threaten the already fragile healthcare systems of the world. Along with genetically-modified seeds that further destroy seed sovereignty and agro-biodiversity, food producers are trapped in a cycle of dependency on hazardous technologies, while consumers find healthy food more and more inaccessible.

Healthy food systems reconnect the link between diversity in production and consumption.

Our planet is at its limits thanks, in part, to today’s fossil fuel hungry corporate food systems. And the poor and marginalized of the Global South are bearing the brunt.

There should not be a tradeoff between the right to healthy food and a healthy planet. Despite the Neomalthussian fear mongering talk of food shortage by 2050, we are producing more today than what we need. Decades of “sustainable intensification” have deforested wildlife areas, collapsed fish stocks, and eroded environmental boundaries. Additionally, the support for agroecological, traditional, artisanal, and smallholder production have since been shifted towards fossil-fuel hungry agriculture and food waste-prone corporate farming and transnational distribution chains. The massive use of toxic pesticides has polluted air, soil and water; caused the acute poisoning of an estimated 385 million people each year; and placed harmful chemicals on our plates.

Agroecology — a productive, resilient, and sustainable approach to farming— integrates cutting edge science with local and Indigenous knowledge and practice and can replace corporate-controlled chemical-intensive agriculture by putting farmers first.

Sustainable food systems harmonize humanity’s needs and aspirations to our planetary boundaries.