PRESS RELEASE: Big corporations steer UN Food Systems Summit; Global South pushes back

The Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems slammed the recently concluded UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) for paving the way for greater control of big corporations over global food systems and misleading the people through corporate-led false solutions to hunger and climate change. 

“It was just as we expected. While branding itself as the ‘People’s Summit’ and even the ‘Solutions Summit,’ the UN FSS did not listen to the voices of marginalized rural peoples, nor forward real solutions to the food, biodiversity and climate crises.

Instead, it let powerful nations and big corporations play an even bigger role in determining food and agricultural policies. The UN has finally made it clear what ‘multilateralism’ is all about—paying lip service to the people while skewing priorities for the interests of imperialists and monopoly capitalists,” said Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty. 

In a strong statement against the “global corporate food empire,” the Global People’s Summit on Food Systems adopted a People’s Declaration entitled, “End corporate monopoly control! Fight for People’s Rights to Just, Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Food Systems!” Read by Malcolm Guy, chairperson of the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) during the GPS closing plenary, representatives of more than a hundred people’s movements and civil society organizations approved the declaration. They vowed to work collectively to carry out national, regional, sectoral, and thematic People’s Action Plans that were produced from the workshops, public forums, and consultations organized under the Global People’s Summit. 

“These Action Plans represent our concrete and particular demands and campaigns along the four pillars of food systems transformation – (1) Food sovereignty and democracy at the core of food and agricultural policies; (2) Agroecology and sustainability in production, distribution, and consumption; (3) People’s right to land, production, and resources; and (4) People’s right to adequate, safe, nutritious, and culturally-appropriate food,” the declaration read. 

Held simultaneously with the UN FSS, the GPS is a Global-South led counter-summit. Since early this year, the GPS has held various activities—including people’s summits and dialogues—participated in by thousands of landless farmers, agricultural workers, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, rural women, youth, rural people living in occupied areas, and sanctioned peoples in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West Asia-North Africa. 

Unlike the GPS, which reflected the demands and aspirations of small food producers, the UN FSS proved its anti-people and pro-corporate character through the outcomes of the summit and statements made by world leaders, international institutions and business players at its helm. These include the following:

  • US President Joe Biden said that Washington would spend $10 billion to “end hunger and invest in food systems at home and abroad,” half of which will go to the USAID’s Feed the Future initiative in various countries. This includes a “large-scale food fortification” program in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Through its co-founder Melinda Gates, the BMGF, which has been heavily criticized for its role in pushing for destructive Green Revolution technologies and seed privatization that favor big agribusinesses, also addressed the UN FSS and announced a $922 million commitment to food fortification. Biofortification promotes industrial monocultures over agroecological food diversity, and ushers in the next generation of genetically-modified crops, such as the Gates-funded Vitamin-A “Golden Rice” recently approved for commercial use in the Philippines.
  • Additionally, the US Feed the Future initiative works with US businesses such as Cargill, Pepsico, Corteva Agriscience, the Coca-Cola Company, Mars Inc, Unilever, John Deere, etc. to supposedly “fight global hunger.” In 2020, $1.2 million Feed the Future funds to help “combat the economic toll of COVID-19” went to “private sector partners” in Africa—these include agrochemical, fruit export, and microfinance companies—instead of small farmers most affected by the pandemic.
  • The World Bank and Food & Land Use (FLU) Coalition presented a roadmap that aims to “unlock $4.5 trillion in new business opportunities every year by 2030.” The FLU is backed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a group of 200 businesses from all major sectors, including agribusiness and fossil fuels.
  • In his speech to the UN FSS, World Bank president David Malpass cited increased financing for “climate-smart” agriculture. “Climate-smart” agriculture is the euphemism used by agrochemical and seed companies for proprietary techno-fixes such as GM crops. The US and United Arab Emirates also advanced the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate), which aims to increase public and private investment in “climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation” at the UNFSS, with the BMGF expressing its support.
  • World Bank’s Malpass also mentioned “moving away from policies that favor rice and other staples over fruit and vegetables,” which, for the Global South means intensified neoliberal policies that facilitate grabbing of farmers’ land planted with staple food in favor of export-oriented plantations.
  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) director general Qu Dongyu talked about targeted interventions for digital and “technologically advanced” innovations, and failed to mention support for agroecological approaches. For “accelerating the transformation of agri-food systems at country level,” the FAO will use its Hand-In-Hand Initiative—an  “innovative business model” which creates “matchmaking” opportunities between partners and recipient countries in the Global South. Partners include the private sector, even the agrochemical giant Syngenta.

The GPS culminated on September 23 with online and on-ground protests led by rural peoples in various countries across the Global South. Eight Indonesian food justice activists were arrested in a protest outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, but were later released by the police due to solidarity efforts from the international community. 

The GPS is co-organized by 22 regional and international organizations: 

  • People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS)
  • PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP)
  • Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)
  • Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN)
  • Arab People for Food Sovereignty (ANFS)
  • Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF)
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)
  • Coalition of Agricultural Workers International (CAWI)
  • Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC)
  • Global Forest Coalition (GFC)
  • People Over Profit (POP)
  • Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
  • IBON International
  • Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development (APWLD)
  • Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN)
  • PAN North America (PANNA)
  • A Growing Culture
  • Youth for Food Sovereignty (YFS)
  • Local Futures
  • International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS)
  • International Women’s Alliance
  • International Migrants Alliance 

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