Sunday, January 31, 2010

International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development
Newsletter #65
January 1st 2010


Message from the Editorial Team

Recipes from Rome: the World Summit for Food Security

Message from the Editorial Team

A full decade of the 21st century has already gone by!

We are living in a time of paradox. We all know that the requisite knowledge to solve the fundamental issues facing humanity exists, be it those of food, health, education, peace or creating harmony between peoples and within nations.

The same can be said of the environment. We now know that scientifically speaking, the degradation of the biosphere is a fact. We also know that we collectively consume more resources than our planet can provide. It is an established fact that we would need at least three times our planetary resources if all countries were to follow the consumer model of the so-called “developed” countries.

And progress towards the key objectives, such as the Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction or even that of reducing greenhouse gas, is at a standstill, or even regressing.

Conservative forces that uphold the ideology of “it’s all working fine”, be it the neoliberal voices of the United States, or newer powers such as China or India (all of which are remarkably similar), still support an ideology of economic growth. Yet we are acutely aware that the answers to problems can not be found in the thought processes that created them in the first place, an idea first put forward by Einstein.

We can see for ourselves that these forces are still blocking the essential elements of the reforms that are fundamentally needed, as witnessed by President Obama’s attempts to push through reforms, the failure of the Copenhagen conference, even if some small reform is being carried through in order to control the financial system. Nothing is being done to change the most essential aspects, even though the need is greater than ever.

So in terms of concrete, positive results, no significant progress has been made.

But there is major progress happening at other levels.

In particular, there is a new level of global awareness of the key issues. Most NGOs and social movements in countries and at the international level agree on their analyses, even if their strategies are still somewhat divergent. The World Social Fora and many other meetings, such as that organised by RIPESS testify to this progress.

The vision of economies and alternative societies is increasingly based on approaches such as solidarity economy, that are inclusive in nature, and that are generally more localised. Connecting the approach more closely to people’s local environments increasingly appears as a viable alternative to the so-called development as known hitherto.

It would indeed be preferable to implement a “different” model that is more compatible with the limited resources of our biosphere. If we fail to do this, our planet will self-destruct, and this is likely to be extremely brutal. So it is advisable to do something, or things will be even worse for most of the inhabitants of our world.

This is the tenor of the article that we are publishing in this issue on the question of food. There are two conflicting “models” out there, as clearly shown in the text on the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation) summit held in Rome last November. As the participants in the People’s Forum that took place at the same time clearly stated, the choices we are facing are between a productivist agricultural model aimed at growth (of profits) and a model based on local agriculture aimed primarily at feeding people (rather than share-holders). For our part, our choice is clear!!

Editorial Team
Judith Hitchman
Yvon Poirier
Martine Theveniaut

Recipes from Rome: the World Summit for Food Security
The World Summit for Food Security was recently held in Rome (16th - 18th November) under the auspices of the FAO (the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), headquartered in this city. The timing could not have been more appropriate, as the pretentious title of the meeting suggests: “Imagine. Achieving food security in times of crisis”. This notion of food security is aimed at food for all, even at the height of current global financial turbulence, with over one billion people in the world suffering from hunger. The aim of the first Millennium Development Goal - to halve the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015 compared with the figures for 1990 - is far from today’s reality. If we add the uncertain impacts of climate change on agriculture, the profit-driven interests of agribusiness and predatory attitudes of governments, the outlook for the most vulnerable is indeed pessimistic.

A parallel meeting: People’s Forum on Food Sovereignty
Civil society rose to the occasion, and organised their own space for discussion in the People’s Food Sovereignty Forum that was also held on the same dates in Rome, parallel to the FAO Summit. I had the privilege of being a member of the volunteer interpreting team that was responsible for supporting the communication between over 400 delegates who had come from all over the world. The objective was to promote the right of rural communities to define their own agricultural model that respects their ecological, social, economic and cultural traditions. Food sovereignty prioritises local consumption, access of small farmers to natural resources, to land, seeds and agricultural biodiversity. It condemns the use of food production as either a trade or a political weapon. A great number of civil society organisations participated in the Forum. The International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty represented them in their discussions with the “United Nations system”, mainly the FAO and IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development).

The final declaration text from the People’s Forum, from which I have extracted a few key points, mentions the importance of considering the Food Security Committee of the FAO as the privileged body for developing international policies on food and agriculture, especially as the recent reform that has been approved confers a greater role on the representatives of civil society. The declaration also discusses the appropriate financial support provided by members of the FAO to enable the Committee to carry out its work in an adequate manner, guided by the human right to food. Financial resources have been proposed by the World Bank and other international financial institutions, whose past mechanisms of governance have shown a lack of democracy and transparency; this means there is a risk of the same mistakes being made as in the past. “As long as institutions such as the WTO continue to privilege commercial interests over the globally marginalised and malnourished, hunger will continue to stalk the world”.

The text also defends the need to respect ecological supply chains, and condemns the aggressive mercantile approach to nature and knowledge. It requests a global moratorium on GMOs and invites all States to take immediate adequate action to protect and regulate national food markets by managing supplies to guarantee the availability of food, decent pay and fair prices. States should guarantee joint control of land through integrated agrarian reform that respects both individual and collective access to land, and control over territories.

Concerning the control of resources for food production, the Declaration condemns the alarming land- and water-grabbing currently practiced by certain countries and multinationals. In less than one year, 40 million hectares of fertile land in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe have been usurped through agreements that favour this practice and displace local food production in favour of export crops. The Declaration also opposes intellectual property rights aimed at protecting living resources such as seeds, plants and animals.

Finally, the text commits civil society to building alliances via the International Planning Committee and presents the input from the different work groups that took place during the Forum: Women, who defend their role in food sovereignty, youth who plead for education and training in agricultural practice, fishing and animal husbandry, indigenous peoples who demand the right to land and who consider nature as a living being that is essential to the identity and culture of their communities.

The FAO Summit Declaration
The official declaration of the FAO Summit expresses good intentions and pompous commitments in their five Principles of Rome for sustainable global food security: 1) invest in national plans to channel resources aimed at NGOs and well-designed results-oriented programmes, 2) encourage strategic co-ordination of national, regional and global plans in order to improve governance and promote a better distribution of resources, 3) work towards food security through direct emergency measures aimed at the most vulnerable groups, in order to fight hunger and poverty, 4) guarantee the role of the multilateral institutions, 5) guarantee the commitment of all to investing in agriculture, food security and nutrition, in order to fund pluri-annual plans and programmes.

The civil society Forum criticised the FAO for grounding the achievement of the above principles in the creation of a High Level Action Group on the crisis in food security at the instigation of the Secretary General of the United Nations. This is in the context of the reform of the Committee for food security. Civil society’s disagreement is due to the fact that the Action Group supports the multinationals that are patenting seeds and commercialising GMOs in order to implement projects with many large international philanthropic foundations who are operating on funds from the World Bank.

Civil society condemns the fact that the FAO also delegates “the strategic co-ordination of national, regional and global plans” to a “global Alliance for agriculture, food security and nutrition”, created by the industrialised countries of the G8 that - and this is no mere coincidence - control most of the food system by imposing production models that are contrary to the interests defended by small-scale farmers.

The principles of Rome also includes the World Trade Organisation, and suggests on paper that global markets become more open to small-scale farmers from developing countries, in order to enable them to increase their productivity, and compete in more equal circumstances. Civil society organisations again reproached this attitude: Although the WTO is a multilateral institution representing countries of all sorts, and with a decision-making system based on the principle of “one country, one vote” it is important to realise that in the corridors of power some countries club together to defend their interests more than those of others, in terms of the available resources, the size of the economic and legal lobby and their influence. Once again, the developing countries have a handicap in negotiations before they even begin.

Challenges for the years to come
It’s time to square up on the chess board: one camp defends food sovereignty, protected by rural tradition and the ancestral knowledge of peoples and communities, while the other is in favour of technological green revolutions, the industrialisation of agriculture and GMOs. These are the black and white, even grey squares on the board... Can there be no meeting of the ways in this struggle for power?

Ethical commitment and respect of the environment, of ecosystems and subsistence means of rural populations should take priority; it is necessary to avoid ideological and political prejudice as well as economic interests that may block the path. If we really wish to reach a reciprocal commitment of all stakeholders, we need to consider that achieving a joint solution is a moral obligation that broadens our field of vision.

Food sovereignty implies a sense of responsibility. On one hand, governments need to guarantee supplies of accessible food that is culturally acceptable and nourishing, and to facilitate emergency access to those in need of help, without undermining the principle of sovereignty. On the other, farmers and producers should participate in the decision-making process as to how to grow and distribute food. Their know-how is both their heritage and their contribution. Food is life. It comes from the land that we work and from animals that we raise or hunt. It is nature, culture, tradition, religion, the identity of peoples and nations. We savour it, appreciate it, dream about it; it awakens feelings and emotions in our hearts; it brings us together, satisfies us, makes us aware of our essential being and our shared identity. As citizens, we can, through our acts, set the example for future generations, through responsible consumption, by cultivating our curiosity as to the origin and way in which food is produced, and by drawing closer to nature. We are all involved in the future of our planet and we can no longer remain dependent on decisions taken by others.

Jorge Soriano Bugnion
voluntary professional interpreter and activist
Original article in Spanish

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Special thanks to:
Judith Hitchman for the English translation
Brunilda Rafael from France for the Spanish translation
Michel Colin from Brazil for the Portuguese translation

To contact us (for information, feedback, to subscribe or unsubscribe):
Yvon Poirier

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