Analysis of the most recent text on food security

By Nimisha Bastedo, Anna Odell, Clara de Iturbe and Lara Shirley

Having watched the development of the issue of food security in the negotiating text from the original release of the Zero Order Draft to the current negotiating text, we have identified some key areas that are particularly relevant and/or contentious in the facilitator’s suggested text. We have examined the text in depth, and below we have analyzed some of the key issues of the text by paragraph. Through this process we have examined the past text, and explained why we believe it is a noteworthy issue.

The suggested text addresses the right to food which should be a given, and yet it has been discussed and contested over and over throughout this whole negotiating process. As it currently stands, the first paragraph reaffirms commitments regarding the right to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. This is a step up from all other versions of the texts that did not directly acknowledge this right, however the slightly convoluted wording may undermine the essential message. They also included food and nutrition strategies, which had been originally introduced in the May Co-Chairs’ text.

The importance of traditional agriculture practices and seed supply systems is recognized.  Seeds are vital to the continuation of life and food security and sovereignty. Without control over their own seeds, farmers have no security in the coming years. Without farmers rights to choose their own seeds and to be able to use their seed saving methods, they will be at the mercy of transnational corporations. This is not only a violation of the sovereignty of farmers, but it contributes to the food insecurity across the world. In the original Zero Order Draft, there was absolutely no mention of the importance of seeds. During the March Informals, the issues of seeds what proposed several times, mainly by the G77 (with one proposal from Israel). The co-chairs included the suggested paragraph in their suggested text and created a paragraph for the issue. It is incredibly important that they included the importance of traditional agriculture and the seed supply system in the text, however this should be much more heavily included in the text and stronger language must be used. Having one sentence on that merely “recognizes” traditional agriculture, seeds, and indigenous knowledge is insufficient.      

At the moment, the text resolves to "increase sustainable agricultural production and productivity globally". This concept, that has been referred to as "sustainable intensification" in past versions of the text, is based on the idea that more crops can be produced on less land, and this is to be accomplished by an increase in the agrichemicals and GMOs seeds. Transnational corporations control the market of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and GMOs, and have found a new way to sell their products: through the greenwashing of the UN process. While sustainable intensification is being promoted as a method that will feed the growing population, in reality sustainable intensification will encourage the cycle of dependence on the agribusinesses that sell agrichemicals and GMOs. This will not only lead to many forms of environmental degradation, such as the loss of biodiversity, but also increase social inequity and economic instability.
In the original Zero Order Draft, the concept of “sustainable intensification” was introduced in the very first sentence of the Food Security section. Throughout the evolution of this text the concept has undergone a shift in language, however the original intent is still there. The first Co-Chairs suggested text, the issue of sustainable intensification was spread through several paragraphs. While it is positive that this term is not included in the latest version of the text, the concept is still present, which is extremely concerning.

Livestock production is addressed in its own paragraph and, overall, it has not changed much since its creation in March’s informal-informals. The paragraph focuses only in pasture land and irrigation schemes—and yes, there must be an improvement in water management, but—since this is the only paragraph allotted to livestock production, this also implies that the sustainability with regard to livestock production depends almost solely on irrigation schemes. Other major issues such as land degradation, methane gas emissions, pollution of water sources, or distribution chains are left out. Even more worrying is the omission of consumption patterns and compliance with policies directed to “sustainably enhance” production in accordance to existing—and unspecified—frameworks. A steady increase in global meat consumption is undeniably unsustainable, so decreasing consumption should be the focus of the paragraph with sustainable livestock production.

The paragraph addressing marine ecosystems is particularly hollow in content. The paragraph highlights the importance of marine ecosystems, fisheries, and aquaculture for millions of people. It does not, however, address Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, nor environmental damage to and vulnerability of many marine ecosystems. It looks almost as if the oceans were not facing any challenges and no actions were needed to address them. The lengthy Oceans section, on the other hand, addresses these issues quite comprehensively, leaving a really awkward imbalance in the Food Security section. Freshwater fishing cannot fit into the Oceans section for obvious reasons and has never been addressed in any of the drafts so far—and at this stage, probably won’t be. This is a pity given that many coastal communities in landlocked regions rely on freshwater fishing as a source of food and livelihood.

The approach to technology and information has taken many shapes over time. Endless conversations in previous meetings and suggested texts included topics of technology, science, and knowledge assessment, information sharing, know-how, innovation, research or education were diluted. The paragraph ended up promoting agricultural extension services, research, training and voluntary (as proposed by the US) knowledge sharing without guaranteeing real technology and information transfer, nor capacity building between developed and developing countries. It is also a great example of the overall efforts in The Future We Want of promoting/furthering globalization—of agricultural methods in this case—thus alienating them from traditional or small-scale farmers.

Paragraph 8 is centered around the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), an intergovernmental forum created by FAO in 1974. As it stands, countries have agreed to “reaffirm its important work and inclusive nature”. The CFS allows for a relatively large amount of civil society participation and it is good that this aspect is celebrated. At the same time, it remains questionable as to how much this participation can actually influence any UN forum. Civil society certainly hasn’t been able to make much change in the Rio+20 outcomes, even though we are technically “participating”. If it could have its way, the G77 would completely delete the last portion of the paragraph, and with good reason!  It essentially promotes foreign investment: the PRAI (Principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment) is World Bank-driven and legitimizes land grabs. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, while an improvement on other policies or lack thereof, encourage investment as well. The language is very weak, but with this content, it would be better to have no paragraph at all.

Paragraph 9 discusses food price volatility. It mentions the importance of both consequences and root causes, which is absolutely vital. However, it doesn’t describe any solutions, which is a mixed blessing – on the one hand, neoliberalism isn’t directly linked as a solution, which has been the case in past texts (price volatility was initially part of the market paragraph), but other texts have also detailed responses which specify actors and acknowledge various tiers to which food price volatility is linked.

It’s certainly a cohesive text–past versions have been full of contrasts, with blaming financial speculation up against discouraging unilateral trade measures–and some form of equilibrium seemed to have been reached, but it will be interesting to see what comes out of the final hours of this round of negotiations. It would be too much to expect the causes of excessive food price volatility (principally financial speculation, with biofuels playing a role as well) to be explicitly mentioned without some serious sacrifice, and even food price volatility being discussed at all is certainly not a given. Nevertheless, no culpability and no actions are specified.

Paragraph 10 discusses market and trading and, unsurprisingly, presents neoliberalism as the solution to food insecurity. It’s more polished than previous texts in the sense that the measures it wants to implement are nicely green-washed, and genuinely pretend to be for the sake of the environment and the people. While eliminating trade-distorting barriers is mentioned, it’s only described as one of a variety of approaches rather than the only approach (which was the case in previous texts). However, it’s unsatisfyingly vague–it previously referred specifically to agricultural products–and thus can be interpreted to mean virtually anything. The access of farmers or vulnerable groups to markets is present in the text, but has been shifted from this paragraph to Paragraph 2, where it is consumed by a list that does not give it any attention. The World Trade Organization (WTO), along with member States, is (weakly) mentioned in regard to these approaches, while the Doha Agriculture Mandate (which calls for further liberalization of markets through, among other things, the reduction of subsidies and tariffs) isn’t mentioned at all. Neither is the Agriculture Mandate Information System (AMIS), a global system for information-sharing that was created as a response to the 2007 food crisis and was initiated that by the G20 (which, incidentally, includes countries who profit from food speculation and biofuels).

Overall, this paragraph is merely ordinary. Of course it’s disappointing that the same flawed approach is still being pushed, but it’s not surprising. Although it doesn’t consider alternatives or impacts, the language is also somewhat weak: so it’s not great, but nowhere near as bad as it could be either.

In general, the latest Co-Chairs text was shorter, as well as more cohesive and without as many immediately apparent contradictions as in the earlier versions. Although not near satisfactory, it has been the most comprehensive draft so far addressing the widest range of topics and including key concepts like seeds, traditional knowledge, land tenure, and mentioning “structural causes” of food price volatility. However, there were again, important issues that were left out completely such as the importance of local food systems, soils and nutrients, and consumption and production patterns. Other issues present in previous drafts were now taken out or substantially diluted like subsidies, gender equality, and the entire fisheries section. Most importantly the mention of any actions in the context of poverty eradication was also deleted. Besides properly dealing with these issues, some improvements could be made in regards to the stressing interrelatedness of issues, and addressing “equity” in paragraph two.

Overall, this has been the main debate over the last couple of days: weak language over strong language:  “commit to” vs. “stress the need to”,  “call on” vs. “invite”. The EU wants action and targets while the G77 continues to stress that they cannot “commit” to these actions if they do not have the means of implementation. The US continues to water things down. Unfortunately, it looks as if it is just going to be a word game from here on. While they spend hours discussing the title for the section there is “no time” to propose any new ideas, no space to include any of the essential points that might actually lead to an equitable, sustainable food system. 

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