Statement of the People’s Autonomous Response to the UN Food Systems Summit+2
The UN Food Systems Summit+2 will further advance industrial, corporate-driven food systems
- Overcoming the global crisis of hunger and malnutrition requires urgent and coordinated actions that respond to the needs, rights and demands of those most affected.
- The UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has not only overlooked these rights and demands and the structural causes of the crises but has also disguised “business as usual” – the consolidation of corporate, industrial food systems – as transformative action.
- The UNFSS+2 Stocktaking Moment is poised to repeat the failures of the Summit itself, further opening the door of the UN to even greater influence from companies and their networks, without a corporate accountability framework in place.
- The heart of the controversy around the UNFSS lies in the clash between the perpetuation of corporate-driven industrial food systems and the imperative for a human rights-based, agroecological food system transformation towards food sovereignty.
- Confronting UNFSS+2, social movements, Indigenous peoples and civil society organizations from across the world express once again their deep concerns about the entrenchment of corporate power in the United Nations, raise their demands for real food systems change, and call for a strengthened democratic multilateralism within the UN.
The UNFSS +2 Stocktaking
Scheduled for 24-26 July in Rome, the UN FSS +2 Stocktaking Moment is an event of the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG), hosted by Italy and organized in collaboration with the Rome-based UN agencies. This gathering will be attended by various prominent figures including from UN leadership, several heads of state, and other high-level representatives of Member States. The UNFSS+2 Stocktaking Moment is poised to repeat the failures of the FSS itself, further advancing industrial food systems, and opening the door of the UN to even greater influence by large private companies and their networks, without a corporate accountability framework in place.
The UNFSS+2 is designed to ignore the need for deep structural transformations in our food systems, emphasizing instead a model that prioritizes profit-making over public interest. Over the past three years, multiple groups – social movements, Indigenous Peoples, youth, women and gender diverse people – have offered concrete proposals and demands for the advancement of agroecology, food sovereignty, biodiversity, gender justice and diversity, youth agency, climate justice, economic and social justice in food systems.
These proposals have consistently been disregarded, a pattern that has continued in 2021 and heightened in 2023. This is particularly concerning given the skyrocketing levels of hunger and malnutrition, increasing inequalities, and the intertwined existential crises that humanity and the planet face. Against this backdrop, civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations once again voice their concerns through this public statement.
A critical retrospective on the Food Systems Summit
Two years ago, the UNFSS faced an unprecedented countermobilization with more than 9.000 participants challenging the Pre-Summit in July 2021. Groups in all regions testified to the actions they are taking on the ground to transform food provisioning. A huge number of actors from civil society, small-scale food producers’ and workers’ organizations, Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, governments, academia, UN, as well as experienced individuals from inside and outside the Summit expressed strong reservations about its structure, political orientation and organizing process which, from the beginning, undermined the achievements in democratic multilateralism made with the reformed UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
The Political declaration addressed to the UNFSS in September 2021, was endorsed by more than 700 international and national organizations, and more than 300 academics and activists. The key concerns of the countermobilization were also echoed through hundreds of academic papers, publications on social media and mentions in media outlets across the world such as the BBC, Al Jazeera, Italian state TV Rai, Le Monde, El País, The Guardian, Deutsche Welle, etc.
However, the “People’s Summit” (as the organisers called it) and the convoluted, corporate-centric processes leading up to it, disappointed the very people it was supposed to serve. The Summit failed to address the most important drivers of the growing world hunger and climate crises, especially the COVID-19 pandemic, industrial agriculture, and corporate concentration in food systems.
With its multistakeholderism approach, the Summit also failed Member States and multilateralism at large. While a group of UN senior officials, some governments, especially from OECD countries, together with several corporate networks, philanthropies and aligned corporate-friendly academics and NGOs wielded strong influence on the Summit process and content, a great number of Member States, especially from the Global South, were marginalized.
Crucially, the Summit failed human rights. Critiques of the weak human rights grounding of the Summit were expressed eloquently and frequently by many actors from inside and outside the Summit but were consistently ignored. In parallel, the Summit undermined the hard-fought achievements of a more democratic global food governance, such as the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and its science-policy interface, the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE).
Two years later: no change in direction
Following the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021, important steps were taken to ensure its follow-up, even though the Summit’s Plan of Action was only a UN Secretary- General Statement which had not been negotiated nor approved by an intergovernmental process.
Despite explicit promises by the UN Deputy Secretary-General before the Summit that no new structures would be created, a new UN Food Systems Coordination Hub was established, hosted by FAO and jointly led by the UN Deputy Secretary-General and the heads of the FAO, WFP,IFAD, WHO and UNEP. The new structure is equipped with a biennial budget of USD 14 million, more than double the budget of the CFS.
Notably, the architecture of the Coordination Hub does not include national governments in its governance structure. It includes a new Scientific Policy Interface, as well as a new hand-picked Stakeholder Engagement and Networking Advisory (SENA) Group, which appears to duplicate the functions of the CFS and HLPE. However, it fails to respect the right of civil society to autonomous self-organization and adopts a biased agenda towards reinforcing the corporate-friendly approaches of the Food Systems Summit, where discussions on regulation or limitations on corporate expansion and concentration are conspicuously absent.
The key objective of the FSS+2 event is to address and overcome one main legitimacy deficit of the original Summit: the fact that it was not held as an intergovernmental Summit, as the UN Food Summits in 1996, 2002 and 2009, and hence did not conclude with an intergovernmentally agreed declaration and action plan. Member States were asked to elaborate national pathways for food system transformation in their own countries, but only some of the States were marginally involved in defining the outcomes of the Summit.
There is widespread concern that the FSS+2 will prove to be a ‘buy-in’ trap where governments will lend support to the FSS process through their high-level attendance and eager to display their national food system strategies. This will occur regardless of the extent to which their national pathways have been developed through inclusive consultations, in which direction they head, or whether they have been implemented at all.
The FSS+2 does not foresee an intergovernmentally agreed outcome and overlooks the urgent need for globally concerted responses to systemic food crises. Instead, the event aims to create the illusion of widespread governmental support, leading to a de-facto and ex-post-legitimation of the UNFSS process, thereby legitimizing its double structures and perpetuating its corporate-driven food systems agenda.
Recent analyses have assessed the FSS+2 within a broader context of growing corporate influence over global food governance, as is evident in FAO’s unprecedented Open-Door Policy for the corporate sector, the World Food Forum, the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, and a generalized approach of multistakeholderism and controlled participation.
Real food systems change for people and the planet is urgent and possible
In 2022, around 258 million people faced acute food insecurity, up from 193 million people in 2021 and 155 million people in 2020. This ongoing and systemic crisis is a product of policy failures and omissions, and a result of pursuing a problematic path that leads to the exacerbation of inequalities and dependencies, and spillover effects aggravating the global debt and climate crises.
The heart of the controversy lies in the clash between the perpetuation of corporate-driven industrial food systems and the imperative of a human rights-based, agroecological food system transformation towards food sovereignty.
In these times of multiple and intertwined crises, it is more urgent than ever that governments and the UN listen to the voices of the most affected constituencies, change direction, and support their demands and efforts for real food systems transformation, based on respect for all human rights and care for people and planet, and advancing agroecology, food sovereignty, biodiversity, gender justice and diversity, youth agency, climate justice, economic and social justice, in all dimensions of food systems.