By Clara de Iturbe
The preceding day felt way too long and the tension in the air you felt when entering the ECOSOC room the morning after said a lot about what was coming next. Lengthy discussions of the Food Security thematic area—whose title has not yet been agreed upon—demonstrated that the North and the South have very specific agendas and that they are not ready to cooperate in certain areas yet. This was obviously predictable and it somehow kept the negotiations real. Israel and its last-minute additions remained obscure to the rest of the people present in the room, since they were yet to be analyzed by the other negotiating parties. These paragraphs will add to the many more that are to be considered, reconsidered and over considered in the next stages of the negotiation.
The rush I was feeling while being surrounded by so much reality, however, was clouded when I stepped back and realized that some vital aspects concerning food security were missing in the discussions. The amendments and new additions by the North and the G77 were many times not only repetitive and whimsical, but also lacking. Many issues were vaguely mentioned, and some major ones were not subject to discussion because they were simply not there at all—not mentioned even by the almighty G77. For instance, neither the text nor the amendments make reference to the food crisis. This is worrying as it should be the core of any proposed text or actions. By analyzing the implications and causes of the food crisis it is possible to figure out where the flaws of the current food system are and open in-depth discussions over what has to be done to overcome it. By forgetting to mention it, they are also forgetting the existing contradiction in the fact that almost one billion people are currently food insecure while the world cereal production showed a historical peak in 2008. Moreover, this obscures the threat of clean biofuels to food prices and the huge political influence that the private sector has in this matter. The lack of reference to the food crisis undermines the importance of price stability and obscures the issue of speculation of food prices raised by the G77—which was rapidly bracketed by Australia.
On a not-so-different note, it seems like they also forgot that not everything concerning food security is about food production. Again, the overemphasis on production, or rather the extreme minimizing of food distribution and consumption patterns makes me wonder what their concept of achieving food security is, especially being clear that malnutrition is a challenge for both North and South. The only vague mention to distribution was proposed by the US yet in a context of sustainability—which is indeed important—but certainly does not address equity.
But let’s suppose for a moment that the negotiators actually cared about the sustainable production and distribution of food. If so, how can we explain that they also forgot to mention meat production—excluding fish? With the North and emerging economies increasing their meat consumption this should be a major area of debate, since this, besides being a great cause of land degradation and GHG emissions, is incredibly energy and water inefficient. Furthermore, the oxymoronic proposal of the US, EU, Norway, NZ and amongst other MDCs of encouraging a sustainable intensification of agriculture that makes charming promises of efficiency and increased yields, makes me worry that it might someday replace sustainable production. Also, only the G77 seemed to remember that this can in no ways be achieved without technology and information transfers and that, in fact, small scale farmers still supply around 70% of the world food while the oligopoly of agricultural technologies and GM seeds is held by only a handful of multinational corporations.
In the document, the US eagerly highlights the importance of agriculture for the Green Economy, but they prefer to forget the G77 appeals to actions at local and national levels. This will continue to create tensions between the countries with acute free-market approaches like the US, New Zealand, Canada, or Australia.
As these issues were being forgotten, many things were going on in the room. Delegations were very vocal: The right to food to which the US, the EU and other MDCs politely opposed; Mexico’s push for protecting traditional farming methods made the EU very uncomfortable; and Japan, surprisingly advocated for a more inclusive and localized food production. So, not all is looking so bad. Regardless of the EU effort to bracket any mention of indigenous farmers–as they consider it an ‘unclear concept’–one vastly addressed point of agreement was gender equality and the integration of other stakeholders in the process. The importance of land tenure was surprisingly mentioned too by an MDC.
I was not expecting that more comprehensive and ‘radical’ concepts like Food Sovereignty be mentioned, but it was very disappointing to find that the core aspects of the food crisis and the underlying inequity in the systems of production, distribution and consumption were not considered. So, I guess this blog entry was about what they forgot to mention, but not only that. It was about the good, bad and the ugly; about what is attainable, and politically unlikely; and about the issues that are so important that they simply prefer to ignore.