The UN Food Systems Summit was set out to review food systems to see if they ensure that the goal well defined by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, is achieved: “Build a world in which healthy and nutritious food is available and affordable for everyone, everywhere. But this should not be at the expense of nature.”
The Summit brought together ideas from leaders, businessmen, academics, producers, consumers, and environmentalists; however, not from small farmers or representatives of the hungry peoples. It was held in the context of the 76th UN General Assembly, last September 2021. The contributions of the participants to this summit were summarized in five proposals-objectives (See the five proposals of the summit).
The first objective/response is to guarantee access to healthy and nutritious food for all 811 million people who suffer from hunger. “The most vulnerable suffer the most, not because food is scarce (the world produces enough to feed all people), but because of political and logistical factors that make it too expensive or difficult to obtain,”
said a report presented by the Program of the United Nations for Development (UNDP).
The second objective/response is to adopt sustainable consumption patterns for the 7,800 million inhabitants of the planet who suffer from malnutrition and the 1.9 billion who are overweight. For this reason, the World Health Organization (WHO) wants to promote a coalition between States, the private sector, and multilateral entities to guarantee the sustainable production of nutritious foods that ensure healthy diets, which implies improving transportation, storage, distribution and educate consumer families with “food values.” It should be remembered that each year more than 900 million tons of food are thrown into landfills around the world.
The third objective/proposal is to promote a respectful production of nature, based on studies and debates on the environmental and climate impact of agriculture, livestock, and fishing activity. Guterres has therefore called for “ending the war with the planet” and recalled the role of food systems in global warming: they produce a third of greenhouse gas emissions and are responsible for 80% of loss of biodiversity.
The fourth objective/proposal is the promotion of equitable livelihoods in which, according to Guterres, include the defense of agricultural producers and transport and distribution workers, in particular those who have worked during this time of the pandemic carrying food to markets and homes. “These men and women have been the forgotten heroes of the last 18 months. Too often, they are underpaid workers, even exploited, and to change this situation it is necessary to re-evaluate the approach of agricultural subsidies and employment support for these workers,” said the Secretary General.
Studies by UN agencies indicate that of the 540,000 million dollars that go into agricultural subsidies each year, 87% distort prices and promote practices that are harmful to the environment, and mainly benefit large producers, at the expense of small farmers.
And this when these small farmers who work on average less than two hectares produce a third of the food consumed worldwide, and up to 80% in regions of Africa and Asia.
The fifth objective/proposal is then the creation of resilience in the face of vulnerabilities that range from natural disasters such as floods and prolonged droughts to the persistence of pests such as African locusts and the Covid-19 crisis. In addition, there are the armed conflicts that cause the displacement of farmers and herders in areas of chronic poverty, and the sharp ups and downs in food prices. “Food systems have incredible power to end hunger, build healthier lives and sustain our beautiful planet,” said Agnes Kalibata, special envoy of the Secretary General for the Summit on Food Systems, in summary.
However, for two years, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, has been the main promoter of this summit. During this time, in 148 countries and all over the world more than 600 meetings have been held, with the participation of some 45,000 people to update proposals aimed at sustainable food systems. So, what to say in front of this explosion of agreements?
The newspaper El Salto writes: “Food prices have risen around the world by 40% during the last year” [read the time of the pandemic]. And he explains that on the African continent, one in five people is in a situation of food insecurity.” In The New Humanitarian it is stated that: “They demand sex in exchange for food from women in Burkina Faso.”
Reading these texts, by association of ideas, one goes back to the essay El hambre (Anagrama, 2015), by the Argentine journalist Martín Caparrós, where he explains what the Chicago Stock Exchange is.
“Chicago is no longer the place where everything is bought and sold, but it is still the one that sets the prices that will later be paid and charged all over the world. The prices that will define who wins and who loses, who eats and who does not eat” (p. 287). “Before it was a market for producers and consumers, and now it has become a place for financial gambling & speculation” (p. 288).
“The history of food took an ominous turn in 1991 (…). It was the year that Goldman Sachs decided that our daily bread could be an excellent investment” (p. 289). So, “Food became an investment, like oil, gold, silver or any other action. The higher the price, the better the investment. The better the investment, the more expensive the food. And those who cannot pay the price must pay it with hunger” (p. 290).
There are no clearer quotations and, of course, as usual, the UN analyzes the problems well, makes optimal diagnoses and draws valid principles to solve the problems. However, it does not risk going to the bottom of the spring, where the earth has turned into a putrid sludge that infects the water that is then drawn, distributed and drunk. So, what’s the use of talking?
Jean Paul Pezzi