Negotiating the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition: our concerns and proposals

(Rome) On 29 January 2020, at the Global Council for Food Security (CFS) in Rome, an official meeting, to discuss and negotiate the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition, was held. The meeting was mainly attended by governments, with the participation of UN agencies (FAO, IFAD, WHO, OHCHR and many others), as well as social movements and civil society organizations and other actors.

This process of negotiation for new public policy guidelines needs to offer solutions on how to transform the current food system which created hunger and all forms of malnutrition, in order to provide nutritious food for all. This topic is of interest for FAO and CFS for many years. In the CFS, the process for the guidelines started officially with the publication of a report, by the High Panel of Experts, in 2017. It was followed by the first open meeting in January 2019. This year, the sessions of negotiation will accelerate and will conclude in July.

La Via Campesina is actively involved in the process, through the Civil Society Mechanism of the CFS and is basing its contribution through a collective internal process and also together with various allied organizations.

The key arguments of LVC in this process include:

  1. The focus on the marginalized people is essential and has to include the smallholders, peasants farmers, indigenous peoples, fishers, pastoralists, food and agriculture workers and landless; in that sense, a multi-stakeholder must not take away the centrality of the people affected by hunger and malnutrition in the food systems;
  2. The human rights approach; the UN Declaration for the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural areas (UNDROP) is a crucial instrument which needs to inform the debate on food systems and nutrition; generally, the Human Rights Foundation and their relation to food systems and nutrition need to be reaffirmed and clearly described as a commitment of the new guidelines;
  3. The systemic approach, one that explores the interconnections between ecology, food, and human health, is fundamental;
  4. Related to governance – governments need to be given a strong and clear role and responsibilities for use and implementation of the guidelines;
  5. New technologies are very problematic and must be avoided (such as fortification – bio/micro, lab-grown meats, gene editing); they often imply patents and data ownership that go against peasants rights and the right to food;
  6. The root causes of hunger and malnutrition have to be clearly spelt out: capitalist global trade practices, market concentration, dumping, embargos, financialization of the food market, disproportionate subsidizing from public funding for the industrial and/ or food production and the lack of support for the small scale agroecological food production;
  7. There has to be made a clear differentiation between the models of production – the industrial model versus the small scale agroecological peasant model – as one is the problem and the other is the solution; overall, the solutions presented are market-driven rather than human rights driven; the failure to recognize the problem that generated malnutrition is reflected in the document. Agroecology must be widely reflected in the document as the model for providing nutrition for all;

Based on these considerations, the most important points made by La Via Campesina in the debate yesterday included:

“Who will the future food system serve? The answer to this question will determine the priorities highlighted in the guidelines.

Governance of food systems should be anchored in human rights, in particular, the UN Declaration on the Right of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, the Rights of Indigenous People and the Right to Food. Without these anchors, the current food system cannot be reformed to deliver the end of hunger and malnutrition.

Food systems cannot continue to be reshaped to serve private profits, nor can they be reshaped with a pure focus on productivity alone. Food systems should serve the public interest. To ensure this there is a need for conflict of interest safeguards as mentioned by previous speakers. The section needs to clearly spell out the primary role of the government as the duty bearer in implementing the Guidelines.

We are alarmed by the commitment to the failing current agro-industrial food system in this document. It continues to trust in technology and markets to solve the current crisis of hunger and malnutrition throughout the world. This is not acceptable. The world must transition to agroecology – with an ecologically diverse, healthy, locally produced and culturally appropriate food system.

In order to move to a sustainable food system that delivers nutrition and ends hunger, the guidelines must concretely identify the reasons for the lack of access to sustainable diets. These include low wages, access to natural resources, absence of social protections, the financialisation of agriculture, global trade practices and gender imbalances.

Peoples centered nutrition knowledge can only exist when communities are not only end receivers of information but participants in the process as a source of nutrition knowledge. People have the right to determine their own food systems, the right to participate in decision-making processes on food and agriculture policy. These are all components of the right to food sovereignty, which is recognized by many countries and international instruments.

While we are pleased generally with having women included in the document as a distinct section, the transversal women’s rights perspective still needs to be developed. Also, there are missing elements such as, the power relations and gender violence in causing malnutrition, as well as measures towards transforming gender relations, which are a fundamental necessity.

The key point here is the need to include safeguards that guarantee that the impact of humanitarian aid will not affect the local population and small scale food producers – for example, the provision of food and water, must never be used to undermine the resilience, the culture and ultimately the human rights of local communities, especially in situations of wars and occupations. We also would like to remind that in Paragraph 16.1 from the Right to Food Guidelines, it is agreed food should never be used as a means of political and economic pressure.

In addition, we support the numerous voices to include references to the UN Decade for Family Farming.

We believe that the states must promote sustainable production models with the capacity to transform the inequities, inequalities and externalities generated within current agrifood systems. Therefore, the links with the agroecology must be strengthened.

Under the agro-ecological approach, producers, peasants and indigenous people have developed technologies adapted to their territories, transcending the primary level of production and generating a series of innovations. The recognition of the small food producers’ contribution to the food system, by providing nutritious, affordable and culturally appropriate food is essential to be reflected in this document.

Finally, we echo the concerns of some of the participants on biofortification as we continue to believe that it doesn’t belong in this document. The precautionary principle and human rights must prevail in front of technologies that imply patents and risks which are insufficiently assessed. If we build a genuinely sustainable food system, biofortification is not necessary.”

The delegation of La Via Campesina was composed by Hashim Bin Rashid (Pakistan), Ramona Duminicioiu (Romania) and Nettie Wiebe (Canada).


The official page of the process of negotiation:

The Draft 1 under discussion: EN | FR | SP | AR | CH | RU