Via Campesina denounces UN Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit for diminishing peasants and their rights

In December 2019, it was officially announced that the UN Headquarters in New York will host a Food Systems Summit in 2021. The Summit aims to maximize the benefits of a food systems approach across the entire 2030 Agenda, meet the challenges of climate change, make food systems inclusive, and support sustainable peace.

Since the announcement, many peasant organizations, civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have expressed concern on the lack of transparency in the process leading to the Summit, including the appointment of Ms. Agnes Kalibata, the current President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), as UN Special Envoy for the Summit. It is further apparent that the process is following through without the involvement of all concerned UN member states.

After meeting Ms. Kalibata during the IFAD Farmers’ Forum (FAFO 2020), we remain deeply concerned regarding the legitimacy and process of the 2021 Food Systems Summit and about the approach of the UN Special Envoy.

Although we recognize and appreciate the UN Special Envoy’s presence in the FAFO to hear the concerns of small-scale food producers, we regret to report that several red flags were raised in the session.

First of all, we were shocked by her lack of awareness of the political mandate and significance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) that was promoted by LVC and small-scale producers’ organizations and negotiated by LVC and small-scale producers’ organizations over the course of nearly two decades and adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2018.

La Via Campesina delegate Jordan Treakle from the National Family Farm Coalition, representing North America, asked Ms. Kalibata “How will the World Food System Summit assure that UNDROP, and its political mandate promoting a rights-based approach, be integral to the Summit’s focus and outcomes?” Ms. Kalibata’s response was “it’s an interesting question… Peasant? What is a peasant? What is peasant rights? Because I don’t understand what that means to be honest with you.”

The UN Special Envoy doubled down on this statement later in the discussion, affirming that she does not recognize “peasants” as a constituency, despite the many decades of LVC and allies advocating for the rights of food producers (farmers, fisherfolks, pastoralists, and food workers) under this banner.

“I completely appreciate what you do and I’m going to make sure that gets heard. I just wanted to underscore (…) what I said earlier: the word that was used is not how I look at farmers ( …) Farmers are farmers, it’s a business for us, we don’t want charity, we don’t want to be pitied, we don’t want anything like that. We see ourselves as business people. So I’m sorry if the word means something else to you, to me it means something that I grew up not appreciating (…)”- said she.

Ms Kalibata also affirmed she “is not working for the UN”, raising further our concerns about her impartiality, and willingness to separate her agribusiness background from this UN Special Envoy role.

Several participants reacted to Ms Kalibata’s discourse. Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, said “We are urgently requesting for a strong commitment to transparency by those involved in the Summit planning. And most critically, we call on Rome-based Agencies, member states, and the Special Envoy, to ensure that Civil Society Organizations and peasants have the possibility to be fully and equally involved in all stages of the organization of the Summit and have their voice heard.”

The role of the UN Special Envoy requires a neutral and unbiased approach to the United Nations system, and existing UN processes such as the Committee on World Food Security, that will work to build bridges and consensus across a range of food system constituencies to ensure that the voices of food producers are heard and respected. The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and FAO should be leading the process towards the Food Systems Summit due to their mandate of ending hunger and malnutrition.

Although the Special Envoy expressed several times during the meeting promises of inclusiveness and underlined that she has just started her mission, the process of organizing the Summit and the fact that right holders and constituencies will have a seat at the table, remains unclear.

Therefore, we reiterate our call to ensure that the civil society and, in particular, the peasants have a clear, equal and influential role in shaping all phases of the Food Systems Summit.

As Via Campesina, we urge a Food Systems Summit which is focused on peasants and other small-scale food producers and to their local and territorial markets that provide the 80% of the food production in the world. Instead of representing the interests of the corporate sector which is aggravating the food systems crisis.  Given the fact that Mrs Kalibata is clearly representing corporate sector interests, we demand the UN to revoke Mrs. Kalibata’s appointment and appoint a special envoy who indeed represents the needs and rights of peasants and other small scale food producers and those who are most affected by hunger.

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