Credit: Deccan Development Society

Prioritising Agroecology and Challenging Corporate Technology-Led Approaches in the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit and Beyond

Indigenous Lepcha farmers in Sikkim, India discuss the cultural and ecological importance of traditional seeds in the context of agroecology.

In December 2019, Ms. Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), was appointed as the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.  Over the last two months, a range of actors[i] have voiced their concerns over this appointment, that has been criticized for giving weight to a corporate-led, industrial and productivist development model, and reinforcing the highly problematic status quo of the current unsustainable food systems.

As scholars committed to approaches to food systems that put the well-being of people and nature at the centre of our work (e.g. food sovereignty, agroecology and rights-based approaches), we wish to add our voice to theirs, and condemn the way in which the UN Food Systems Summit is currently being prepared.

There is growing evidence of the failings of a ‘green revolution’ style of agricultural development[ii], which promotes high external input and high-tech-driven agriculture as the primary answer to the climate, biodiversity, nutritional and livelihood crises. This model entrenches corporate control of the food we eat and the way we produce it, where profit becomes the driving force behind food system interventions and where elite corporate actors wield disproportionate power over how our food system is developed. Our research partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America have experienced first-hand the deleterious impacts of this model of development, and we have worked with them to document its detrimental effects on family farming and the sustainable food systems in their regions. This model is ‘locked in’ because those with a vested interest in maintaining its dominance, such as AGRA, have succeeded in capturing and maintaining control over key spaces of decision-making.

Maria Noel Salgado, a peasant farmer from MAELA (Agroecological Movement of Latin America), speaks at the FAO International Symposium on Agroecology in September 2014.

At the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), we believe in the importance of recognising and protecting the rights, ingenuity and agency of food producers. We advocate for appropriate technologies and for shifts in governance that are necessary to address the complex and intersecting crises affecting all regions of the world[iii].

In our opinion, special envoys should not be tied to corporate agri-food interests but should place the diverse views and perspectives of small-scale food producers and those affected by food insecurity at the front and centre. We therefore call on Ms. Kalibata, should she remain in this appointment, to conduct participatory and transparent consultations with all actors in the food system, placing a strong emphasis on women, youth, small-scale farmers, pastoralists, Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities, lowered castes, agricultural workers and other rural constituencies who are the bearers of alternative, resilient and sustainable food systems. The Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) of the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) provides a significant global forum that brings together representatives of many of these constituencies and should be consulted with in priority.

Moreover, we call on all participants to the UN Food Systems Summit to respect and give visibility to the existing international agreements and policy frameworks that highlight the contributions and uphold the rights of small-scale food producers, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants; the various policy recommendations of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security; and the range of publications from the agroecology process  over the last five years within the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Farmer in Sélingué, Mali watering agroecological gardens.

Finally, we demand that measures be put in place to avoid corporate capture of this important Summit, and denounce the involvement of the World Economic Forum in shaping the future of our food system. The UN Food Systems Summit needs to be a space for creative, bottom-up solutions, grounded in bio-culturally diverse agroecology, the right to food and gender transformative approaches. Only from this perspective, rooted in a commitment to reversing environmental decline, supporting livelihoods and confronting all forms of inequity, will the summit be able to make a useful contribution to the long-term and difficult work ahead.

Prepared by (in alphabetical order): Colin Anderson, Josh Brem-Wilson, Priscilla Claeys, Csilla Kiss, Stefanie Lemke, Georgina McAllister, Jessica Milgroom, Nina I. Moeller, Patrick Mulvany, Michel Pimbert, Jasber Singh, Dee Woods from the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR)

Farmers and researchers from Switzerland, France, Italy and the UK discuss agroecology, seeds and research in a meeting in Southern France in 2014.

[i] – See the following:

[ii] – See the following:



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