The CFS policy recommendations on Connecting Smallholders to Markets

An important step for increasing peasant family farmer recognition in the global governance of food and agriculture

By Thomas Patriota

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Photo credit:  Kamran Ali

By Thomas Patriota

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

Today we inaugurate the fourth and last thematic cluster on “Emerging Issues at the CFS: How are they being addressed?”.  Thomas Patriota comments on policy recommendations adopted at the last CFS: Connecting Smallholders to Markets (CSTM). Reviewing the discussions that lead to this instrument, he stresses that the CSTM represent an important discursive affirmation of the primary role of smallholders in agricultural investment and food security. He further argues that the adoption of the CSTM recommendations is a step forward in recognizing peasant family farming within global food governance.

This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com

Increasing recognition of the central role of smallholders in food security and nutrition in the CFS

The policy recommendations on Connecting Smallholders to Markets (CSTM) adopted at the CFS 43 session last October are an important new addition to the gradual accumulation of policy dialogue and consensus-building on measures for the strengthening of peasant family farming[1] that can be traced back to the 37th CFS session in 2011 – two years after the Committee’s reform.

That session’s policy roundtable on ‘How to Increase Food Security and Smallholder-Sensitive Investment in Agriculture’ saw the terms of multilateral policy debate on this issue crucially shifted (McKeon, 2015). The relative strength of the  discursive affirmations enshrined in the CFS 37 final report regarding the primary role of smallholders in both agricultural investment and food security gradually intensified in the following years. This can be partly attributed to the strong evidence and argumentative basis provided by the HLPE report that was commissioned during that session and from which would emerge the policy recommendations on ‘Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security and Nutrition’, endorsed at the CFS 40 session in 2013.

These in turn eventually yielded the High Level Forum on Connecting Smallholders to Markets, held in 2015, for which a Background Document previously prepared by a technical task team comprising members of the three Rome-based UN agencies plus the Civil Society and Private Sector Mechanisms also contributed to deepening the quality of policy debate. The resulting CSTM recommendations adopted in July of the following year and their endorsement three months later at CFS 43 are the latest developments in this succession of debates and policy documents.

Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security and Connecting Smallholders to Markets

Whereas the first set of policy recommendations is framed with regards to investment by and for smallholders, and the second on strengthening smallholders’ access to markets, both documents cover a considerably wide range of interconnected policies, and how these relate to the roles of both state and private actors. But they also bring in a narrative that posits a greater degree of autonomy for smallholders both politically, with regards to the state (through the promotion of greater organizational strength for smallholders and more bottom-up direct participation of organizations in policy formulation and implementation) as well as economically, particularly in their interaction with larger and more vertically integrated transnational private actors (with which diverse forms of contract farming are only seen as potential opportunities for smallholders if and when properly regulated, so as to ensure a level-playing field in both contract negotiation and enforcement).

The CSTM policy recommendations in particular give special importance to ‘institutional procurement’ programs, reflecting an increasing consensus on the benefits for both consumers and small-scale food producers of using the structured demand of state institutions (schools, hospitals, social protection programs) to directly purchase food from smallholders. This increasing consensus on public procurement programs is not only reflected in CFS policy guidelines, but also in reports, programs and activities undertaken by FAO, IFAD, and WFP, as well as in other branches of the UN system – such as the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, through its Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

‘Soft’ CFS policy recommendations, ‘hard’ WTO restrictions, and potential contributions of FAO in bridging the gap

Despite this growing recognition, public procurement and other forms of state support to smallholders in developing countries are considerably restricted by existing multilateral trade rules, as defined by the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and in particular its provisions on Public Stockholding for Food Security – an issue that has come to the fore since the Bali Ministerial Conference in 2013. Indeed, although WTO rules in principle allow developing states to purchase from their country’s family farmers to constitute national food security stocks, severe restrictions apply regarding any form of price support given to these farmers by the purchasing public institutions[2].

Part of the reason for these restrictions can be linked to the absence of anything remotely close to the kind of deepened qualified policy debate and multi-stakeholder representation that have yielded the above-mentioned policy recommendations in the CFS, when it comes to discussing the role of ‘low-income or resource-poor producers’ – as they are referred to in WTO parlance – in the much more restricted and less representative environment of international agricultural trade negotiations. Nevertheless, if smallholders are to benefit from national tailor-made policies, developing country states of all sizes should be allowed to implement such enabling policies without having to fear retaliation for circumventing international trade rules. It is with this rationale that, following a proposal originally emanating from Brazil’s Ministry of Agrarian Development, the G20 group of developing nations in the WTO proposed changes to the existing AoA (reflected in the last circulated draft proposal for a new agreement dating back to 2008), which, if adopted, would no longer consider public purchase for food stocks at subsidized prices to be ‘trade-distorting’ provided these are purchased from ‘low-income or resource-poor producers’ (Cedro, 2011)[3].

These and other multilateral discursive and negotiating battlegrounds for greater policy space to support peasant family farmers of the Global South, who also represent most of the world’s food insecure, include current efforts to obtain greater respect, protection and fulfillment of their own Human Rights as well as recently approved measures that identify them as part of the solution to bringing about economic, social and environmental Sustainable Development. In this context, some of the FAO’s initiatives emanating from the global civil society-led campaign and subsequent celebrations of the UN International Year on Family Farming – IYFF 2014 also represent decisive – if still initial – steps forward. These include, among others, the internationally agreed FAO definition on Family Farming, which officially establishes both family management and predominance of family labor as two key criteria, as well as the Committee on Agriculture’s 24th session in which member states officially recognized the need to both ‘develop and implement specific policies’ as well as to adopt ‘common criteria for achieving definitions and typologies of family farming’ across all regions of the world.

Definitions, common criteria and indicators for SDG 2.3 monitoring: bases for better international coordination on policies that support family farmers

The SDG monitoring process represents a significant opportunity for generating greater policy coherence across the international governance system related to smallholders, given the fact that the two agreed indicators for SDG 2.3 (which aims to ‘double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers’ by 2030) need to be able to refer to commonly agreed criteria on who these producers are and who they are not, in order to generate comparable data across developing and developed countries.

In an international food system still largely dominated by transnational corporations and governments of the Global North, and in which different multilateral negotiation forums tend to function as separate and often disconnected entities, social movements, academics, governments and other actors from the Global South and North should take advantage not only of the growing political recognition of producer organizations and increasing evidence on the manifold benefits of public policy support to small-scale farming worldwide (as provided by the CFS), but also draw on the significant work conducted by FAO on gathering and systematizing data and knowledge on family farming worldwide (as produced by the IYFF-related agenda[4]) in order to step up efforts towards greater convergence between initiatives that aim to strengthen those who are alternately referred to as peasants (HRC), low-income or resource-poor producers (WTO), smallholders (CFS), small-scale food producers (SDGs) or family farmers (FAO).

Indeed, the capacity of national governments to implement a comprehensive set of intersectoral measures to support peasant family farming, as prescribed by the relevant CFS policy recommendations that these same governments have officially endorsed, ultimately also depends on a better integrated, more coherent and more equitable international governance regime that respects and reflects the primary role played by smallholders in the world’s food systems.

 

linkedin-profile-pictureThomas Patriota is a PhD Candidate at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, UK, funded by a scholarship from CAPES, Brazil. He previously worked in the Brazilian Government, including two years in the Ministry of Agrarian Development’s (MDA) International Department. Publications include: Public policies for the strengthening of family farming in the Global South (Policy in Focus special edition, co-edited with Francesco Pierri and Michael MacLennan, IPC-IG/UNDP, 2015)  ‘Brazil’s cooperation in African agricultural development and food security’ (with Francesco Pierri, in Cheru, Modi, Agricultural Development and Food Security in Africa: the impact of Chinese, Indian and Brazilian Investments, Zed Books, 2013), and Le Brésil, un partenaire de l’Afrique qui s’affirme. Les relations Brésil-Afrique durant les gouvernements Lula (2003-2010) (IFRI, 2011). His current doctoral research focuses on comparatively examining peasant family farmer organisations’ influence on trade and family farmer registry policies through their participation in policy deliberations at the regional level in South America (MERCOSUR) and West Africa (ECOWAS).

References

Cedro, Rafael, 2011, Desenvolvimento Rural e a OMC. A Experiência do Brasil, Curitiba: Juruá Editora.

McKeon, Nora, 2015, Food Security Governance. Empowering Communities, regulating corporations, New York: Routledge.

[1] FAO’s definition of ‘Family Farming’ is the main reference for the ‘Peasant Family Farming’ umbrella-term used here to designate a wide-ranging and extremely diverse sector that is nevertheless differentiated from larger more capitalized agricultural sectors through the main criterion of its ‘predominant reliance on family labour’ (FAO, 2013). The terms ‘family farmers’, ‘smallholders’, ‘small-scale food producers’, and ‘peasants’ are used here interchangeably.

[2] Under current WTO rules, the difference between state purchase price and market price is accounted for in the ‘Aggregate Measurement of Support’ – AMS calculations that fall under the ‘amber box’ – i.e., these amounts are considered ‘trade-distorting’ subsidies that should be eventually reduced and eliminated.

[3] The issue of Public Stockholding for Food Security is still under discussion at the WTO, and India – backed by the G33 – has been the main country defending the right of developing countries to maintain public stocks for food security at ongoing negotiations. Debates in international trade negotiations, however, tend to be strongly skewed in favor of the interests of larger transnational corporate actors and of developed country delegations.

[4] Examples include a series of regional Working Papers, work conducted by an International Working Group on Family Farming – IWG-FF (in partnership with IFAD and CIRAD) to establish common criteria and typologies at national and regional levels, and the Family Farming Knowledge Platform.

Reflections on an epistemic road block in the CFS

by Philip McMichael

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

Moving forward with the third the thematic cluster: “CFS: Multi-stakeholder or multi-actor? And does it matter?”  Philip McMichael presents a review of how different actors in the CFS understand key terms and key issues. He also reflects on the implications of this for the future of the CFS.

This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com

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As a member of the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) technical support team in the preparation for the debate over a CFS version of Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems in 2014 and 2015, it became clear that this process involved some measure of windmill tilting. It revealed the substantial obstacles faced by the CSM in ensuring legal regulation of investment in land deals. Worse, CSM representations along these lines at the closing of this debate in October 2015 were dismissed by the then CFS Chair. But the debate also revealed substantial misunderstanding of the difference between small farming and industrial agriculture.

There was a clear epistemic standoff between the CSM and Private Sector Mechanism (PSM), which is not about scale preference, but really a distinction between farming culture and ‘agriculture without farmers,’ in the words of Vía Campesina. This distinction includes the claim made by the CSM on behalf of small producers for the ‘right to produce’ (as opposed simply to the ‘right to food’).

Small-producers produce about 50 per cent of the world’s food, yet account for about 50 per cent of the world’s hungry (ETC 2009). Further, they have experienced the dismantling of infrastructural supports and exposure to food dumping in their national markets in recent decades, as governments have come to serve markets instead of their citizens. Within this neoliberal milieu, UN/FAO member states and their private sector allies recast small producers as potential ‘smallholder businesses,’ waiting to engage in entrepreneurial agriculture if only provided with sufficient financial investments.

The focus here is on ‘productivism’, by which ‘smallholder’ farming is evaluated and found lacking, in terms of ‘yield gaps’ to be resolved via ‘improvements.’ Productivism imposes a standardized yield metric on farming, measuring only plant yields (but neither efficiency of water/energy use, nor environmental externalities), rather than what may be reproduced (eg, seed, soil fertility, water cycles, common resources, rural livelihoods) by low-input or agro-ecological farming.

This distinction between small producer farming and corporate agro-industrialization is routinely conflated in the CFS debates. Given the intensifying land deal context, in addition to the notion of land as an investment refuge, it serves investor interest to represent ‘smallholders’ as potential entrepreneurs, despite CFS documentation of the multifunctional character of small producer communities. Thus the CFS High-Level Panel of Experts’ Report on Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security defines small-scale farming in the following way:

Smallholder agriculture is practised by families (including one or more households) using only or mostly family labour and deriving from that work a large but variable share of their income, in kind or in cash… it includes crop raising, animal husbandry, forestry and artisanal fisheries… Off -farm activities play an important role in providing smallholders with additional income and as a way of diversifying risk… smallholders producing only or mainly for subsistence are not uncommon… smallholder’s families are part of social networks within which mutual assistance and reciprocity translate into collective investments (mainly through work exchanges) and into solidarity systems… smallholder agriculture is the foundation of food security in many countries and an important part of the social/economic/ecological landscape in all countries. (CFS 2013: 10–11)

Furthermore, the ‘potential efficiency of smallholder farming relative to larger farms has been widely documented, focusing on the capacity of smallholders to achieve high production levels per unit of land through the use of family labour in diversified production systems’ (CFS 2013: 12). The CSM claims a significant difference between labor, and financial, investment. Labor investment is the differentia specifica of small producer agriculture (Ploeg 2009), and, according to the CFS, small producers are the ‘main investors’ (2013: 16). But this point goes unrecognized in CFS debates because of the singular insistent understanding of ‘investment’ as financial.

Within the UN, the recent Special Rapporteur on the  Right to Food recommended deepening domestic production to reduce food dependency, observing that there are ‘approximately 500 million small-scale farmers in developing countries making them not only the vast majority of the world’s farmers but, taking into account their families, responsible for the well-being of over two billion persons’ (De Schutter 2011: 13). Reclaiming this right requires a power re-balance in order to restore integrity to domestic farm sectors and rights to producing communities. In the UN debates the persisting trade reflex (by which states secure their balance of payments) reproduces the notion that agriculture is a revenue operation and is best left to ‘entrepreneurial farming’ to ‘feed the world.’ One representative of the PSM, from an agro-food network, made the following observations in a CFS 41 debate:

While there is a consensus that farmers are at the center, farming needs to be understood as a profession, and food security is about economic growth, not just growing food— thus farmers need to break the subsistence cycle and become entrepreneurs, produce more with less land, and stabilize via land ownership, inputs (agro-chemicals), knowledge, and market access.

This representation of farmers echoes other such statements in the course of CFS debates regarding smallholders being at the heart of a ‘transition.’ Thus PSM representatives claim: ‘we invest in large and small’ – implying scale neutrality that obscures the incommensurability of small farming and industrial agriculture, and: ‘agriculture investments are wonderful job creators’ – suggesting either plantations or agro-industrial estates as job safety nets for displaced farmers where jobs are the currency of modernization. Job provision assumes that small-scale producers are better off earning a wage, and that small farming is no different from farm working.

The emphasis on a financial calculus similarly discounts local common pool resources, managed by self-organizing land users with shared rules which ‘differ from the logic of capital—they reflect, instead the interests and perspectives of the involved producers, ecological cycles and/or principles such as social justice, solidarity, or the containment of (potential) conflicts’ (Ploeg et al. 2012: 164). In sum, CSM’s ability to gain traction in this area of rights will require problematizing the epistemic reductionism of forms of farming, which obscures power differentials as well as incommensurability in the material and cultural meanings of agriculture.

 

McMichael.pngPhilip McMichael is Professor of Development Sociology at Cornell. His research is informed by a world-historical perspective and focuses on food regimes and food sovereignty, and rethinking the agrarian question. He has authored Food Regimes and Agrarian Questions (Fernwood, 2013), Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective (Sage, 2016), and the award-winning Settlers and the Agrarian Question (Cambridge, 1984); and he has edited Contesting Development: Critical Struggles for Social Change (Routledge, 2010), and co-edited Biofuels, Land and Agrarian Change, with Jun Borras and Ian Scoones (Routledge, 2011). He is a member of the Civil Society Mechanism in the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security, has worked with UNRISD and the FAO, and has collaborated with La Vía Campesina, and the IPC for Food Sovereignty.

References

CFS. 2013. Investing in smallholder agriculture for food security. Rome: FAO.

De Schutter, O. 2011. How not to think of land-grabbing: three critiques of large-scale investments in farmland. Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(2): 249–280.

ETC. 2009. Who will feed us? ETC Group Communique, 102 (November): http://www.etcgroup.org.

Ploeg, van der J. D. 2009. The ‘new’ peasantries. Struggles for autonomy and sustainability in an era of empire and globalization. London: Earthscan.

Ploeg, van der J. D., Ye, J., and Schneider, S. 2012. Rural development through the construction of new, nested markets: comparative perspectives from China, Brazil and the European Union. Journal of Peasant Studies, 39(1): 133–174.

 

The politics of food governance: Final call for abstracts

This year the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) is meeting in September in Oslo, Norway.

We have a great session planned on “The politics of food governance“. Deadline to submit abstracts is February 15th.

To submit an abstract you do need to sign up on the ECPR website . You will get there directly if you click on “propose a paper”. If you submit, please indicate which panel you would like to be a part of (listed below).

Hope to see you in Oslo!

69. Session description:

During this conference we welcome panels and papers that critically analyze the struggle for power at the global level in relation to food governance. Since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 2 which aims to eradicate hunger, many public and private players have been engaged in a benevolent and concerted action to reach the goals in 2030. At the same time international markets are globalizing leaving smallholders and other food producers as price takers, leaving them increasingly vulnerable and dependent. Organized (EU) farmers are also seriously affected by the globalization of food governance and the liberalization of the world markets. And all together it results in a complex power dynamic between emancipating smallholder social movements, resiliency-testing farmers from the EU, power/profit seeking multinationals, NGOs and governments.

Continue reading “The politics of food governance: Final call for abstracts”

The “Nepalisation” of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests

Assessing the impacts of a CFS output on the ground: Can a global governance instrument support struggles for tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security?

 By Katie Anne Whiddon

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

Moving forward with the third the thematic cluster: “CFS: Multi-stakeholder or multi-actor? And does it matter?”  Katie Anne Whiddon provides emerging insights into how the CFS-negotiated Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests are being taken up in Nepal. She sheds light on the key question of whether global governance instruments fulfil their objectives at the local level by examining the roles and leverage that CSOs/NGOs have gained through the VGGT process and based on a developing case study. She concludes by reflecting on what this means for tenure rights in marginalised communities.

This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com

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FIAN Nepal

Since its reform in 2009, the United Nations Committee on World Food Security and Nutrition (CFS) aims to become the foremost inclusive multi-stakeholder dialogue platform dealing with food security and nutrition policies. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (henceforth Guidelines or VGGT), adopted in 2012, are the first output that reflects the breakthrough of post-reform CFS negotiations. They are an unprecedented international agreement on tenure of natural resources that guide countries in achieving food security.

A Global Thematic Event at CFS43 was an occasion to share experiences on the application of the VGGT, but also to highlight the challenges of monitoring CFS decisions. Today, civil society efforts to report on the use of the Guidelines reflect the need to draw lessons from country-level processes. Stakeholders question the contributions of the CFS to global food governance, and ultimately, to the progressive realisation of the human right to food and nutrition.

Through a political ethnography, my research aims to identify the factors that condition the impacts of the Guidelines on place-based struggles for food sovereignty in Nepal, and the roles played by state and non-state actors in the implementation process.

VGGT implementation process in Nepal: state and non-state actors meet at multi-stakeholder platforms

Between 2014 and 2016, Nepal received funding from the Food and Agriculture Organisation to organise VGGT National Multi-Stakeholder Workshops and a training programme. FIAN Nepal, a right to food NGO, brought together marginalised communities from remote areas and government officials to discuss conflicts around legitimate tenure rights. Further VGGT awareness-raising and capacity-building events across Nepal were also organised by ANFPa (All Nepali Peasants’ Federation), supported by La Via Campesina and the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD).

Policy advocacy and justiciability were at the core of the VGGT workshops in Nepal, a country where power relations and skewed access to natural resources are the main causes of food insecurity. Non-state actors provided examples of how the tenure rights of rural dwellers and “climate refugees” continue to be violated, following decades of deforestation, evictions from conservation areas, displacement due to development projects and human-induced environmental stress.

In order to define the focus of my PhD, I attended the 2016 VGGT National Workshop in Kathmandu. I learnt that customary access to natural resources in conservation areas has become one of the key areas for utilising the Guidelines, as anticipated in an explicatory case study in the IPC‘s (International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty) VGGT Peoples’ Manual.

A ‘multi-actor’ discussion on the violations of tenure rights in Nepal’s protected areas

To kick-start the workshop, an interesting discussion emerged on how to translate the word “tenure”. The Nepali term “Bogh Chalana” (unwritten usufruct customs) places emphasis on informal tenure and customary practices, as addressed in Part 3 of the VGGT. This sparked a debate around the claims of indigenous peoples’ (IPs) customarily defined relationship to natural resources. Relevant normative provisions from the VGGT were discussed, including the right to prior consultation, and Free, Prior and Informed Consent, as defined in ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; both ratified by Nepal.

However, it was pointed out that such global instruments are often ineffective, partly due to legislative dysfunction and lack of coordination between government agencies. Participants queried the potential implementation of international norms, given the lack of political will even with national laws. A ‘multi-actor’ session provided an opportunity for grassroots communities from the buffer zones of protected areas to exert pressure on Members of Parliament from the Environment Protection Committee, following on from a previous consultation on FIAN Nepal’s findings. Women described cases of sexual abuse by security personnel and confiscation of fodder and baskets. Fishers shared complaints of physical harassment and confiscation of their catch and fishing gear (their only source of livelihood). They demanded an amendment of the National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, in order to foster effective participatory management, respect equitable benefit sharing, and provide compensation for the loss of crops due to wild animals.

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FIAN Nepal

Can a global governance instrument support struggles for access to rivers and forests in the context of national food security?

 During the VGGT negotiations at the CFS, the safeguarding of tenure systems of indigenous peoples and other customary communities was one of the key battlefronts of civil society delegates. Whilst the CFS Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) now strives to develop participatory mechanisms for monitoring and accountability, in Nepal, the Guidelines have become a tool for holding the government accountable. The VGGT process has bolstered socio-economically excluded communities in asserting their rights to use rivers and forests in national parks.

However, contentious governance issues around ‘participatory’ processes in protected areas – which now occupy approximately 25% of Nepal’s landmass – are longstanding and closely linked to the political economy of natural resource governance in Nepal. An assessment of whether the VGGT implementation efforts can aid in resolving park-people conflicts calls for an evaluation of the dominance of interest groups in global and national conservation policies. The ideological underpinnings that frame technocratic ‘solutions’ to human-nature interaction should also be examined from a human rights-based approach. The National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973 amendment has now been tabled in the Parliament, but it remains to be seen whether the legal reform has an impact on livelihoods.

As part of democratic (federal) state building since 1990, Nepal has ratified a raft of human rights-based instruments. Furthermore, the right to food and food sovereignty were enshrined in the Constitution of Nepal in 2015. Within this context, whether the leverage of CSOs/NGOs gained through the VGGT process can aid to restore tenure rights of marginalised communities is a question that requires empirical investigation at the interface of the ‘global’ and the ‘local’, both at the policy-making and the grassroots levels.

katieKatie Anne Whiddon is a PhD Student at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), Coventry University. The core of her PhD is a collaborative research project with civil society organisations on the impacts of the VGGT on local struggles for food sovereignty in Nepal.  She is a qualified interpreter and translator and has a Masters in African Studies from SOAS (2007). She completed her MA research on post-colonial nation building in Mozambique, where she worked at a rural school of agriculture. Since 2010, Katie has been an activist-interpreter for La Via Campesina, the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty and the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) at the UN Committee on World Food Security.

 

Book Launch: Yearbook of Women’s History 36 (2016)

Excited to present the 36th issue of the Yearbook of Women’s History on Food Practices from Seed to Waste that I guest-edited with Professor Bettina Bock. If you are in Wageningen, you are most welcome to join us for the launch. I will share the link to issue when it is online!

Rural Sociology Wageningen University

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You are all welcome to the launch of Gendered Food Practices from Food to Waste

  •  Wednesday 22 February 2017 / 15.00-17.00 
  • Impulse / Wageningen Campus, Building 115,Wageningen University
  • Address: Stippeneng 2, Wageningen

Program

There will be coffee and tea upon arrival. Guest-editors Bettina Bock and Jessica Duncan (from RSO) will give a short presentation and hand over the first copy to professor J.M. van Winter, professor emerita of medieval history, expert in food history, and main benefactor of the Yearbook of Women’s History.

Curator of the National Museum of Education Jacques Dane will give a presentation of his contribution to the volume on Domestic Science in and outside the Dutch Classroom in the period 1880-1930.

Registration:  Please RSVP before 19 February to e.c.walhout ( a ) hum.leidenuniv.nl (Evelien Walhout).

About the volume

In nearly all societies gender has been, and continues to be, central in defining roles and…

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On the growing participation of multinational corporations in food security global governance

What mechanisms to push such powerful players to change for transformative impact?

By Pierre-Marie Aubert

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

We continue with our second post of  ur third the thematic cluster: “CFS: Multi-stakeholder or multi-actor? And does it matter?”  In this post, Pierre-Marie reflects on the rise of “multistakeholderism”in the CFS, and more broadly across food security and nutrition governance. He concludes with reflecting on ways to reinforce governance framework to ensure more appropriate participation in multistakeholder mechanisms for food security and nutrition.

This blog series is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com

 

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If you participated to CFS 43, you must have noticed the strong participation of private sector representatives. Around 150 of them were there, representing companies from all over the world and from all segments of food chains: agro-chemical companies, seed companies, traders, food processors, retailers, investors…

The 2009 reform of the CFS supported the creation of two mechanisms to facilitate the participation of non-state actors in debates (but without voting power): the civil society mechanism, for civil society organization and social movements more broadly; and the private sector mechanism. While civil society organisations immediately seized the opportunity and massively participated in the CFS, the number of companies represented at the CFS has been slowly increasing year after year, from less that 30 in 2010 to a bit less than 150 in 2016.

What’s going on in the CFS / PSM can not be understood apart from broader evolutions that characterizes the global governance of food and nutrition security (but also more widely), which tend to rely more and more on a so-called “multistakeholderism”. Between 2008 and 2016, a good dozen multistakeholder initiatives have been developed in the field of food and nutrition security and agricultural development: the Global alliance for improved nutrition, the Alliance for a green revolution in Africa, the Global alliance for climate smart agriculture, the New alliance for food and nutrition security, the Amsterdam declaration against malnutrition, to cite a few.

All of them involve companies from different segments of food chains, along with States, international organisations, research organisations and non governmental organisations. More than 60 companies are involved in at least two of those initiatives, most of them being large and often transnational corporations. Hence, and although the term “private sector” encompasses a broad range of actors ranging from multinational companies to small and medium enterprises or even certain farmers (who for example feel more comfortable to participate in the CFS through the private sector mechanism than through the civil society mechanism), one can not ignore the fact that multinational corporations from upstream and downstream parts of food chains play a prominent role in most global governance mechanisms for food security.

Just to give an example, out of the 12 multistakeholder platforms related to food security we looked at, major transnational companies such as Unilever, Cargill, Yara, Monsanto, Pepsi, were involved in half of them or even more. So the question is: what drives those companies to participate in such mechanisms? What can be expected from their contribution?

In terms of participation, three main factors can be identified. A first is common to all development issues and relates to the growing demand expressed by States and international organisations towards private companies. Sustainable development is indeed deemed to necessitate more investments that the public sector itself is no longer able to supply, hence the need to increase the support from the private sector.

A second factor relates to the need for most companies to raise their sustainability profile in the face of growing public / societal demand.

A third factor has often to do with the company’s business model and takes different forms depending on the type of initiatives we are talking about. In a political space like the CFS, one of the issue for companies is to make sure that what will come out from intergovernmental negotiations will be compatible — or even favourable — with their business operations. In project-oriented initiatives, like the Global Alliance for improved nutrition (GAIN) or the Amsterdam initiative against malnutrition, the question is more about identifying new markets / customers through different kind of projects.

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GAIN is an organization that mobilizes public-private partnerships to address malnutrition.

Given this context, what can we expect from this increased contribution of transnational corporations? A closer look at the projects developed under in those different initiatives allows to distinguish between four types of interventions: intensifying agriculture practices upstream by improving access to inputs (chemicals, fertilizers, improved seeds); generating more cash from agriculture by improving farmers’ access to (international) commodity markets; developing the demand and the availability of bio-fortified products downstream by working with marketers, food processors and retailers; and changing policy frameworks at all levels to favour the adoption of the three above mentioned types of actions.

All of those can be grouped under a similar heading, that of “agri-food chain modernisation”, which reflects to a great extent the agenda of most companies involved. One of the key reason behind that situation is that many companies are not willing to embark in initiatives that are not aligned with their own objectives, as reflected — for example — in their CSR policy. Since, on the other hand, the bearers of food security initiatives are keen on having “big players” on board, they tend to align the initiatives’ objectives and projects to what companies have already planned to do.

However, the project of “agri-food chain modernisation” has often been criticized by peasant organisations, social movements but also researchers for its many negative impacts on the ground. Yet, those groups are often under-represented in the different initiatives we talked about — apart from the CFS. This results either from their own lack of willingness to take part in those initiatives — often in the name of lack of accountability mechanisms (see here and there), or from the fact that they were not necessarily invited, or from a lack of resources (human, financial) needed to contribute to such initiatives.

Hence, while big corporations are indeed in a position to contribute to food security thanks to their great investment capacity, but also their position in most food chains, this is not likely to happen without certain changes. One concerns the kind of projects they want to invest in and the agricultural models they want to support. Such evolutions or innovations will however not be favoured by most multi-stakeholder platforms if they stay as they are. An other important change would thus be to reinforce their governance framework, in at least two different ways.

One is to recognize the fundamental differential of power that characterizes the different participants to such initiative. When the net profit of a company is worth the double of a country’s GDP, not to speak about the annual budget of a small farmer organisation, those power asymmetries can not be ignored and must be considered in the way in which discussions are organised and decisions taken.

Second is to endow such platforms with a stronger accountability framework, which involves the following key elements: the definition of a referential framework, which is to enable the assessment, ex-ante, in itinere and ex-post, of the potential and actual impacts of a measure or a project; and the creation of a reporting mechanism thanks to which those impacts can be attributable to actors who can, in turn, be held accountable.

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Pierre-Marie Aubert is a research fellow in Food and Agricultural Policies at the Institute for sustainable development and international relations (Paris). Visit http://www.iddri.org/Iddri/Equipe/Aubert for more information!

Governing food systems in a multi-stakeholder era, an example from Brazil

Is the Brazilian CONSEA a “multi-stakeholder process” or a platform for participatory politics?

By Matheus Zanella

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

We quick off the first post of the year by continuing with our third the thematic cluster: “CFS: Multi-stakeholder or multi-actor? And does it matter?”  In this post, Matheus brings us a national-level example, the Brazilian National Council on Food and Nutrition Security, aka CONSEA,  and argues that more conceptual precision is needed when comparing and assessing the transformative potential of multi-stakeholder platforms.

This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com

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If you have been following the CFS and food security governance at the global level there is a good chance that you have heard about CONSEA. And if you have visited Brazil, I am almost sure that someone dropped this acronym in conversation, at least once.

In the past few years, CONSEA – the Brazilian National Council on Food and Nutrition Security in Portuguese – has become the showcase example of a successful “multi-stakeholder model” that promotes food security and nutrition. It has been featured in a number of international reports as an inspirational experience to other initiatives governing food policies. Members of CONSEA have been participating in CFS activities since at least the CFS 2009 Reform. At CFS43 last October, for example, the omnipresent David Nabarro delivered a video message in one side-event where he stressed the importance of CONSEA in influencing the CFS Reform process itself towards a “multi-stakeholder model”. The governance structure of the Council was also presented as a positive case to the plenary of CFS40 in 2013 and in a number of side-events.

CONSEA works; well, it has been working until now at least, considering that many of its members are highly suspicious of the new government administration intentions towards the Council – but that would have to be subject of a different blog entry.  The fact is that report after report confirms the importance of the Council in forging innovative, participatory and accountable food security policies that managed to take Brazil out of the FAO food hunger map already back in 2014.

So if CONSEA works, where is the problem?

The importance of CONSEA is unquestionable. Nevertheless, I fear that there is a conceptual misunderstanding when labelling this Council as an example of a multi-stakeholder model. For those that are more interested in the kind of policies that work for addressing food and nutritional insecurity, this might not be very relevant. But it is for those willing to understand the political economy that drives the adoption of a policy A instead of a policy B – that is, people concerned with the governance of food security.

First, CONSEA has little to do with the multi-stakeholderism that has been propagating in global governance circles (including the Agenda 2030 discussions). While the growth of multi-stakeholder platforms is associated with the changing nature of States and other non-state actors in the international system, the constitution of CONSEA reflects political changes within Brazil itself – re-democratization in the 90s and the left-oriented government of the 2000s. There are obvious interactions between the national and the international dimensions, but they do represent very different political disputes and power shifts.

Second, the composition of the Council is substantially different than other bodies that normally carry the multi-stakeholder label with pride – for instance the CFS. In terms of number of participants, CFS is still frankly dominated by Member-States, in despite of the 2009 reform that substantially opened space for non-State actors, including civil society and private sector. CONSEA has a much stronger presence of social movements, NGOs and small farmer associations, on the other side. In its 2013-2016 composition, out of the 40 seats, these groups had more than 30 seats, with just one seat assigned to the national large farmer association and another one for the agro-industry.

That implies that more critical and progressive thinking manages to flow more easily within the Council, shifting the challenge to the design and implementation of public policies that would be needed to make those transformative ideas reality. Indeed, the differences between the CONSEA model and the standard multi-stakeholder model are so evident that – still lacking a better terminology – I propose to consider CONSEA a platform for participatory politics or – if you prefer – participatory democracy.

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More conceptual precision needed to assess the transformative potential of multi-stakeholder platforms

If you are not from Brazil, why is this relevant? Because conceptual precision is needed to compare and assess the real transformative potential of multi-stakeholder platforms, such as the CFS. Analytical tools can assist us in un-folding the actor composition, in classifying their discourses, in identifying the power relations and asymmetries between actors, among other elements that shed light on the political economy of these platforms. Very recently, colleagues and I tried to do this exercise using the theory of deliberative democracy, in a manuscript that is still under review by a scientific journal. This is just one example of bringing political theory to empirical analysis of multi-stakeholder platforms.

Like it or not, we live in the multi-stakeholder era of global governance. Only understanding these platforms better will allow us to answer if these are bringing us closer to normative ideals that are usually associated with them, from justice, to inclusivity, to democracy.

 

Matheus Zanella is Research Associate at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Germany, visiting researcher at the UNDP World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre) in Brazil. and PhD candidate at the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern. He has worked at the FAO, the Brazilian Ministry of Rural Development and farmers’ organizations in his home country, always dealing with topics related to agricultural and environmental policies and their interaction with food security and sustainable management of natural resources. He is also a co-convener of this special blog series.

Credits for photos:

1_ CONSEA

2_ Ubirajara Machado/MDS