Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty – A recap of the International Seminar in Donostia, Spain

By Jordan Treakle

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

This week we take a diversion and focus on the outcomes of the International Seminar on Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty that took place in mid-November in the Basque Country.  In this post Jordan Treakle identifies key themes to emerge out of the Seminar. We note that these themes relate to discussions taking place at the CFS and are thus relevant for this special series. Further, while focussing on global policies, there is a need to also address local-level policies.


In mid-November over a hundred participants from across Europe, the Americas, and Asia convened at the International Seminar on Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty in Donostia (San Sebastian), Spain to share experiences and perspectives on four inter-related topics linked to food sovereignty:

  • Land access and the commons
  • The role of education in public food policies
  • Linking urban and rural spaces through territorial development approaches
  • Local public policies to support agroecology

Donostia is known as a food capital of the country with its famous tapas culture, as well as having a fiercely independent regional political identity. In this delicious and inspiring socio-political environment one of the core issues of the Seminar was the recognition that “urban” food policies (such as the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact) and agendas (such as the role of urban policies in the Sustainable Development Goals) are gaining prominence in the international policy arena. And to illustrate this trend, much of the Seminar focused on presenting urban-centered food sovereignty initiatives in Spain, such as the work of Red TERRAE on supporting municipal agroecology platforms and Llaurant Barcelona on mapping and reorienting Barcelona’s tourist food economy toward food sovereignty.

As pointed out by representatives of the NGO FIAN, the international policy turn to “urban” spaces is not only a response to an increasingly urbanized world, but also reflects certain urban-focused political agendas, and thus presents both opportunities and challenges for more holistic systems-based approaches to supporting social justice and environmental sustainability in agriculture and food systems.

Drawing on the event’s presentations and participants’ discussions, below are some topics for thought and debate:

Continue reading Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty – A recap of the International Seminar in Donostia, Spain

Going for the Goal: The Rise of the SDGs as a Policy Frame at the CFS

By Nadia Lambek and Jessica Duncan

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

This week we continue with the cluster CFS, a rights-oriented body? In this post Nadia Lambek and Jessica Duncan reflect on potential implications for the CFS policy interventions revolve around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and related goals, and not explicitly around rights.



This year we noted with interest that many interventions at the CFS (from governments, but also the private sector) were made with reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular SDG 2. While it is hard for us to assess the relevance of this for CFS policy outcomes as these were negotiated before the main meeting, it is clear that links to the SDGs are being used to legitimise interventions within the CFS and to ground (at least publically) policy recommendations.

What is noteworthy about this development is that SDGs are being referenced to not only ground interventions and policy recommendations, but also to highlight the importance of combating hunger. In many respects, this points to a degree of coherence and commitment within this international space. However, it also raises questions about what it means when interventions are linked to goals and not rights.  

We are interested in understanding the potential ramifications of this trend and how might it impact CFS policy making. It is not clear yet – but we offer some initial reflections here.  We begin by comparing and contrasting the SDGs and the right to food as framing and policy tools.  We then examine two implications of the trend that give us cause for concern.

Rights vs Goals

While the SDGs and the right to food both seek to end hunger, they have different purposes. To understand these, it is important to first distinguish between rights and goals.

A goal is a desired aim or ambition. The SDGs are said to represent a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity”. The SDGs are interconnected and provide guidelines and targets for all countries to adopt.  SDG 2 aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. The SDGs are to be implemented through the “Global Partnership for Sustainable Development”, bringing together Governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors and mobilizing all available resources (see paragraph 39).

Human rights are inalienable rights that we have by virtue of being equal and having dignity.  The right to food is “is realized when every man, woman and child,alone or in community with others, have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.” Adequate food is not about a “minimum package of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients”, rather it is determined with reference to the “prevailing social, economic, cultural, climatic [and] ecological” of the concerned population. The right to food is recognized throughout international law, most notably in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (Article 11). It places a series of obligations on states to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food.  

A rights-based approach represents a longer-term and structural approach to addressing food insecurity and malnutrition that encourages states to pass legislation and national policies, to ensure recourse mechanisms are available to hold the state accountable, and to progressively realize the right to food (which ensures a continual and growing commitment to addressing the realization of the right to food).

We note that the preamble of the SDGs does contain rights-based language, however this language is not translated into the goals themselves, where human rights, at least for SDG 2, are not mentioned. Continue reading Going for the Goal: The Rise of the SDGs as a Policy Frame at the CFS

Squaring the Universality of Human Rights and Hunger with Delegate Representation at the CFS

By Nadia Lambek

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.

This week we inaugurate the thematic cluster CFS, a rights-oriented body? Nadia Lambek’s provocative entry discusses universality – a key principle of international human-rights body and other global processes, such as 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The North-South divide found at CFS representation carriers important implications for the effectiveness and legitimacy of the Committee, she argues.

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

At the opening session of the 43rd CFS, in a room crowded with representatives of ministries of agriculture, food and livestock, the United States representative to the CFS made her introduction.  The head of the US delegate was not from the US Department of Agriculture or from the Food and Drug Administration. She was the Director of the Peace Corps – a volunteer program run by the United States government, which sends volunteers (mostly recent university graduates) to the Global South to live and work in communities.


Hunger is not a new problem in the USA

By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This made a stark impression on me. Why was the head of the US delegation from the Peace Corps?  In fact, not one of the US’s 23 person official delegation to the CFS had a mandate concerning domestic issues within the US. Certainly the US is no stranger to food insecurity within its own borders. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 12.7 percent of American households were food insecure at some point during 2015. Yet it didn’t bring any delegate knowledgeable about domestic food insecurity or with any mandate to address it.

The US is not alone in this respect.  Looking at the official delegate list of people attending the CFS, one thing is clear: countries in the Global South send representatives from their ministries of agriculture, fisheries, livestock or food, while countries from the Global North tend to send representatives from foreign affairs or international development agencies.

This divide tells us a lot about how countries view food security, the role of the CFS and their human rights obligation – but it also has a lot of implications for the CFS and its effectiveness, particularly as a body with a human rights mandate.  I highlight some of these concerns below: Continue reading Squaring the Universality of Human Rights and Hunger with Delegate Representation at the CFS

Nitty-gritty details that matter: Evolving decision-making process at the CFS

By Jessica Duncan and 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.

This week we continue with the thematic cluster The CFS: What for? We reflect on the process of policy negotiations at the CFS and consider tradeoffs between having negotiations completed in advance of the Annual Sessions or giving space to the final negotiations during the Annual Sessions.

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

Last week, Josh’s contribution focused on how broader aspects of discourse and framings influence CFS debate. This week, we will discuss more specific aspects related to the negotiation process. Certain details can actually mean a lot for a key function of the CFS: to develop and endorse policy recommendations and guidelines on a range of food security and nutrition topics.

Since its reform, CFS’ Annual Sessions have included negotiations on the final policy text to be endorsed in Plenary by the Committee – that is, during that key week in October where all members and participants meet. This year, all the negotiations were completed before the Annual Session.

What are the implications of this change?

In what follows, we discuss some reflections on opportunities and risks.

Before that, let’s briefly review how the CFS has functioned as a policy body. If you already know the standard CFS negotiation process, you can jump directly to Potential Limitations below.

One of the primary roles of the CFS is to

“[p]romote greater policy convergence and coordination, including through the development of international strategies and voluntary guidelines …” (CFS 2009:para 5.2).

After the reform, policy roundtables were established to support these aims. It generally works as follows, as also illustrated in the graphic below:



The CFS identifies a theme (step 1) and tasks the CFS’s independent High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) to produce a related report with recommendations (step 2). In preparation for the roundtables, the CFS also forms Task Teams (step 3). These Task Teams draft discussion papers and compile “decision boxes” informed by the report of the HLPE (step 4). Decision boxes (sets of actionable policy recommendations) preface the discussion papers and form the starting point of the policy negotiations, although this year “Proposed draft recommendations on sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition, including the role of livestock” were issued as a separate document. Open-Ended Working Groups (OEWG) are formed where interested parties start negotiating the recommendations in the inter-sessional periods to prepare for the larger negotiations (step 5).

Each roundtable begins with a panel of experts, including experts identified by civil society and private sector actors (step 6). These experts provide context from multiple scientific perspectives to help frame the negotiations. Still, the negotiations are facilitated by a Chair (a country delegate) and chronicled by a Rapporteur (these are usually volunteers from country delegations or experts in the area), and a scribe. The Rapporteur is responsible for identifying key outcomes, points of agreement and advancing recommendations. As noted above, the negotiations start from the text included in the decision boxes, or the draft recommendation.

Member states and participants identify themselves to the Chair and then the Chair calls on them to make interventions in the order they are seen (step 7). It is not uncommon to hear the Chair say “Civil Society Mechanism please, to be followed by Canada, and then the World Bank” illustrating not only a fundamental change in the way the CFS operates, but also in the ordering of intergovernmental negotiations.

The text being negotiated is projected onto a large screen. Scribe make use of Microsoft Word track changes to note the contributions and changes.

The Chair works with the members and participants to come to consensus. With consensus on the text, a roundtable is concluded and the negotiated decisions submitted to the Plenary for approval (step 8).

The important change is that this year, there were no side negotiations during the Annual Session. The negotiations took place in the Open-Ended Working Groups and were completed in advance so that the CFS plenary only needed to approve them.

So let us turn now to the tradeoffs we see with this change in CFS procedure. Let’s consider three potential limitations, then turn to opportunities (although these are, as you will read, not clear cut categories).

Potential Limitations

  • Restrictions on number of people participating in policy-making: The clearest impact is that having negotiations during the year restricts the number of people that can participate, for time, and for financial reasons.  While this could challenge the inclusive vision of the CFS, it could also mean more committed participation (see more on potential opportunities).
  • Limited visibility: During policy roundtable negotiations, all participants can watch, understand and react to the negotiations. Moving to a format focused on inter-sessional negotiations might limit the visibility of these political dynamics. Part of the excitement around, and hope for, the reformed CFS until now has been linked to the political debates between member states (who even if not actively negotiating, were at least present) and participants.
  • Reduced engagement: Associated with a reduced number of participants, engagement might also be reduced. This is particularly important because engagement is key to the uptake of CFS outputs. By having a wider group of actors involved in the negotiations, you get more organizations aware and invested in the outcome. The debates and discussion are also central for members and participants to gain insight into the politics and concerns embedded within the policies. This insight and enhanced awareness, we argue, is key to ensuring that these policies move beyond the CFS.

Considering the above, we wonder what value the participants now see in taking part in the CFS annual sessions if political negotiations are left to inter-sessional activities. We see the possibility of participants shifting their attention from the political negotiations to side-events and networking activities. Many participants that we spoke this year refer to the CFS not only a negotiation platform, but also as a true meeting point for those working on food security and nutrition.

Besides simply changing the negotiation dynamics, shifts in decision-making processes have implications for how member-states representatives understand interactions with non-state actors, as each year, new people come to the CFS. These people may not be aware of the CFS processes. The opportunity to engage in the policy roundtables presents in some ways a “crash course” in the inclusive and deliberative methods employed by the CFS to arrive at decisions.

This can be a very frustrating process (especially, for who are not used to being challenged by non-state actors), but we have also seen that many of those who experience this approach come to see the value of it. We have interviewed and witnessed several higher-level diplomats express deep frustration at their first CFS event, only to become proponents of the CFS and its participatory approach in a later stage once they saw the benefits of greater interaction.

Potential Opportunities

  • More efficient and reliable plenary: Since the reform, it has been common that policy negotiations go on late into the night. This is certainly exhausting for the participants, leaving some unable to engage in the CFS plenary the following day (a key issue for countries with small delegations). Additionally, it is also exhausting for the budget of the CFS, as when a session is extended, interpreters and staff must be paid and the buildings need to be kept open. Completing negotiations in advance of the annual session might result in a more reliable schedule and reduced costs for the Annual Plenary.
  • Increased commitment: It is expected that those participating in Open-Ended Working Groups are invested in the process and not last-minute arrivers that can express dissent on recommendations that were already crafted through careful negotiation and consensus. Yet this calls for reflections on representation within Open-Ended Working Groups, for example,  shifting the balance of power since some organizations cannot afford participating in all meetings.

From interviews and discussions we had at the CFS, we noted that some participants appreciated the time that was freed up by not having to be preparing for negotiations during the Annual Session. They noted that this provided more opportunities to network, strategize and organize.

In Conclusion

We have here focused on questions related to process, with little regard for content. Much more time and care is required to be able to make claims as to the implications of this approach for policy outcomes. You can however judge the results of the negotiations yourself by reading the final report of the 43rd Session, available here.

The Civil Society Mechanism also has an archive of the policy negotiation processes:

  1.   Sustainable Agricultural Development, including Livestock
  2.   Connecting smallholders to markets with an analytic guide is available here

We would be most interested to hear your thoughts: What are the opportunities, benefits and risks associated with having the policy recommendations negotiated entirely in the inter-sessional period?

Boundary contestation in global food governance: Reflections from CFS43

By Dr Josh Brem-Wilson

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.

This week we launch the first thematic cluster The CFS: What for? with Josh Brem-Wilson’s reflections on how disputes over the boundaries between the spheres of public authority and private autonomy frame debates in the CFS.

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

Attending this year’s plenary meeting of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, I became struck by how much of the work and debates of the CFS are contextualised by an ongoing, yet un-acknowledged, dispute over the character of the agrifood system (in its international, regional, national and local dimensions). This dispute, which hinges on the question of whether the agrifood system has a public, or private character, is visible within and impacts upon the CFS in two clear ways.

Photo by J. Taellious

Firstly, in diverging views on the location in the agrifood system of the boundary between the spheres of public authority, on the one hand, and private autonomy, on the other (within which disagreements on the CFS’s role seem to be located). And secondly, in disagreements over the principles of inclusion that should be used to regulate the roles and participation of different actors in the CFS. There are two clear sides to this dispute.

On the one hand, a publicisation approach (affirming the public character of the agrifood system), with the food sovereignty and right to food movements at the fore; and on the other, the neoliberal-modernization nexus.

For example, as reflected this year in side events on ‘mega-mergers’ and ‘conflicts of interest’; in the ongoing efforts by the CSM to promote human rights-based approaches in the work of the CFS; and also their ongoing efforts to establish a meaningful monitoring capacity for the CFS, actors within the publicisation approach seek to expand the sphere of public authority in the agrifood system by affirming the status of member states as the key decision-makers in agrifood system governance; problematizing the role of the private sector (particularly Transnational Agrifood Corporations); and obtaining protection from new rights instruments.

Alternatively, actors within the neoliberal-modernisation nexus seek to privilege a historically contingent understanding of the boundary between the spheres of public authority and private autonomy in the agrifood system. This is evident in the CFS, firstly, in the interpretation (most evident in side events) of the public sector’s role in food security interventions as being limited to ‘catalysing synergies’, particularly with private sector actors.

It is also visible in the organisational form of multi-stakeholderism itself, which seems premised on the idea that each different stakeholder presides over a discrete sphere of responsibility. Both approaches appear from the outset to preclude the possibility of problematizing, and then redefining, the public (authority)-private (autonomy) boundary, despite the occasional historic necessity of this move.

Moving to the principles of inclusion, two different sides are also clear. Again, the publicisation approach, visible in the emphasis given within this perspective to the need to prioritise the participation of citizens and (human) rights holders (‘affected publics’), above other actors in agrifood system governance.

This is visible in the CFS in the reform blueprint’s differentiation of 10 specific constituency of (non-elite) agrifood system actor, and the organisational logic of the Civil Society Mechanism itself, where protagonism is (in principle at least) the preserve of social movements and peoples’ organisations, with NGOs assigned the role of technical support. As I have argued, there is a strong resonance between this approach, and the principles of inclusion outlined within a substantive theory of democracy like public sphere theory.

And on the other side, the multi-stakeholder approach which, at least, leaves the assumptions of the neoliberal-modernisation nexus unchallenged. Indeed, the preferred logic of the multi-stakeholder approach seems precisely to be ‘problem-solving’ within a shared neoliberal-modernisation convergence. This, I suspect, inclines some institutional actors towards privileging the participation of organisations and actors who share their basic assumptions, and who, therefore are precisely ready to work with them on a problem-solving basis. Particularly in a context where the food sovereignty and right to food movements are of course seeking to problematise some of these basic assumptions (and are therefore less receptive to working within the problem-solving frame).

Some states in the CFS have tended to conflate the inclusivity of a multi-stakeholderism with democratic decision-making. It is important to note, however, that these two are very different things, and in fact, inclusion, especially when it diminishes opportunities for the participation of non-elite organisations seeking to represent wider publics and citizens, can in fact be undemocratic.

Looking ahead, if the CFS is to maintain its distinctive character (and unique promise) institutional actors will have to give more/some attention to the challenge of ensuring that the non-elite constituencies formally entitled to participate in its work can convert that formal right into effective participation.

From this perspective, the unreflexive expansion by institutional actors of the actors able to participate in the CFS’s work; the use of an online questionnaire in an earlier evaluation of the CFS; and the seeming lack of sensitivity to this issue shown by the present evaluation team are, perhaps, all causes for concern.

However, and perhaps more fundamentally, given that the commitment to the participation of affected publics is part of the publicisation approach, and this approach is not universally championed, or even, indeed, understood in the CFS, it is perhaps more pressing to find ways in which to shore up support for the publicisation agenda in the CFS. One way of pursuing this could be by increasing the reflexivity of institutional actors (UN officials and member state representatives).

Reflexivity in this context would involve attaining recognition amongst institutional actors that a) there are diverging positions on the character of the agrifood system, b) that these translate into diverging ideas about global food governance, and c) that often decisions taken in the CFS, at all levels of its work, have the effect of either privileging one perspective (publicisation or neoliberal-modernisation) or another.

One small step towards achieving this could be the creation of a deliberative arena or process (without formal status) in which advocates from either side debate and discuss with each other the merits of their respective approaches.

In the face of the enormous challenges that are being faced by those negotiating chronic food insecurity, or who are exposed to the worst excesses of corporate power and state neglect, this response might seem weak and ineffectual. My hope would be though that by making explicit the assumptions that underpin these approaches, they can be brought into a fruitful encounter. The likelihood of that possibility, I have absolutely no doubt, is up for debate.

For a longer version of this reflection please visit Josh’s blog: The Publicisation Project.



Dr Josh Brem-Wilson, Research Fellow
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience
Coventry University, UK

The Future of CFS? Critical directions and emerging issues

By Jessica Duncan and 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.  

Every week, until early 2017, a group of academics and practitioners will be sharing their reflections on the critical directions and emerging issues at stake in this innovative intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder forum. Contributors include Matheus Zanella, Jessica Duncan, Josh Brem-Wilson, Nora McKeon, Nadia Lambek, Carolin Anthes, Pierre-Marie Audrey, Katie Whiddon, Thomas Patriota, Alison Blay-Palmer, Allison Marie Loconto, Martin Herren, and others. This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com


Last year we wrote a reflection about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) wherein we proclaimed that the CFS was at crossroads. That was right after CFS’s annual plenary in October – its 42nd Plenary. At that time we identified a number of potential challenges that this Committee was facing to keep the spirit of its 2009 Reform alive.

In particular, we pointed out three main issues. First, that the initial ambition brought by the reform of the Committee and the engagement of non-state actors seemed to be fading away. Second, that we observed a lack of coherence amongst member states and participants regarding the future directions of the CFS. And third, that the multi-stakeholder format of the reformed CFS was being put into question, notably by not paying sufficiently attention to power dynamics and a failure to frame negotiations with a rights-based approach.

Last week the CFS met for its 43rd Plenary. By the end of the week we felt that many of our concerns and predictions had been re-enforced or confirmed. We also felt that it would be interesting to re-engage in this debate.

This time we also thought that it would be valuable to include more people in a thinking and sharing exercise. Indeed, after a week of intense interactions with academics, food producers, civil society actors, country delegates and private sector actors, we realised just how many people are working on questions like these! Besides, many issues such as those we raised above continue to need attention, while others were not addressed or even have just recently emerged.

Thus, over the next few weeks, researchers will be sharing their reflections, insights, analysis, concerns and hopes for the CFS.  Our hope is to raise awareness of key issues, strengthen collaboration, and facilitate a different way, hopefully a more accessible way, of communicating our ideas. Continue reading The Future of CFS? Critical directions and emerging issues