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

road-block-340196_960_720

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 “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

9142059250_a8ceb6944d_o
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.

31149542100_0b77ed4363_o
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.

 

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

 

wordcloud-pmaubert-blog

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.

logo_for_global_alliance_for_improved_nutrition_gain
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.

pierre_marie_aubert

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

photo_1-1
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.

photo_3-1

 

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

Are equity and accountability a likely outcome when foxes and chickens share the same coop? 

Critiquing the concept of multistakeholder governance of food security[1]

By Nora McKeon

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

Last week Carolin Anthes reflected on the role of human rights in the CFS and across the UN system.  This week we launch the third thematic cluster of this series: CFS: Multi-stakeholder or multi-actor? And does it matter? In this post, Nora McKeon presents a  critique of the rise of multistakeholder processes in food security governance, warning that a failure to take power imbalances and interests into account is working to reinforce the corporate food regime. 

There is a popular aspiration today for governance arrangements that give voice to those most affected and hold governments to account. Such approaches require clear parameters to ensure effective participation by the marginalized and avoid corporate capture. There is an abyss between this kind of practice – often termed “multi-actor” in civil society circles – and what has come to be known as “multistakeholderism”, which ignores differences in interests, roles and responsibilities among the parties and negates power imbalances. The former can make an important contribution to defending the right to food. The latter is becoming a big part of the problem.

To make the distinction clear it is necessary to disentangle the knots of confusion the concept has accumulated over the past two decades. Multistakeholderism moved out of corporate boardrooms and into the space of global governance in the mid-1990s accompanied by the modality of public-private partnerships (PPPs). Today it has become an integral part of the implementation strategy for the SDGs. This evolution has been sustained by an astonishing ascension of the undemonstrated paradigm of the corporate private sector as a motor of development and food/nutrition security.

The political economy bedrock of this narrative is the advent of what has been termed a corporate food regime  (McMichael 2013) to which the public sector has sold out responsibility for ensuring food security worldwide. In discursive terms, the paradigm reposes on the abiding tropes of modernization and productivity. It profits also from the vagueness of the term ‘private sector’, which is opportunistically taken to cover anything from a family farm to a multinational corporation despite the great differences of size, operational logics and interests that apply across this range.

The rapid concentration of  transnational agrifood corporations along global food chains has benefited from the support of neoliberal  policies. The corporate private sector has a powerful motivation to gain access to global governance arena in which such policies are determined. ‘Business and industry’ was included as one of the nine Major Groups in the 1992 Rio Conference outcome document. This step was strongly contested by participants at the civil society consultations organized in parallel to the World Food Conferences in 1996 and 2002, who decisively refused to be placed in the same box as the private sector.

This logic prevailed during the reform of the Committee on World Food Security in 2009, the only institutional development in the UN system characterized by the direct engagement of social constituencies representing those most directly affected by the policies under discussion. Strongly contested points successfully advocated by social movements included the fact that the CFS deliberates from a human rights perspective; its recognition as the foremost inclusive policy forum promoting policy coherence; civil society’s right to autonomously organize its participation – independently from that of the private sector –and attribution of priority voice  to constituencies of those most affected by food insecurity; and government accountability as the ultimate decision makers.

Corporations ignored the CFS reform process, but in the same year the World Economic Forum convened an expert group to formulate a new system of global governance. The final report of this ‘Global Redesign Initiative’(GRI) calls for a move to redefine the international system as constituting a wider, multifaceted system of global cooperation in which intergovernmental legal frameworks and institutions are embedded as a core, ‘but not the sole and sometimes not the most crucial, component’ (WEF 2010, p. 7). Instead, coalitions of the ‘willing and able’ – TNCs, some countries, civil society bodies, parts of the UN – would take the lead in addressing unresolved global issues. The implications for global governance in this model are severe: TNCs heavily influence framing of global issues; the selection of participants is undertaken without public review; decision-making is conducted without concern for power imbalances or different  interests (Gleckman 2013).

The blueprint developed by the GRI is being replicated across a fast multiplying series of issue areas within and outside the UN system in ‘multistakeholder’ coalitions like  Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) or the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. The differences between this model and that of the CFS are notable.

The fact that the corporate sector and its allies are investing considerable attention in the CFS is a demonstration of the authority the Committee has progressively achieved. It is only to be expected that these actors are seeking to weaken the political significance and the human rights basis of the CFS.  But the Civil Society Mechanism is not without arrows in its bow.

The 43rd plenary session of the CFS witnessed a striking growth in political maturity and level of analysis on the part of civil society participants. The CFS remains one of the few global arena in which articulate testimony given by small-scale producers themselves provides a powerful antidote to the recipes that others invent for them, as demonstrated in the recent negotiations on ‘Connecting Smallholders to Markets’.

The relations between the interests of the corporate sector and the neo-liberal frameworks that support them are systemic, but also dialectic. The rules of the game seem “just the way things are” until the equilibrium on which they are based starts to wobble. The corporate food regime has promised cheap food coordinated by transnational corporate supply chains, legitimized with a food security – productivity – modernization narrative. Today food crises and health issues are putting into question its ability to feed the world and its high environmental costs are becoming increasing evident. The entry of new governmental players has upset the previous balance, while mobilization by social movements is increasing the pressure for change.  An interesting juncture in which to examine the promises and perils of multistakeholderism, and what better site than the Committee on World Food Security?

 

 

noraNora McKeon studied history at Harvard and political science at the Sorbonne before joining the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations where she worked for many years, opening FAO up to organizations of small-scale producers and civil society. She now engages in research, teaching, and advocacy around food systems, food governance, small-scale farmer movements, and UN-civil society relations. She closely follows evolutions in global food governance including the reformed Committee on World Food Security.  She teaches at Rome 3 University and the International University College of Turin. Publications include:  Peasant Organizations in Theory and Practice (with Michael Watts and Wendy Wolford, UNRISD 2004), Strengthening Dialogue with People’s Movements: UN experience with small farmer platforms and Indigenous Peoples (with Carol Kalafatic, UN NGLS 2009), The United Nations and Civil Society: Legitimating Global Governance-Whose Voice? (Zed 2009), Global Governance for World Food Security: A Scorecard Four Years After the Eruption of the “Food Crisis” (Heinrich-Böll Foundation, 2011), and Food Security Governance: empowering communities, regulating corporations (Routledge 2015).  She has co-edited a special issue of Globalizations on land-grabbing and global governance (Vol. 10, Issue 1, 2013), contributing an article on land grabbing, transnational rural social movements and global governance.

Works cited

Gleckman, Harris (2013). “Multi-stakeholder Governance seeks to Dislodge Multilateralism”. Policy Innovations. http://www.policyinnovations.org/ideas/commentary/data/000269

McMichael, Philip (2013). Food Regimes and Agrarian Questions. Halifx & Winnepeg: Fernwood Publishing.

World Economic Forum (2010). Everybody’s Business. Strengthening International Cooperation in a More Interdependent World. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GRI_EverybodysBusiness_Report_2010.pdf

[1] This piece draws on an article to be published in 2017 in a special issue of Globalizations on the SDGs.

Human Rights to Geneva – Food Security to Rome?

By Carolin Anthes

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

After a minor diversion last week to look at Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty, in this post, Carolin Anthes brings us back to the CFS and to the role of human rights therein, but also makes important links to the UN system more broadly.

fao
FAO Headquarters, Rome (Credit: C. Anthes, 2016)

During the plenary discussion at the 43rd CFS, the Russian delegate stated that human rights “should be dealt with by the specialized bodies of the UN system”. In other words: Human rights should be a matter dealt with in Geneva, not in Rome. A bold statement that is symptomatic for the contested status of human rights and the right to food approach at CFS and the Rome-based UN food agencies. The current Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, also stressed at a CFS side event that the human rights approach was very much in danger these days and urged everyone “to pay more attention”.

In this post I invite you to pay attention to two interrelated, and in my view highly problematic, developments which contribute to and are at the same time an expression of the contestation of a human rights-based approach to food security and hunger reduction: 1) “forum shopping” by member states, and 2) FAO’s reluctance to mainstream human rights in its operations.

Let’s go “forum shopping”…

Russia is not alone, various member states engage in a strategic practice of “forum shopping” across different UN localities, which runs opposite to the cross-cutting integration of human rights in the UN system and especially in its development work (referred to as human rights mainstreaming). Enabled by the deeply fragmented setup of the UN system, these states are trying to refer an issue to another UN agency or forum as witnessed during the CFS plenary with the Russian statement. It negated per se that human rights have a place in Rome, thus fuelling the contestation of the right to food in Rome-based agencies.

But such practice is not at all limited to the CFS or Rome-based agencies. A multi-sited focus (which I try to embrace in my current academic research) shows clearly that Geneva – the human rights ‘hub’ of the UN system – and its processes have also been victim of member states’ attempts to engage in “forum shopping”, just the other way around.

During the first two sessions of the Human Rights Council’s working group on a new peasant rights declaration, the United States and the European Union, for example, repeated like a mantra that the Geneva human rights fora were not appropriate for discussing the issues of peasants, seeds and land, which were matters of Rome.

We witnessed a clear attempt to obstruct the further evolution of the human rights agenda towards including (collective) human rights to land, seeds etc. for particularly marginalized populations, simply by referring the substantive issue to “non-human rights” UN agencies in Rome. In the light of the established universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights and the human rights mainstreaming initiative, these tendencies of “forum shopping” are highly problematic and symptomatic for the volatile status of human rights, and in particular economic, social and cultural as well as collective rights.

un-geneva1
Palais des Nations, Geneva (Credit: C. Anthes, 2016)

Beyond rhetoric? FAO’s uncertain buy-in to human rights

States, their practices and attitudes are important when we aim at understanding why human rights and the right to food approach are (still) being challenged at the CFS and in the Rome-based food agencies. But they are not the only (f)actors that matter. It is important to take into account and “zoom in” the connected institutional environment, the actual inner workings of the UN food agencies that are expected to advocate for and implement a right to food approach – in particular the FAO, the institutional home of the CFS.

How do organizational structures and cultures shape FAO’s buy-in to a right to food approach? How strong indeed is the backing within the FAO secretariat, including senior management, and how far has the mainstreaming of human rights in the organization actually advanced by now (beyond rhetoric)? This is up for debate. There are signs that FAO largely sees itself as a “technical” agency, which is still perceived as being irreconcilable with “political” human rights work. In this context, the right to food approach often has a difficult standing and is being side-lined within the FAO bureaucracy.

The momentum spurred by the adoption of the Right to Food Guidelines in 2004 has undeniably slowed down in recent years. In the CFS Plenary, FAO demonstrated impressively its focus and know-how on the “indicators & statistics” side of food security governance work and announced plans for investments in a new Office of Chief Statistician. At the same time, the Right to Food Team, the entity that is actually entrusted with human rights mainstreaming and the strengthening of the right to food portfolio within the organization and beyond, suffers from a serious resource and priority shortage. FAO could indeed do more to promote a right to food approach and it should be noted that its (in-)actions and prioritization also have serious repercussions on the state of human rights at the CFS and beyond. It would be short-sighted to leave “human rights work” to Geneva-based mechanisms. The integration of a strong right to food approach may change how business is done and help to make FAO’s interventions towards a world without hunger more sustainable.

Human rights belong to Rome as much as food security matters to Geneva.

 

carolin-anthes
Credit: C Anthes 2016

 

 

Carolin Anthes is Research Associate and PhD Candidate at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), Germany. She conducts research on human rights mainstreaming in the UN system with a focus on Rome-based UN agencies and the inter-agency link to Geneva. Prior to joining PRIF she worked as Right to Food Consultant in FAO headquarters in Rome.

Food policy panels @ political studies conferences: 2 calls for abstracts

Just a quick post to share links to two calls for abstracts for very interesting international conferences. I have added links to the sessions that I will be co-chairing.

  • International Conference on Public Policy
    Singapore, June 28-30, 2017

T03P04 – Uncovering Politics in Public Policies for Agriculture and Food

  • European Consortium for Political Research
    Oslo, Norway, 6-9 September 2017

Section 69: The Politics of Food Governance

Continue reading “Food policy panels @ political studies conferences: 2 calls for abstracts”