By Matheus Alves Zanella and Jessica Duncan
The world food price crisis of 2007/08 shook global food governance. Pressured to find solutions for unexpected prices increase of several food products, many initiatives were launched at the global level. One of those was the reform of the United Nation’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS), who transformed itself from “the most boring UN body of all” – in the words of an experienced diplomat based in Rome – to the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for food security, with substantive participation of different actors including member states, civil society and private sector.
That was 2009 and there was a general sense of urgency in addressing claims that over 1 billion people were going hungry worldwide. The reformed CFS was well positioned in this debate, by giving voice to all actors, notably those most affected by food insecurity, and transitioning from an inactive talk-shop to a leading intergovernmental body. Through the Committee, member States were able to endorse key policy documents on two major food security issues: land tenure (the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Tenure of Land Fisheries and Forest in the Context of National Food Security – VGGT) and investments (Principles for Responsible Investments in Agriculture and Food Systems – CFS-RAI).
Now, five years after the reform, the CFS just had its 42nd Plenary last week and we, as well as many other participants, sensed a change in the air. First, the initial ambition of the CFS seems to be fading away, and it appears as though the CFS is now entering a phase characterized by a lack of clarity on the future relevance of its decisions. Second, members continue to disagree about which direction the CFS should take – illustrated by relatively weak decision on Monitoring and Evaluation and the mild debates on the positioning of the CFS vis-à-vis the new development agenda launched by the approval of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The decision will not see the CFS featuring prominently in the SDG agenda for another two years, as some have expected. Third, the multi-stakeholder format of the reformed CFS is being put into question, as demonstrated by one very important intervention of the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) in the closing session of the CFS plenary.
It is up to debate whether the CFS is losing influence or importance, or whether it had much to begin with. Considering that undermining one of the most inclusive UN bodies would consequently further open the door to less-inclusive governance mechanism to occupy its space, we prefer to see a strong and active CFS for years to come. In order to remain relevant, the CFS could avoid two major risks:
- Shifting back to the Committee’s pre-reform role of only monitoring international commitments, and
- Failing to address controversial topics, such as agroecology or bioenergy, as its strength is based on forging consensus such as those achieved on land tenure and on investment.
In what follows we provide some initial reflections on how the CFS currently finds itself at a crossroads.