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UN food systems summit: A recipe for farm and fork

Food will transform from being mere stuff for sustenance to producing jobs and economic growth at the same time

UN food systems summit: A recipe for farm and fork

Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait addresses Indian farmers in New Delhi on July 22 during a mock parliament as they protest against agricultural reforms. (Photo: AFP)

Pope Francis has warned against exploiting nature to the point of sterilization.

New technologies have been developed to increase “the planet’s capacity to bear fruit” and people continue to “exploit nature to the point of sterilization,” he said in a video message to the UN Pre-Summit on Food Systems held in Rome recently.

The pope said that the “scandal” of hunger is a “crime that violates basic human rights.”

The pre-summit in Rome was meant to set the table for the first-ever full summit at UN headquarters in New York in September.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development took part in the event and stressed the need for justice and human dignity while feeding the world.

The Rome summit included not only governments and multilateral organizations but farmers, environmental groups and youth representatives.

More than 811 million people go to bed with an empty stomach every night while more than 2 billion people are overweight

The aim is to achieve food security, nutrition, climate change and equity and inclusion before fulfilling the sustainable development goals meant to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality by 2030.

To know that something is wrong with the current food security, consider this fact: more than 811 million people go to bed with an empty stomach every night while more than 2 billion people are overweight.

The day has come knocking with farmerless farms, monitored by drones and fostered with chemicals to churn out commercial crops from patented seeds, to be processed into something resembling food.

At the September summit, food will be metamorphosed beyond mere stuff for sustenance. In its new avatar, it will have to produce jobs and economic growth at the same time.

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“We no longer have to think of food as a form of sustenance but as a circle that also produces jobs and economic growth,” Agnes Kalibata, UN special envoy on food summits, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Rome summit.

In New York, two basic approaches will be taken up: industrialize food production in developing countries in Asia and Africa, and make farming more sustainable by roping in small farmers, women farmers and indigenous people and their production methods.

Farming in Asian countries is known for traditional methods stretching from production to consumption. But a country like India, an agrarian economy, has already legislated bills to allow more corporate participation and industrial farming.

Precision agriculture, genetic engineering, data collection, digitalization and artificial intelligence (AI) will be taken up for discussion to enhance food security and nutrition while addressing climate change.

This comes even as the pandemic has added as many as 180 million people to a total food-insecure population of about 830 million people, which comes to more than 10 percent of the world’s 7.8 billion population.

This is the first significant rise in world hunger since 2005, according to the State of the Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2021 by the UN food agency.

On international markets, food prices were up 33.9 percent year on year in June, according to the U.N food agency’s price index.

Switching over to "sustainable" diets is the proposed solution to climate change and malnutrition. This shift in thinking is followed up with an action plan centered on the theme “reduce.”

Reduce conversion into agricultural lands, reduce small-time farmers’ disconnect with supply chains and, above all, reduce food waste and loss.

In India, ranking 94th among 107 nations on the Global Hunger Index, nearly 40 percent of the agricultural produce results in post-harvest losses

This is the first time the whole food system will discuss food loss and waste on a global scale.

Underdeveloped nations in Asia and Africa stand guilty on this front. Poor food storage systems in many households mean food waste is not taking place in wealthy nations' kitchens and five-star facilities alone.

According to studies, a third of the food produced in the world, costing US$1 trillion is wasted, including more than one-third of the aquaculture and fisheries production every year.

In India, ranking 94th among 107 nations on the Global Hunger Index, nearly 40 percent of the agricultural produce results in post-harvest losses, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The participants have come to the conclusion that global hunger cannot be ended with the demand for more.

The UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) was announced in 2019 by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Behind the move to shift in global diets, UNFSS is accused of creating industrial, ultra-processed "fake foods" as false solution to people’s desire for a sustainable future and farming.

The main fault with this system is keeping the local indigenous knowledge at bay while planning a transformation.

Stressing that access to food is a basic human right, Caritas Internationalis denounced the move to promote industrial agriculture

The presence of the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a strategic partner of the summit ensures a free hand for influential multinationals to make agriculture a corporate affair and reap rich dividends.

This backdoor entry of agricapital for the first time in a major way can derail the well-tested member-state arrangement at the UN, opponents observe.

Another conflict of interests is the appointment as special envoy of the summit of Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a Bill Gates-funded program that lays stress on genetically modified seeds, monocultures, agrochemicals, biotechnologies and a free market.

A number of small-farmer organizations and indigenous groups chose to boycott the Rome pre-summit citing the exclusion of their exclusive farming knowledge at the September summit. They instead conducted their own parallel events.

Stressing that access to food is a basic human right, Caritas Internationalis issued a statement ahead of the Rome event in which the charity arm of the Church denounced the move to promote industrial agriculture.

Food systems cannot be transformed by just promoting industrial agriculture, said Aloysius John, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis.

Caritas is advocating promotion of community-based traditional agriculture and agroecology.

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