Is the agroecological transition getting closer? – CIDSE

Is the agroecological transition getting closer?

A nuanced analysis by Vincent Dauby (Agroecology and Food Sovereignty Officer at the CIDSE Secretariat) and Valentin Brochard (Food Sovereignty Advocacy Officer at CCFD-Terre Solidaire) on the recommendations on agroecology by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS)  

The Committee on World Food Security (CFS), an international platform for UN Member States and stakeholders (research organizations, civil society, private sector) to work together to ensure food security and nutrition, gathered in June to discuss the adoption of its policy recommendations on agroecology and other innovative approaches

CIDSE follows the CFS negotiations every year as part of the Civil Society and Indigenous People’s Mechanism (CSM), gathering representatives of civil society organisations and bringing the people’s voices. During the past years, CSM was heavily involved in the discussion and negotiation processes that led to the publication of the new CFS policy recommendations on “agroecology and other innovative approaches”. 

However, while welcoming the fact that CFS addressed the topic of agroecology, the CSM expressed strong warnings about some parts of the policy recommendations that are not in line with the core principles of agroecology. Furthermore, some key principles of agroecology, such as the focus on small scale farming or the promotion of better agency within the food systems, were left behind on purpose. These views are gathered in a document published two weeks ago. CIDSE contributed to the discussion that led to its drafting. Based on this document and on the intel we gathered during these three years of political CFS process, we would like to highlight a few points regarding these CFS recommendations on agroecology and other innovative approaches. 

The CFS recommendations systemically addressed agroecology and acknowledged its multiple benefits while pointing out the lack of funding compared to other approaches. However, some parts of the document go against the core principles of what is agroecology and the recommendations are overall too weak to really support and facilitate the implementation of a real agroecological transition. In particular, three issues are really blatant: 

  • There is not enough centrality given to human rights. For CIDSE, it is unacceptable as we cannot transform food systems towards agroecology without putting human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable at the centre. There is a clear lack of reference to key UN documents such as the Declaration on Rights of Peasants. 
  • The section on pesticides is really underwhelming and focuses on their optimisation, rather than their phasing out. While this is going against the main guidance on the topic, this is also contrary to agroecological principles3. This is a cause of great concern as studies continue demonstrating the disastrous effects of pesticides on human health and on biodiversity. Agroecology does not need this kind of external inputs to produce sufficiently.  
  • Digitalisation4 is also promoted, while agroecology does not specifically rely on digital technology to ensure productivity. The recommendations recognise the risks that digitalisation poses on data security, data sovereignty, ownership and access. But they still do not prevent, in any manner, the promotion of those kinds of solutions.  This dangerously lays the ground for using agriculture as a new market for big data companies and other technology companies. While it may help improve access to information to farmers, it does not demonstrate its effectiveness in fighting hunger and poverty.  

Three main reasons can be put forward to explain why these issues appeared in the policy recommendations: 

First of all, this document is unfortunately no longer only about agroecology. Its scope was widened, under the pressure of some influent Member States, to include agricultural innovations among which most pro-industrial ones. This change has drastically influenced the outcome of the document, as it now makes the task to truly make justice to agroecology highly complicated. The structure, agency, and power relations within the agroecology system and the agroindustrial system are totally different. One can’t put, in the same document, systemic recommendations that serve both causes. 

Secondly, the negotiation process that led to this document was under heavy influence by agro-exporter States that are usually in disfavour of any agroecological transition. Even if agroecology is getting more and more attraction at the international level and at the ground level, few parties truly wanted to recognise its central role in transforming food systems. The proponents of the industrial global food system seized any opportunities to try to diminish the essence of agroecology and reduce it to a sole set of agricultural practices.  

Thirdly, those negotiations were rushed to fit in the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) agenda. While the CFS was totally put aside from the Summit organisation, some Member States wanted those new policy recommendations on agroecology and other innovative approaches to be ready way before the summit to try to influence its outcomes. It was a risky move, that CIDSE and CSM opposed, as it led to negotiations made under pressure with limited time dedicated to key issues and topics. The end result was a document of poor quality that was not of a real help for the Member States involved in the UNFSS process. 

While we don’t believe that this document truly serves our cause and should not be used to promote agroecological transition, we also need to acknowledge that, given the circumstances, we managed to avoid the worst-case scenario. Given the above points, and given the current political atmosphere where States, such as the US, can be openly hostile to the CFS, to any rights-based approach, and even more to agroecology, we need to say that this document managed to recognise some important and crucial elements. As the CSM declaration states: “We recognise that, thanks to the sustained commitment of some Member States, the CSM and a number of other participants, […] some important and critical elements of agroecology are highlighted, […]; language of respect and protection of human rights, women’s rights, the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas and the rights of Indigenous Peoples is included, although always with caveats; the need to reduce pressure on natural resources is recognised; the participation and inclusion of people in situations of vulnerability is encouraged; and adaptation to different contexts is promoted. In addition, there are some useful elements such as the need to: raise awareness among decision-makers about the risk of pesticides; promote greater integration of biodiversity for food and agriculture; and support participatory research”. 

In conclusion, we cannot say confidently that these CFS policy recommendations on agroecology and other innovative approaches will help the paradigm shift towards human rights and agroecology-based food systems. Now more than ever, it is necessary to continue working for a human-rights based approach of food systems, with farmers and consumers at the centre and the Principles of Agroecology as a compass.  

Picture: Sorapong Chaipanya /Pexels

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