21 July 2021

LH Asks the Ministry of Agriculture to Bring the Voice of the People to the Food Systems Summit

Liga ba artigu ida ne'e iha lian Tetum

On 14 July, La’o Hamutuk and other NGOs sent a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries regarding the upcoming Food Systems Summit (FSS). The objective of the Summit is to establish a path toward realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to create an action plan and measurable goals to strengthen food systems. Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will participate in the Summit, including a pre-summit this month.

Will the FSS promote agricultural approaches that are good for people?

The UN signed an agreement with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to jointly realize the Food Systems Summit. The WEF represents the interests of more than 1000 global corporations. In our letter to the Ministry, we pointed out that many in civil society view this agreement as opening the door to major private sector actors to participate directly in UN governance processes, while excluding civil society and agricultural movements from helping to develop effective and just solutions. For this reason, many civil society organisations believe that that FSS will not come up with solutions which are appropriate or just for farmers.

Large corporations promote conventional agriculture, seeking to industrialize production through the use of machinery, pesticides, and hybrid or genetically modified seeds that small-scale farmers must repeatedly purchase from the companies who have the rights over the genetic material. 

This system can exacerbate hunger and food insecurity, and can burden small-scale farmers. Studies have shown that industrial agriculture, and agriculture built on biotechnology, does not help eradicate poverty or food insecurity, and can threaten water, the environment, and human health.

Family farming and agro-ecology are models that can conserve diversity of production, and serve as a strong foundation for further diversification. Diverse agricultural production is good for the soil and for the broader environment, and is more resilient to climate change. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes the importance of family farming, and had declared 2019-2028 as the Decade of Family Farming.  The FAO recognizes that family farming is key to achieving the SDGs, to which Timor-Leste is committed. Family farming isn’t contrary to modernization, but it focuses on technological innovations that are effective, sustainable and adapted for local knowledges and resources.

We need to strengthen people’s voices in food systems governance.

The FSS also plans to create a new Science-Policy Interface organization (SPI). SPIs, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), assist governance processes by facilitating research and analysis. 

Through the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS), there is already an SPI addressing food systems: the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE). This Committee was established in 2010, and since then has provided reports and research on food security, nutrition, and related topics to the Committee for Food Security. Unfortunately the FSS will probably reduce the role of the HLPE and replace it with a new SPI, which will reduce accountability because it will likely be comprised of scientists and private sector actors, and will be less open to civil society participation.

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) has published a briefing note about shifting the HLPE mandate to a new SPI; they are concerned that the new body may fail to recognize local communities and farmers as bearers of knowledge, while promoting technical solutions that overlook social, economic, and environmental relationships. We agree that an effective and just approach to food systems must involve high levels of participation from farmers, and the “unskilled” population.

What should the Ministry’s message to the FSS be?

For this reason, we believe that the people of Timor-Leste have a relevant and important perspective on the FSS which the Ministry, as a participant in the Summit, should give voice to.
In our letter, La’o Hamutuk made the following recommendations to the Ministry:

  • Bring the voice of the people to the FSS, and raise concerns about the role of the World Economic Forum and the limited role of communities. 

  • Share Timor-Leste’s experiences of family farming, sustainable and organic agriculture, and agro-ecology, and encourage participants in the FSS to promote these approaches.

  • Use the FSS as an opportunity to open a conversation about the role of civil society and farmers in UN governance, and promote greater accountability and inclusion in these processes.

  • Reject calls to create new Science-Policy Interface that would fail to include strong participation mechanisms, to replace the HLPE.

  • Share Timor-Leste’s experience of the impacts of climate change, to demonstrate the importance of responding to this threat by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making appropriate adaptations.

  • Continue to realize democratic values and sustainability within Timor-Leste, by promoting and strengthening family farming, water conservation, popular governance and prioritizing the achievement of food security through food sovereignty, including quality nutrition for all.

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