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People’s food sovereignty

 The Big Issue Zambia 31 May 2019

At the turn of the Millennium, the UN made it its goal to half world hunger rates by 2015. However, numbers are rising, now with over a billion people worldwide living in hunger. Paolo Riva reports from the FAO World Summit on Food Security in Rome. (850 Words) - By Paolo Riva


"The same old story: the leaders come to Rome, they smile and make nice speeches, but once again they are not going to reach any concrete goal." At the opening session of FAO World Summit on Food Security which was held from 16th to 18th November 2009, Robert didn't have any doubt. He is an experienced African reporter who has covered both the 1996 and the 2002 summits and now he doesn't rely anymore in the UN Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO) based in Rome. Even though he comes from Sierra Leone, which is one of the six countries in the world - all of them in Africa - where food situation is extremely worrying with 47% of the whole population undernourished, he was terribly sceptical.

And, sadly, he was right. In fact, at the end of the summit, the Senegalese FAO general director Jacques Diouf admitted: "We have faced only the technical aspects of the hunger issue and we have written a paper without neither qualified goals nor precise deadlines." The final declaration is disappointing. First of all, 2025 is not mentioned as the last date to completely defeat hunger in the whole world. Second and most important, there are no clear indications about the 44 billion US Dollars which Diouf asked of from the donor countries before the summit with a day of fasting.

"The only interesting event," Robert went on, "is the visit of the Pope." For the first time since he became Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger came to the FAO and condemned in his speech "the egoism which considers food as any other goods" and permits speculations on it. He addressed his words to some leaders who took part in the meeting like the president of African Union on duty Muammar Gheddafi from Libya, Brazilian president Lula, Egyptian prime minister Hosni Mubarak, Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, European Commission President Manuel Barroso and, of course, UN secretary Ban Ki Moon. Also the president Rupiah Banda was present, but, in total, only 60 countries out of 192 were represented by their most important politicians and none of them were from most influent countries. Leaders of China and G8 (with the exception of the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi) were all absent.

Basically, after donors had promised in 1996 and 2002 to reduce world hunger by half by 2015, not only they have allowed the number of hungry people to increase from 830 million to more than one billion, but they have also delegitimized the new summit not coming to Rome. The unique present, Silvio Berlusconi, just renewed the promise of 22 billion US Dollars for the next three years made last summer at the G8 meeting in L'Aquila (Italy). However it is not yet clear how and when this amount of money is going to be raised.

The summit, like one of the most important Italian newspapers has written, was a great defeat because multilateral organisms (like World Bank, UN and its agencies) are ineffective, donors are egoist and developing countries governments are mediocre. So what? What could we do to act against hunger?

Start from the grassroots. Before the official meeting, the Civil Society's Organization Forum was also held in Rome, where 642 delegates from 450 associations flocked together from 93 different nations. Its slogan was "People's food sovereignty now!" and its participants were peasants, family farmers, small scale fishers, pastoralists, indigenous but also urban people, agricultural workers, local and international NGOs. They tried to find a solution for a problem that affects them closely: 80% of hungry people in the world, in fact, are small scale growers.

According to the forum final declaration, the solution for the hunger issue is giving "equitable access to, and control over, land, water, seeds fisheries and agricultural biodiversity" to the people who produce food. Governments and international organizations should support family farming and local market and act against speculations and, especially, land grabbing. "In less than a year," the declaration states again, "Over 40 million hectares of fertile land in Africa (including Zambia), Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe have been usurped through these deals, displacing local food production for export interests. These alarming practices which countries and companies are colluding in must stop".

At the end of the day, the distance between civil society forum proposals and FAO summit outcomes was huge and criticisms harsh. "It's scandalous that G8 leaders were not here," said Sergio Marelli, chair advisor for the relationships between the two meetings and president of the italian NGOs association. "It seems like an attempt to delegitimize UN in favour of the World Bank which is one of the biggest causes of the crisis."

In such a negative framework, however, there are still some silver linings for the future. On the 17th of October last year, in fact, the reform of the FAO Committee on World Food Security was finally approved. Now it has to be implemented within 2011 and, then, the civil society organizations could have some representatives in the committee and take part in the agency decisions to finally achieve the "people's food sovereignty".


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Originally published by The Big Issue Zambia. ©

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