Civil society deeply concerned about multi-stakeholder language at the CFS42

The  42nd session of the Commtte on Food Security (CFS42) took place from 12 to 15 October at the FAO headquarters, in Rome.  The CFS is an intergovernmental body that meets every year (since its establishment in 1974) mandated to review and follow-up policies concerning world food security including production and physical and economic access to food. After an internal reform in 2009, the CFS has become a much more inclusive platform for different actors  - governments, international organizations, UN agencies, civil society organizations, social movements and private sector - to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all.

Because of its nature of being -intergovernmental and 'multi-stakeholder' - the CFS is unanimously recognized as a unique UN global governance platform to discuss food and nutrition. However, CSOs are increasingly worried about the recent trend within the CFS, as much as within the broader UN,  to promote multi-stakeholder approaches where corporations, states and people are given equal voice and rights.   

During the CFS plenary the multi-stakeholder approach was continuously mentioned by the chairperson, the panellists, the governments and the private sector as a unique feature and distinguished added value of the committee; the fact that civil society and the private sector are sitting together around the same table was emphasized as a great success and a first step towards a mutual understanding and sharing.

On the contrary the civil society and social movements sought to take distance from this multi-stakeholder language and approach in which the difference between public and private interests are blurred.  The fact that the two constituencies sit at the same table doesn't mean that they have convergent interests and needs. Rather the committee needs to  distinguish between right holders, duty bearers and third parties. 

It must been said very clearly that this is not just an ideological position or a philosophical speculation that civil society organizations want to champion. It is rather a substantive question:  civil society is  basically asking for a governance model where right-holders are at the front, in order to counterbalance the growing weight that the private sector has acquired in the recent years  on public policy making, particularly within the UN institutions. In an op-ed published by Devex, FIAN's secretary general Flavio Valente points out that 'since the Rio summit in 1992 business rhetoric has increasingly spilled over into the international political arena, namely the United Nations. Corporations have been positioning themselves as part of the solution to global challenges, such as climate change and eco-destruction, poverty and hunger'. (…) 'High priorities of TNCs have infiltrated crucial areas such as food and nutrition. Big food industry and agribusiness already, and heavily, influence this policy arena, including the type of solutions that should be sought to tackle malnutrition'. Nutrition is a delicate domain that must be protected from undue corporate influence and governments must not  give up sovereignty to the corporate sector.

The influence of the private sector and its business oriented solutions have also been very evident also during other summits like The Second International Conference on Nutrition (Rome, November 2014), the SDGs process culminated with the adoption of the Agenda 2030 last September, the Third Conference on Financing for Development (Addis Ababa, July 2015). All of them have marked a serious step backward and somehow sanctified business oriented solutions such as the Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), despite the fact that they have proved to be ruinous and extremely expensive for the collectivity/taxpayers. (See Eurodad's paper 'What lies beneath')

A further consequence is that the human rights agenda is being gradually pushed out of the international agreements. In other words the UN system speaks less and less about human rights language! The SDGs for instance are not centred on a human rights based approach and the right to food is not even mentioned under Goal 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and  promote sustainable agriculture). In such a context, CSOs cautioned during the CFS plenary that the overarching approach for fully achieving the eradication of hunger, must be based on the right to adequate food and nutrition (CSM/CFS42 statement on SDGs). Otherwise we risk to transform rights into needs and needs into markets, advancing a commodification of every aspects of life, Stefano Prato of the Society for International Development pointed out.  

On a positive note, a consensus was reached this year within CFS42 to recognize the human right to water as core aspect of the realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition. The civil society working group on water welcomed the inclusion in the decision box of a 'clear prioritization of vulnerable and marginalized populations, with specific recommendations for protecting women and girls, as well as access to drinking water in the workplace" (For more information read FIAN's press release)
Another positive result was achieved with regards to the CFS monitoring and accountability system: despite the resistance of some governments towards the idea that voluntary guidelines should be subject to a monitoring system, the agreement was reached to set up a monitoring mechanism. As a matter of fact, without such a system, how could CFS progress be evaluated and its achievements be acknowledged?
A burning issue still on the table of CFS is the funding mechanism of the Committee which has a deficit of 5 millions US dollars. A financial gap that can not be explained as a result of shrinking public funding as the amount can be definitely afforded by governments. In fact this looks more as a political question,  civil society pointed out during the plenary,  highlighting that CFS should be funded only through public sources and not private money in order to preserve its independence and integrity. What mechanism does CFS have to prevent private funding? Flavio Valente asked to the chairperson during the CSM meeting.
No doubt that many challenges remain ahead of the CFS. Mary Robinson recommendation was that CFS must encourage the conversation and plan for greater coherence to address and achieve sustainable development. In this regard, the CFS has a key role to play in both the follow up of the ICN2 and of the Agenda 2030.  
No doubt either that some results this year have been achieved  in terms of human rights and inclusiveness. It is along this route that the CFS must continue its work, joining the civil society in urging governments to put in place enforceable mechanism to protect public interests and citizens against conflict of interest (Mary Mubi).
In order to truly act as a genuine platform for different actors, the CFS  must work  towards a policy making process that is more participative (of citizens) and based on the rights of the people rather than on the needs of the corporations. This is the great challenge on the table in a context of less money coming from governments!

by Angela Zarro, SID


Related links:

Report: Right to Food and Nutrition Watch Report 2015

Column: 'Africa and the WTO - the Perils of Weakening the Development Agenda' by Biraj Patnaik and Timothy A. Wise, All Africa.

Declaration Nyéléni 2015: International Forum for Agroecology 

Press release: FIAN on 'World Food Day: An opportunity to reflect on corporate influence'

CFS: Multi-Year Programme of Work (MYPoW) for 2016-2017

CSM: International Food Security and Nutrition Civil Society Mechanism