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Resource Rights and the Right to Food at the World Summit on Food Security

In 1996 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) organized the first World Food Summit in Rome to, in their own words, “renew global commitment to the fight against hunger. The FAO called the Summit in response to widespread under nutrition and growing concern about the capacity of agriculture to meet future food needs.”

The final declaration of that summit was signed by heads of state from most of the developed and developing world and stated: «We consider it intolerable that more than 800 million people throughout the world, and particularly in developing countries, do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. This situation is unacceptable. Food supplies have increased substantially, but constraints on access to food and continuing inadequacy of household and national incomes to purchase food, instability of supply and demand, as well as natural and man-made disasters, prevent basic food needs from being fulfilled.»

Despite some early progress made since the 1996 World Food Summit, the number of undernourished people in the world reached 923 million in 2007, according to the FAO.  The tragedy is that in the spring of 2008, sharp fluctuations in food prices set off protests in more than 30 poor countries across the world and exposing the failures of our globalized food systems. Since then that number has increased ever more and is tottering near the one billion mark.

In the US, at least 36 million people cannot access healthy food on a regular basis. Food banks have witnessed dramatic increases in the number of people they served in 2008. At the same time, food stocks for all kinds of emergency food assistance have declined due to higher food costs and waning donations, as the economy fell into a deep recession.

What was described as “intolerable” at the 1996 world Food Summit has now become endemic.

This week, November 16 – 18 2009 the FAO has organized yet another global summit the World Summit on Food Security because, in their words:
The global food insecurity situation has worsened and continues to represent a serious threat for humanity. With food prices remaining stubbornly high in developing countries, the number of people suffering from hunger has been growing relentlessly in recent years.

The global economic crisis is aggravating the situation by affecting jobs and deepening poverty. FAO estimates that the number of hungry people could increase by a further 100 million in 2009 and pass the one billion mark.

Many of Grassroots International’s partners, including the Via Campesina, the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees from the West Bank and Gaza are already in Rome attending the People’s Food Sovereignty Forum—a parallel initiative to the World Summit on Food Security. There are an estimated 400 delegates from 70 different countries representing small scale food producers’ organizations of farmers, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, food and rural workers, rural youth, women and pastoralists, as well as food insecure city dwellers and NGOs are gathered in Rome. One of the main ideas behind this parallel forum is to ensure that the voices of these grassroots peoples’ movements are heard at the World Food Summit.

“Time for talking is over,” said Nettie Wiebe, a Canadian farmer and a leader of the Via Campesina movement. “If the world is serious about eradicating hunger, there are not many options. We have to support and encourage small farmers to produce food for their communities in sustainable ways. A genuine solution to the food crisis means that small scale farmers, not transnational corporations, must regain control over food producing resources such as land, seeds, water and local markets.”

Allies of Grassroots International from the U.S. Working Group on the Global Food Crisis will present a statement on behalf of organizations that work here in the U.S. to try to change our government’s agriculture and food policies.

In the words of Nikhil Aziz, Executive Director of Grassroots International, “It is crucial that we challenge the U.S. government’s double speak on agriculture and food policies. While speaking about the importance of providing support to small-scale farmers to increase their ability to produce, the government agencies are pushing technological packages that are beyond the means of small farmers and also will have dire effects on the environment and climate change.”

Sadly, despite the promise of change, our government’s policies continue to be greatly influenced by representatives from agribusiness and ag-biotech corporations. As a result, US agriculture and food policies still favor large scale industrial production, trade and technologies like genetic engineering and nanotechnologies as the fix to address global hunger and malnutrition.

Javier Sanchez, from the Spanish farmers’ organization COAG, a member of Via Campesina, explains it this way: «There is a broad global consensus among farmers and consumers that the Genetic Modification technologies allow the companies to take control over seeds and deny farmers the possibility of saving their own seeds. Farmers lose the right to produce GM- free food while consumers lose the right to eat GM free food. It is a clear example of how the privatization of natural resources goes against the common interest. European consumers are wisely rejecting these technologies.»