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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Invitation to an open discussion on the political outcome document of the ICN2

Rahul Goswami
Rahul GoswamiUnesco Asia expert on intangible cultural heritage; adviser, Centre for Environmental Education Himalaya, IndiaIndia

Dear Forum administrators and facilitators,

In this contribution on a 'zero' draft of the political outcome document I call the attention of the FAO-WHO joint working group to paragraphs that in my view require rewriting or deletion altogether.

Para 3 - "Recognise that the causes of malnutrition are complex and multidimensional, while food availability, affordability and accessibility remain key determinants."

If you reverse the construction - "recognise that low or inadequate availability of food, unaffordable food and lack of access to food are the results of complex and multi-dimensional factors, and that malnutrition arises from these results combining" - that is in my view closer to the conditions experienced by families and households that are food insecure. Framed in the original way, where they are 'determinants', allows the idea that these determinants can be rectified to find credence, and that by doing so malnutrition will subside. Not so.

Para 3 - "The evolution of food (including agricultural) systems -- with innovations in production, manufacturing, storage and distribution -- has led to enhanced dietary diversity, greater consumption of vegetables and fruit, as well as meat and dairy, in developing countries, although benefits have been uneven."

It is not food systems that have evolved (the balanced and equitable ones required no evolution) but that industrial processes to convert primary crop into packaged and processed food have exchanged foodways (a more culturally apposite term) for the industrialised provision of commodity calories according to the dictates of economies of scale.

Para 3 - "The consumption of processed foods, sugars and fats, particularly saturated and trans-fats, as well as salt, have also increased globally, fuelling the global epidemic of NCDs."

This is so, and this clause is a direct descendant of the previous one and needs to be stated as such.

Para 3 - "The food system is still unable to provide safe and nutritious food for all and is increasingly challenged to do so, in view of the constraints posed to food production by resource and ecological sustainability concerns, especially climate change."

Not so. Food systems (foodways or the localised cultivation and provision of food) does provide safe and nutritious food as a thriving myriad of smallholder associations, community-supported agriculture and organic movements prove every day. To claim otherwise is folly. And furthermore to ascribe an inability of these localised and community-centric cultivation and food provisioning systems to address matters of resource use, ecological and environmental sustainability and adaptation to climate change is sophistry that must be deleted for it is wholly untrue.

Para 4 - "Reaffirm that the elimination of malnutrition in all its forms is an imperative for ethical, political and economic reasons."

Be simple and true. The continued existence of malnutrition will no longer be countenanced. Economic reasons are not the ones that govern human relationships nor their potential when nurtured, for that lies far beyond current macro-economics.

Para 6 - "Renew the commitments made at the first International Conference on Nutrition and at the World Food Summit, and pledge to increase efforts to support initiatives such as the UN Secretary General's Zero Hunger Challenge."

Only insofar as they do not hinder or obstruct diverse articulations of food sovereignty, and respect such diversity.

The 'Reshaping the food system to improve people's nutrition' requires in my view an almost complete re-casting.

Para 9 - "Recognise that good nutrition requires ..." is as we saw with Para 3 a reversing of local wisdom and agro-ecological practice. It is smallholder agriculture free from synthetic fertiliser and inputs, free from the entrapments of the commercial seed industry and genetically modified technology, and in persisting with culturally traditional methods of cultivation that is sustainable, the practice of which assures good nutrition. We do not start from a perception that nutrition is poor in all cases in order to claim that all food systems require techno-capital repair.

Food supply as the output of a mechanistic approach has nothing whatsoever to do with farmers and community institutions - which is implied here, and therefore these connected perceptions of "nutritional content, diversity and safety" are not tenable.

Para 10 - "Acknowledge that food systems should produce more ..." seeks a 'guarantee' of supply. This is repugnant. It is this guarantee of the globalised food distribution channel that has almost fatally distorted local supply and convinced food buyers that access to all possible foods (foreign and exotic) is a minimum default they can aspire to. Just as egregious is "year-round access to macro and micronutrients", for the same reasons, but these reasons can rapidly become more threatening when in the form of biofortification.

Para 11 - "Reaffirm that all systems for food production ... " evades the definitions that should be demanded for "sustainably managed" and for "ecologically sensitive". By applying whose yardstick? A local point of view that has the benefit of traditional knowledge and practice, or the view of a technocrat in a central and influential planning position who has the interests of the food industry in the foreground? The remainder of the para is based on tenuous connections between climate change, food security, adaptation and food waste, and then conflates these into 'Climate Smart' which has become something of an odious trademark to be affixed to a techno-capital vehicle that packages these aspects together as an agri-nutrition solution from which the local, the organic, the agro-ecological and the culturally appropriate have been excised. This para must go.

Para 12 - "Recognise that appropriate policy packages ... " is a clumsy effort to find common ground between 'policy' and 'nutrition', and in its clumsiness conceals the danger that it can be interpreted in ways hostile to food sovereignty. What sort of "appropriate policy packages", for whom and at what cost and preferred over which alternatives? Who will decide the adequacy of any measures? Why should nutrition be diced up amongst sectors only to be turned into a rubber stamp for the further commercialisation of those sectors? Investments, subsidies and nutrition goals cannot in any national and international formulation of rights, state duties and obligations, citizenship and justice, be combined without definition and without public regulation. This para has no place here.

Para 13 - "Recognise that increased public investment to improve nutrition is needed ... " no indeed. Support by the state for smallholder farmers in ways they have, the world over, demanded is what is needed. In this para again an attempt is made to present increased agricultural productivity with more nutritious foods. This is unacceptable when we have evidence enough to show that for at least the last decade, the quantities of primary crops produced are sufficient to meet current needs, and evidence enough to show that agricultural biodiversity when not extinguished by corporate monocultures is enough to supply the many nutrients human society needs.

Para 14 - "Recognise that empowering the consumer to make ... " the consumer is deliberately kept from both knowledge and from exercising the rights to demand information by corporate interference with the directive principles of governance concerning the obligations of a government to protecting the rights of citizens. The onus here cannot be on the consumer to find out, nor on the government to enforce, but on industry and its sponsors to be curtailed, fully and completely, from influencing choice and from filtering knowledge and information.

Paras 15 and 16 - find ways to ensure that "programmes, interventions and partnerships" are written into an actionable agenda and will be helped along by development assistance "including climate mitigation and adaptation finance, philanthropic transfers and other foreign assistance" which altogether widens the scope of the financialised food industry to determine every conceivable facet that can shape the provision of food to consumers.

There are, in these paragraphs and four others that I have not dealt with in detail for lack of time, the clear intention that the food industry - from seed to inputs, from delivery to retail, and including the financial and banking sponsors of the modern industrial food system - be in no way burdened by any expectations raised during ICN2, and that the responsibilities concerning safety, choice, information, regulation (if at all), liabilities and consequences be borne by government and using public monies. This gross bias must be corrected.