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High Level Panel of Experts open e-consultations

Re: HLPE consultation on the V0 draft of the Report: Agroecological approaches and other innovations for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition

Rahul Goswami
Rahul GoswamiCentre for Environment Education HimalayaIndia

My thanks to the HLPE project team and steering committee for writing this draft, and thanks to the FAO FSN forum for hosting this discussion with the draft as subject. It is always difficult, with many contributors from different backgrounds and who bring different interpretations and experiences, to have a 'common' report, because this more often than not means some loss through consensus.

The opening chapter on agro-ecology shows how challenging this process is. It also shows, in my view, the rather glaring shortcomings with expertise based in one language and that combined with a formalised perception of creation of knowledge and flows of knowledge. Where did this term agro-ecology come from? Because it is English, there are some references, but for the very large and very diverse non English-speaking world engaged in what 'agro-ecology' describes, this term has no meaning. Likewise, the definitions attempted for agro-ecology are those of scientists and researchers, and are given in one or more UN languages. The HLPE does have to ask itself, how true are these to what is practiced on the ground. I think some of us have raised this point in earlier consultations.

Still, I think it is good that the draft, in the section on agro-ecology as a social movement, brings in some views and some references which have been missing from the HLPE reports till now. However I would like to caution the HLPE not to put too much a political gloss on this. Yes it is true that in various parts of what used to be called two generations ago the Third World (today called Global South - but there is also the Global South in the Industrialised North) agro-ecology is a political medium. From experience, the most local practitioners of what we call agro-ecology make their practice not as a politics or to express a social mobilisation, they do so because this is the stream of knowledge they have inherited and because doing so is a cultural expression. This is an aspect that earlier HLPE on this subject has neglected or overlooked and still does.

I cannot understand what use the section 1.3 on 'contested areas of agro-ecology' is. If you are going to read scholars of crop science, biodiversity, land use, agrarian economy and other such subjects you are of course going to find disagreements and arguments. Do practitioners of such cultivation disagree with the knowledge they have inherited? Clearly not, so this section is a needless distraction.

In the same vein, I have to ask the HLPE to critically examine its view and material on 'innovation'.  which in the draft has been given quite a prominent place. You have defined it with help from previous work by FAO, and using sources such as Schumpeter (an economist who thought that lost jobs, ruined companies and vanished industries were all fine so long as the capitalist economy grew), the World Bank, the OECD, TEEB, WTO. I'm sorry to have to say so but these sources - together with the various research and academic papers cited - only formalise the notion that 'innovation' is of certain types, and that innovation can be recognised only when sanctioned by certain authorities. A bias like this in the draft is not balanced by quoting Nyeleni and Via Campesina here and there.

But it is in section 3 of your draft that some of the fundamental problems become visible. You have posed (with more than a hint of rhetoric) questions such as 'can agro-ecology feed the world?' (3.2.2), 'are global science and local knowledge opposed' (3.2.3), 'who benefits from technology and innovation' (3.2.5) and 'can GMOs be part of FSN' (3.2.6). I categorically advise the HLPE not to use this subject to advance GMOs, genetically modified or engineered seed, crop or food, likewise not to advance synthetic biology, new and under-research gene editing technologies, gene drives and gene forcing technologies, CRISPR and allied technologies. This is not what 'innovation' is, and we have had discussion aplenty in the FSN which should have informed you in a direction opposite to what you are now taking.

I am concerned that it is the voice of the corporate food industry has held a virtual monopoly in how food policy is shaped, and that the HLPE continues to ignore the mountainous evidence of this monopoly - at the inter-governmental and multi-lateral level as much as at the sub-national level, in provinces and states whose governments are influenced and lobbied by the corporate food industry. It is clear that the worldview of the multinational and transnational corporations (and their national subsidiaries), the agricultural biotech corporations, the fertiliser corporations, the seed companies, the dairy industry, the chemical pesticides manufacturers, is incompatible with an agro-ecological food policy that puts people and the planet at its centre.

Without such clear recognition in your work, section 4 of your draft has no basis, and your recommendations - instead of strengthening agro-ecology - become legitimacy for the greater control of food cultivation, distribution, processing and retail systems by industry and corporations. Dear HLPE you really to have to break your mould and begin afresh. Regards, Rahul Goswami