Ms. Veronica Villa
Organization: ETC Group
Field(s) of expertise:
I am working on:
Future of the food systems in an endangered planet. Food emergencies, territorial systems. Digitalization in food and agriculture.
Ms. Veronica Villa
Contribución de ETC Group a la consulta electrónica sobre el borrador V0 de la nota CCED del GANESAN
3ª ª Nota del GANESAN sobre Cuestiones críticas, emergentes y duraderas
1. Compartir sus comentarios sobre la lista de las cuestiones críticas, emergentes y duraderas seleccionadas:
¿Son las siete CCED identificadas por el GANESAN los problemas más importantes que afectan la seguridad alimentaria y la nutrición, a nivel mundial y en contextos específicos?
¿Hay otras cuestiones clave que deberían ser añadidas y desarrolladas? En caso afirmativo, proporcione una justificación de por qué son "críticas", junto con la literatura y los datos relevantes.
Las nuevas tecnologías de edición genética, como la denominada “impulsores genéticos” pueden presentar amenazas hacia distintos sistemas alimentarios. Los impulsores genéticos se han probado en amarantáceas consideradas malezas, para devolverles la vulnerabilidad a los pesticidas. Las amarantáceas son alimento principal en poblaciones del sur de México y los Andes. El cruzamiento entre especies que incorporan impulsores genéticos y especies convencionales, así como el desplazamiento de los genes de organismos impulsores-genéticos hacia sistemas alimentarios que tienen amarantáceas, amenazan distintos sistemas alimentarios. Los impulsores genéticos están ganando legitimidad como estrategia de conservación, de control de poblaciones consideradas plagas. El avance de los impulsores genéticos y sus posibles implicaciones para los sistemas alimentarios podría tomarse en cuenta como CCED por el GANESAN.
Grupo ETC, 2018, “Exterminadores en el campo”. Impulsores genéticos: cómo favorecen la agricultura industrial y amenazan la soberanía alimentaria”. Disponible en castellano, inglés y francés en: https://www.etcgroup.org/content/forcing-farm
CSS / Ensser/ VDW, 2021, Genetically engineered gene drives: IUCN report on Synthetic Biology lacks balance. A critique of the IUCN report ‘Genetic Frontiers for Conservation: An assessment of synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation’ –with regards to its assessment of gene drives
May 2021, Authors: Mark Wells, PhD & Ricarda Steinbrecher, Ph
Disponible en inglés, castellano y francés en
Ms. Veronica Villa
May 17, 2022
RE: INPUT FOR HLPE’S CRITICAL, EMERGING AND ENDURING ISSUES (CEEI) CONSULTATION
Submitted by Long Food Movement partners IPES-Food and ETC Group.
To the HLPE CEEI Consultation Committee,
We are writing in response to the CEEI consultation question, “Are there any other key issues that should be added and elaborated? If yes, please provide a justification of why they are “critical”, together with relevant literature and data.”
The Long Food Movement initiative worked to chart potential food systems trajectories to 2045, via different scenarios. To this end, project partners undertook a multi-year, multi-method process to identify new and emerging food systems issues. Based on this extensive research and outreach, project partners would like to propose the addition of two key issue areas to the list of potential CEEI:
1. Assessing Impacts of New and Emerging Technological Trends on FSN;
2. Preparing for Future Disruptive Events.
Please find brief information on each theme below.
1. Assessing Impacts of New and Emerging Technological Trends on FSN
Some of our basic assumptions about food systems – that food is grown by farmers, with soil and sunlight – are being upended by emerging developments. There are four key overlapping domains where highly disruptive innovations are likely to be rolled out over the next 25 years: digitalization, automation, molecular technologies, and nature modification. Delivering ‘climate resilience’ and ‘nature-based’ solutions is a big part of their promise to policymakers. But in a post-pandemic world, the previously dystopian notion of a fully automated food chain without human workers is also being advanced as a solution for food safety, hygiene, and resilience to labour shocks.
These technologies are driving unprecedented corporate consolidation – and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down. The biggest change is the arrival of new players: specifically the marriage between Big Ag and data platforms. For agri-food companies, data strategies are not just a means to capture new efficiencies in food, but also to benefit from ‘surveillance capitalism’, whereby data giants amass and leverage data itself as a new form of capital. Amazon and Microsoft provide most of the world’s cloud computing infrastructure and are partnering with agribusiness-led digital platforms to deliver the weather, agronomic, and production data to and from precision farming systems. Farm equipment giants are embracing the digitalization wave and building the hardware and software for so-called 'precision' or 'digital' agriculture into their tractors and harvesters.
Digitalization is also providing an incentive for agribusinesses to forge partnerships with specialized technology companies. For instance, the agricultural sector will become second only to the military in its drone usage over the next five years. Meanwhile, the commodity titans are forging alliances around emerging digital technologies (especially blockchain and AI) to automate grain and oilseed trading, and as a general tool for traceability, transparency, and control of infrastructure.
The rush to access new e-retail and food delivery markets – accelerated by the pandemic – is also producing new food industry giants. E-commerce companies led by Amazon and China’s JD.com are now among the top ten retailers globally. New behemoths are forming as the global North’s food logistics firms and data platforms merge with e-commerce leaders in emerging markets. Amazon, Alibaba, Microsoft, Google (through its Alphabet X) and Baidu are also moving into the production part of the food chain, with digital ag firms highly reliant on their cloud, AI, and data processing services.
The growing financialization of the food system – coupled with the new technologies on offer – is also creating a new tier of (largely invisible) agri-food giants. A handful of mega-size equity firms have sensors, data streams, and financial fingers in every point along the food chain. Judging by recent developments, asset management firms are now out to buy stakes in all of the biggest firms. Some analysts are calling this practice, known as horizontal shareholding, ‘the greatest anti-competitive threat of our time’. The biggest asset management companies like Blackrock, Vanguard, State Street, Capital Group and Fidelity have designated funds for investments in food and agriculture, allowing investors to go into farming without owning land. These five companies own 10–30% of the shares of the top agri-food firms, and similar stakes in e-retail and cloud services. Alternative asset managers that control hedge funds (e.g. Blackstone) have been aggressively investing in agribusinesses and agricultural land in the global South, including in Brazil, where the firm was identified as a direct driver of Amazon deforestation. The advent of large-scale aggregated food system data, combined with AI, can provide hedge funds with novel instantaneous insights to drive commodity speculation – so called High Frequency Trading.
These trends will be amplified by ‘fintech’, i.e. the electronic payments, cryptocurrencies and electronic loans that are changing what money is and how it is handled. The super-computers needed to power fintech are administered by big companies – often financial firms – with the means to set up blockchains on one end, and consumer banking services on the other. Meanwhile, these blockchains are becoming a tool for corporations to both mine data on consumer behaviour, and transform (in their favour) the logistics, handling, and production systems that manage food chains – with little regard for labour, equity, or ecological impacts.
As a result of these trends, the big visible names in food by 2045 are most likely to be today's data processors, e.g. Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, and Alibaba – as well as the telcos who control the data pipes and 5G networks. These and other data giants are also buying up and adding to the hyper-accelerating Internet network of cables, fibers, 5G, mobile, satellite, and edge networks. Others – including Elon Musk – are deploying internet beaming satellites to position for agridigital domination from the skies. In parallel, well known agribusinesses such as Bayer, Yara, and John Deere are reinventing themselves as rich data providers and combining data and biotech capabilities into biodigital strategies.
But new technologies, especially digital ones, develop differently in rich and poor regions of the world. For most of the small-scale agricultural world, new technologies are often deployed as instruments of control (population, individual and economic), community espionage and information mining.
Over time, it may not be the cloud, hardware, network, or interstellar layer that directs the digital food chain, but instead opaque asset management firms who are pulling the strings in the background. And with various forms of corporate consolidation continuing apace, by 2045 the big names will be considerably bigger and more powerful than they are today.
It is clear that these trends will have extensive impacts on all aspects of food systems. In order to protect and support food security and nutrition for people around the world, it will be necessary for the CFS - members and partners - to have the capacity to assess and contend with new and emerging technological issues. We therefore urge the HLPE to consider this theme among the CEEI.
2. Preparing for Future Disruptive Events
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, there is no longer any question that repeated food system disruption is to be expected into the future. Whether this will be due to multi bread-basket failures, the collapse of the Internet, embargoes at food trade “choke” points - or more pandemics and wars - future disruptive events are going to happen, we just can’t be sure of when and how.
Future disruptive events (sometimes called ‘Grey Swans’) are unpredictable in date and detail, yet can still be anticipated and planned for. They tend to arise from plausible conditions and come with relatively predictable – and usually compound – risks and opportunities: hurricanes, floods, and droughts are followed by epidemics and famines; food failures often have multiple sources; and every so-called large-scale ’natural’ disaster can reasonably be assumed to instigate an economic disaster that can trigger a political upheaval.
The CFS, members and partners - if using a long-term strategic lens - will be much better placed to support food security and nutrition in these critical moments, rather than to navigate cycles of crisis management. The CFS would benefit from having two key elements - an early warning system, and an early listening system - in place. These would allow member countries and CSIPM partners to anticipate and recognize coming upheavals; and to build response strategies that address the immediate crisis, including a plan for how to maximize food security and nutrition in the restructuring that inevitably follows disruption. With recent world events continuing to significantly impact FSN, there is no reason (nor excuse) for food system actors to be unprepared for future disruptive events in the years ahead. We therefore encourage the HLPE to consider the theme of “Preparing for Future Disruptive Events.”