As we’ve written about in earlier articles, civil society groups from around the world have been working together to lift up agroecology in the U.N. Committee on World Food Security (U.N. CFS) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). One such effort was to advocate that the CFS seek evidence on the ways agroecological approaches can simultaneously help address the multiple ecological — biodiversity, climate, water — and socioeconomic crises that the current food and agriculture systems seem to precipitate. These efforts are even more urgent in the leadup to the U.N. Food Systems Pre-Summit beginning July 26-28.
In 2017 the CFS asked its scientific arm, the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) to elaborate on agroecological and other innovative approaches. (Disclosure: I served on the HLPE Steering Committee from 2017-2019.) The HLPE was guided in its efforts to elaborate on agroecological and other innovative approaches by the input it received from all stakeholders through extensive consultations. By identifying salient features, the HLPE categorized all innovative approaches in two groups:
Agroecological (which foregrounded rights-based approaches, while paying attention to both socioeconomic-cultural and equity aspects, as well as to holistic ecological— biodiversity, water, soil health, climate — concerns);
Sustainable Intensification approaches that focused at least on one dimension of sustainability — be it water conservation, carbon sequestration or reduction of pesticide use — while also foregrounding economic productivity.
In addition, the HLPE developed 13 agroecological principles to help guide agroecological transitions. The HLPE report highlighted that for agroecological approaches to thrive, they need a level playing field. The report also emphasized that irrespective of the kind of food systems you are part of, from traditional agriculture to industrial monocultures, one can always be part of agroecological transitions. The five levels of agroecological transitions (as outlined by Steve Gliessman) offer a pathway towards transforming the current global food and agricultural systems to bring about fair, healthy and sustainable food, farm and trade systems that help build revitalized rural communities, a healthier planet and fairer societies. These messages, especially on adopting 13 key principles that offer a unifying framework for food systems transformation, are now being amplified by international organisations and individuals.
Over the months of April and May, member states at the CFS negotiated which elements of the HLPE recommendations they could agree upon as the way forward. IATP participated in these long and intense negotiations as part of the CFS Civil Society Mechanism. We were hopeful that member states would be open to this comprehensive approach to agroecological principles but were disappointed to see the U.S. negotiator leading the effort to thwart policy recommendations on agroecological approaches. In one instance, the U.S. negotiator (joined by Russia) blocked the inclusion of a text acknowledging the rights of farmers and farmworkers not to use or be exposed to hazardous substances or toxic chemicals including agrochemicals. Thus, the outcome is far from satisfactory.
However, the multilaterally agreed CFS policies, while not mandatory, can help guide food systems related policy making around the world. Thus, IATP and many of our partners are committed highlighting positive elements of the CFS policy recommendations that can help advance agroecological approaches, such as those that can help increase public investments in agroecological research and action.
Meanwhile, long-term advocates of agroecological approaches agree that the set of 13 principles for food systems transformation described in the 2019 HLPE report must serve as a basis for the transformation we urgently need. With an eye to the upcoming U.N. Food System Summit and other major international meetings in which the future of food systems will also be discussed, a broad range of organizations and movements have come together to call for an urgent food system transformation to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.