The Committee on Food Security is the foremost inclusive intergovernmental and international political platform on food security and nutrition with the explicit vision to foster the progressive realization of the right to adequate food for all. In this work, the CFS is supported by its science-policy interface body on food security and nutrition, the High Level Panel of Experts (CFS-HLPE). The annual plenary of the CFS offers the U.N. Members States the opportunity to negotiate political decisions to tackle food insecurity. The talks are informed by input from key participants, such as civil society, Indigenous peoples and the private sector mechanism, as well as the U.N. agencies, research organizations and invited observers.
In the leadup to the plenary negotiations, civil society engaged in the ongoing work of the CFS as part of the Civil Society and Indigenous People Mechanism (CSIPM) on each of these issues. In October, regarding the various discussed processes, the plenary recognized the importance of women in the agriculture sector and the discrimination that they face. Despite, or rather due to the difficulties in negotiations, the plenary decided to continue the policy convergence process to develop the Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment through the coming year. However, reflecting on the policy convergence process (so far) to develop these voluntary guidelines, the CSIPM and allies stated the need to recognize the diverse socioeconomic realities faced by women and non-binary people across diverse territories. In addition, the CSIPM called on the Member States to understand the divergent issues at hand by considering available evidence to address the issues in full, rather than avoiding discussion.
The CFS plenary endorsed the Policy Recommendations on Promoting Youth Engagement and Employment in Agriculture and Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition, recognizing that “Investing in young people and strengthening their participation in decision-making processes, including through enhanced and equitable access to resources, is key to contributing to food security and nutrition, poverty eradication, employment generation, sustainability and resilience of agriculture and food systems.” The policy outcome contains some good elements but falls far short of the HLPE recommendations and, as pointed out by the international farmers network La Via Campesina, “it failed to identify and dismantle systems of oppression that prevent the full realization of young people's rights, including the right to food and food sovereignty."
The most pressing challenge for the international community is the fact that nearly one in 10 people go to bed hungry every night. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report from 2022, 828 million people — nearly 10% of the world’s population — were food insecure in 2021. It was heartening to see many participants and several Member States recognize the deep and ongoing crises of hunger, climate chaos and inequalities, and that both the pandemic and ongoing wars have exacerbated this multi-layered food crisis. Thanks to outreach efforts by the current chair of the CFS, there was much broader participation from the wider U.N. system at this plenary than in the past, underscoring its convening power to coordinate an effective response to the food crisis.
In line with our analysis and supported by the evidence gathered through regional consultations of the CSIPM, as well as in line with the CFS strategic objective of being a platform for governments to come together with other stakeholders to discuss the food security and nutrition situation and coordinate collective action at all levels, we were hopeful that the CFS plenary would resolve to develop a coordinated policy response against Hunger and Malnutrition. CSIPM proposed that the plenary agrees “to leverage its convening power to coordinate efforts and start a process, led by a Member State and open to all interested members and participants, to i) share impacts, responses, and strategies to address current and prevent future food crises during this inter-sessional period and ii) design by CFS 51 a plan of action to provide ongoing globally coordinated policy guidance.”
Yet, when it came to making decisions that would impact the lives of hundreds of millions of hungry, the plenary could not come to an agreement. As expected, the conflict in Ukraine politicized the negotiations and brought negotiations to a halt. Geopolitics trumped the day; Member States were more concerned about ensuring that the plenary recognized neither the wars nor unilateral sanctions as exacerbating global food insecurity than about coming to an agreement.
The CSIPM had to remind repeatedly the Member States that the CFS is the only dedicated multilateral space to discuss and arrive at negotiated policies to create the right conditions to ensure the right to food for all. The CFS is neither a place where a Member State can veto an outcome nor is it a place for geopolitical fights to hinder negotiations.
Unfortunately, this year, most Member States failed to remember this reality, and the 50th session of the CFS ended up being particularly disappointing and frustrating, especially as the world is facing its worst food crisis of the 21st century. However, not all Members States failed the CFS, though. Some Member States, in support of civil society positions, tried to advocate for the CFS to launch a joint political initiative to tackle the crisis. Unfortunately, this did not succeed, as the debate focused on the “blame game” around the wars and their consequences.
As a result, and maybe for the first time in the history of the reformed CFS, negotiations were stuck to a point that no solutions were in sight. Therefore, the 50th session of the CFS could not be concluded and will be continued virtually in the coming weeks. While the continuation offers another opportunity to put a coordinated response to the food crisis in motion, this failure illustrates the current struggles of international food governance and multilateralism.