PANNA: World Food Summit In Rome--Food Is a Human Right


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World Food Summit In Rome--Food Is a Human Right
July 5, 2002

Governments' efforts to end world hunger are failing--was the major point of consensus at the United Nations World Food Summit in Rome. The Summit, held from June 8 to 13, was convened by the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) when it recognized that its 1996 Global Plan of Action to eliminate world hunger would not reach its target of halving the world population of undernourished (currently estimated at 815 million) by the year 2015. Representatives from 183 countries attended the Summit--including heads of state from many developing countries and two from wealthy industrialized countries. At the same time, representatives of 650 non governmental and civil society organizations (NGOs and CSOs), including numerous producers, fisherfolk, pasturalists, rural residents and many groups linked with Pesticide Action Network, met for a productive parallel Forum on Food Sovereignty also sponsored by FAO.

UN and government leaders at the Summit cited a lack of political will and the need for wealthy nations to commit more resources as the primary reasons for the failure. However, the NGOs/CSOs Forum participants took issue with this analysis, and issued a statement faulting their basic approach to the problem: "The 1996 Plan of Action has not failed because of a lack of political will and resources, but rather because it supports policies that lead to hunger." In contrast, the people's organizations at the NGO/CSO Forum identified unbridled free trade and privatization policies as primary causes of hunger, and pointed to true land reform, support for local markets, and agro-ecological production practices as key solutions.

As stated in the NGO/CSO Forum Declaration, the official agenda endorsed by the World Food Summit compounds past errors: "There will be no progress toward the goal of eliminating hunger without a reversal of [current] policies and trends.... trade liberalization--the greatest force undermining livelihoods around the world--has diluted the concept of the human right to food, and proposes more enhanced neoliberal structural adjustment in the guise of HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Country) programs, recommends more emphasis on biotechnology and genetic engineering, and fails to support strengthening of production by the poor themselves for local markets, or the radical redistribution of access to productive resources, this is fundamental to real change for the better."

Throughout the Summit, the United States successfully blocked incorporation of the human right to food in official statements and action plans, and diluted language referring to this right in the Summit's concluding resolution. Proponents of ecological and organic agriculture were also bitterly disappointed by the official Summit's incorporation of the U.S. emphasis on genetically engineered (GE) crops as a means of reducing hunger for people with little or no access to food, and the omission of any reference to the need for precaution in dealing with GE crops.

"Agriculture in most parts of the world is more than 5,000 years old. In the last 50 years the green revolution has not only destroyed the environment, but the knowledge base of farmers. The new technologies of genetic engineering will make problems worse," said Oswald Quintal of the Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) network. "We have learned that community approaches and appropriate traditional techniques can resolve the present agricultural and hunger problems, not what is being promoted by the WTO and so called modern agriculture." According to Indian activist and scientist Vandana Shiva, "the Indian food systems are now being planned and managed as an investment sector for global agribusiness, not the livelihood security of millions of farmers and the nutritional and food security of the people."

To dramatize the need for change, a delegation of farmers, fisherfolk, women, peasants and activists supported by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific presented FAO's leadership with more than 50,000 postcards signed in rural areas of India, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries as part of an ongoing campaign to Get WTO (World Trade Organization) Out of Agriculture. "Peasants who spend all their days toiling the land are not able to make a living and are dying of hunger. The WTO has facilitated the dumping of heavily subsidized cheap food from developed countries, and this has only benefited the multinationals," explained Prem Dangal of the All Nepal Peasants Association.

Other events and actions organized by PAN groups at the NGO/CSO Forum and World Food Summit included a session with Summit delegates on Pesticides, Poverty and Food Sovereignty; a dynamic "Asia Tent" with displays of posters, banners, seeds, plants, crafts and materials on many issues; a "Food Sovereignty Tapestry" created by women attending the Forum from around the world; and workshops on Women and Food Sovereignty and on Agrochemical Trans National Corporations, GE and Pesticides. The day before the Summit, an estimated 40,000 people marched peacefully through the streets of Rome demanding food sovereignty and the right to food, and protesting GE crops and the failure of governments and the UN effort to end world hunger.

Both the governmental Summit and the NGO Forum issued final declarations at the meeting's close. The NGO Forum statement emphasized that food is a human right; that people and nations are entitled to determine their own agricultural and food policies; and that development policy should foster agro-ecological agriculture.

Sources:

NGO/CSO Forum for food sovereignty, Food Sovereignty: A Right For All, Political Statement of the NGO/CSO Forum for Food Sovereignty: http://www.forumfoodsovereignty.org/pressoffice/pressreleases/politicalstatement.htm.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific, Press Release, Pallacio dei Congressi, Rome, June 9, 2002, FAO Told: Take Agriculture Out of WTO! Uphold Peasants' Rights to Land and Other Resources!

Associated Press, June 8, 2002, Protesters Hold March in Rome Over Genetically Modified Food, Land Reform Ahead of U.N. Summit.

Website of the World Food Summit, FAO of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsummit.

Daily reports on the World Food Summit by the FoodFirst Institute for Food and Development Policy: http://www.foodfirst.org.

Contact: PANNA

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