African social movements call on UN food summit to give people back control

In the second blog in our ‘food year’ series, guest blogger Million Belay explains why now is the time to demand a better food system that works for small-scale food producers in Africa – who account for most of the world’s food insecure.

Million Belay's picture
Insight by 
Million Belay
Million Belay is coordinator at the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa
21 July 2021
Food year: exploring the policies and practices to transform our food systems
A series of blogs shining a light on the critical issues for food policies around the 2021 Food Systems Summit
People standing between piles of bananas

Banana market in the Mount Kenya region, Kenya (Photo: 2010CIAT/NeilPalmer via FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0)

Since the end of 2019, the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has been one of the most talked-about events.

The appointment of Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the summit took many people by surprise. For many civil society organisations (CSOs) and small-scale producers, the ‘green revolution’ high-tech, corporate-controlled approach lies at the heart of Africa's food system's challenge.

Coming from a continent where corporations are gaining more influence over our land, seeds, water, forests and, in general, our food chain, I believe now is the right time to talk about food.

This is the latest blog in the 'food year' series that explores policies and practice to transform our food systems. Read the first blog setting out practical ways for the summit’s convenors to regroup after getting off to a rocky start.

The current trajectory towards an industrialised, externally controlled food system is poised to destroy many African peoples' basic way of life, and will exacerbate land degradation, biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution and the growing challenge of unplanned urbanisation.

The politics surrounding COVID-19 have made it clear that we in Africa are on our own. While several continents claim to have inoculated more than half of their people, only around 2% of Africans are vaccinated. Now is the moment for us to take action on our own behalf.

Getting diverse voices heard

Outside interests drive Africa’s food policy. Many of the major crises we face today are caused by the industrial food chain and corporate concentration around food and agriculture, which has been linked to declining health, rising hunger and malnutrition, deforestation, land degradation, loss of soil fertility, structural injustice and inequality.

So we were encouraged when leaders from around the world agreed to meet to discuss and find a solution to the food system's dilemma.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, which I coordinate, has offered a strategy to the African Union, recognising the crisis in our food system.

As a network of networks with 38 members representing small-scale farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, consumers, faith-based groups and civil society organisations working in 50 African countries, we believed it was our responsibility to demand a better food policy for Africa.

We are holding food system conversations in 24 African countries and working with the African Union to establish a food policy. We were in the middle of this project when the UNFSS was announced.

Without doubt, the UNFSS has brought food systems to the forefront of global attention. It has also highlighted the perspectives of different actors in the food system.

While small-scale food producers, civic society and other stakeholders advocate for a more sustainable and healthier diet based on food sovereignty, agroecology and local resilience strategies, several governments, scientists and corporate-driven institutions are advocating for a food system based on enhancing output through external technology, patented seeds, agrochemicals and a new information system for food producers.

Social movements are attempting to wrestle control of the food summit process, while promoting policies and strategies on agroecology and the right to food that have been studied and debated within the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) and its Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM).

Watch guest blogger Million Belay discuss food systems. The interview is also available on IIED's YouTube channel

The way forward: agroecology and the right to food

Even though agroecology and the right to food are gaining recognition within the UNFSS, there is still a long way to go in making them central to the food system's future strategy. The science that is prescribed as a solution by the UNFSS scientific group can be described as pure natural science, with little room for tried and tested traditional knowledge and practices, as well as social sciences.

The process, in my opinion, still has time to avoid being rejected by global civil society and small-scale food producers who make up the majority of the world’s food insecure provided it:

  1. Prioritises agroecology and the right to food in its proposals
  2. Integrates the food knowledge and practices of food insecure groups as a core component of its knowledge and science process, and
  3. Recognises the central role of current institutions, such as the CFS and CSM, as viable venues for discussions and solutions to our food systems.