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UN Rights Expert Pledges To Amplify Rural Voices In Upcoming UN Food Systems Summit

Rural groups and food sovereignty advocates from around the world organized an independent digital dialogue to engage with UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Michael Fakhri and his predecessor Hilal Elver on the demands and recommendations they want to raise in the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.

The dialogue, titled “Rural Voices: Food and Rights for All,” was held Oct. 9, 2020, and was attended by leaders of rural people’s movements from Asia, Africa, Latin America, West Asia and North Africa, and Europe. The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), an international movement of grassroots groups of small food producers and food sovereignty advocates, initiated the event to “deliver the demands and recommendations of the rural poor to address the food crisis and human rights situation to the [summit].”

“The rise of human rights violations and intensifying hunger amidst the spread of the [COVID-19] virus is a more critical situation for the rural poor. The rural poor are the most vulnerable both to the disease and the economic implications of the pandemic, and they should be at the forefront of priorities and their human rights should be respected and upheld,” PCFS global co-chairperson Razan Zuayter said in her opening remarks.

She added that it is crucial to deliver the voices of rural communities to the summit, as well as to raise concerns on the increasing space of the corporations in shaping the future of food and agriculture.

As such, the dialogue’s program featured the situation and calls of rural sectors including peasants, rural women, fisherfolks, rural youth, and indigenous peoples; the Nine Demands for Food and Rights developed by the coalition; the issues of the rural poor in Africa, Latin America, and Palestine; and the responses of Fakhri and Hilal to these presentations.

Fakhri and Elver both welcomed the demands that were put forward during the dialogue.

“I really appreciate the time and energy and all the organization behind everyone’s testimonies today and for sharing your stories, your perspectives, your clear demands. I will definitely share them all with the Food Systems Summit organizers and national delegates to make sure that your demands are heard and I will press them to respond to your demands as well,” Fakhri said.

The UN expert highlighted the importance of solidarity as the core of the dialogue’s discussions.

“We have heard today in a lot of different ways how people can try to undo your solidarity and how difficult it is to maintain that solidarity amongst all of you together, knowing that you all have different perspectives, histories, and contexts. Solidarity takes a lot of work. Those with more power always try to undo those bonds,” he said.

Fakhri commended the focus on patriarchy, colonization, and imperialism in the presentations especially of the Indigenous Peoples, youth, and on Palestine being one of the longest cases of colonization.

“The [summit’s] organizers have not yet framed what the problem is; they are already talking solutions, but without explaining how they are framing the problem. I think that not only the way PCFS is
presenting its demands, but also the way it is framing the problem is so key and crucial,” said Fakhri.

He also mentioned agroecology and the rising consensus around it. Fakhri plans to visit countries especially in Africa “to gather cases and stories and examples of different ways in which people are already practicing agroecology… and find ways to transition to agroecology.”

Elver, on the other hand, expressed her support to the Nine Demands, which PCFS launched in April to campaign policy recommendations for just, equitable, and sustainable food systems in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts to food and agriculture.

“It is very important we should not forget the strong self-sufficiency, not relying on food imports and giving all kinds of incentives to local farmers and we can really produce our own food. We will not be rich by producing our own food, but we will be feeding ourselves and families. This is a number one rule and we really should not forget about it,” she said.

The former UN Special Rapporteur also emphasized how economic sanctions are “extremely problematic from the international human rights point of view” and that sanctions should be strongly opposed because they are causing the suffering of more than 30 countries.

At the end of the program, PCFS global co-chairperson Sylvia Mallari thanked Fakhri and Elver for giving the coalition “this opportunity to raise our concerns and demands for the future of our food systems.” She said the Multistakeholder Dialogue is just one of the “initiatives [of PCFS] to present a comprehensive overview of the changes that need to take place in our food systems and agriculture” even beyond the context of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.

“The summit may be opportune to promote our desired reforms, but we have no guarantee given the lacking grassroots representation as well as the strong corporate influence and neoliberal bias of the people behind it,” Mallari added.

“By this dialogue, we are affirming that our world is one, our pain is shared, and if we as a global movement are focused and united in action, we will be surely able to make a tangible difference,” said Zuayter.

The coalition then invited the dialogue’s presenters and participants to join the online protest caravan with the theme “#Hungry4Change: A Global Day of Action for Food and Rights” on Oct. 16, 2020, which PCFS annually commemorates as World Hunger Day. The Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) declared the occasion to counter the Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Food Day.

“We must work together, strengthen our resolve, and continue our assertions in all forms and arenas possible to uphold the right to food,” Mallari concluded.

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