Adapting to Ongoing Crises: Navigating Slow Changes at CFS51

By Emma Bigot, in collaboration with Magdalena Ackermann

Image Credit: Marion Girard, CSIPM Secretariat

During a tense geopolitical context, the SID team participated in the 51st Plenary of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) that took place from the 23rd to the 27th of October, in the headquarters of the FAO in Rome. It is no secret that food security is at risk in several parts of the world, given the escalating conflicts, such as Israel’s occupation of Palestine, as well as growing inequalities and disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis. 

The CFS serves as the leading global platform for intergovernmental cooperation and international policy decision making concerning food security and nutrition. It has the clear mandate for the progressive realization of the fundamental right to adequate food for everyone. The platform develops voluntary guidelines and recommendations on various aspects of food security and nutrition. These guidelines are designed to assist countries in developing and implementing their own policies and programs. Moreover, it counts with a coordination function which can support Member States and the UN more broadly to respond in a coordinated manner to emerging food crises. 

As representatives of SID, we participate in the CFS processes through the Civil Society and Indigenous People Mechanism (CSIPM), which aims to echo the voices of the social movements, civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organisations, to advocate for policies that aim to eradicate hunger and malnutrition while prioritizing the demands of those most affected.   

The Mechanism serves as a platform where various groups, including small-scale farmers, agricultural and food workers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, women, young people, Indigenous Peoples, consumers, landless individuals, urban populations facing food insecurity, as well as non-governmental organizations, convene to engage with governments, United Nations agencies, and other actors in the food system, such as research institutions.  

It was after long and complicated negotiations on Gender Equality and Women and Girls’ Empowerment (GEWGE) that the CFS managed to conclude voluntary guidelines on this crucial aspect. The endorsement process of the guidelines during the CFS 51th Plenary Session went unchallenged, and the CSIPM Women and Gender Diversities Working Group (WG), which SID co-facilitates, presented its statement accompanied by an action that visualized the WG’s priorities that were ignored during the negotiations process. The statement and action conveyed a crucial message: while the CFS voluntary guidelines on GEWGE  represent a positive initial step, they are just the beginning in the journey towards achieving true gender equality.   

For the most part, the CFS unfolded smoothly when it came to approving the proposals we had worked on. The investment of the Mechanism is to be congratulated, as it enabled the guidelines and recommendations to be more inclusive and to reflect the interests of as many as possible.  

Moreover, it was not the only important subject to be tackled, in fact, the policy recommendations on strengthening data collection and analysis tool for food security and nutrition, was also adopted. For the first time, the matter of food and nutrition data was formally deliberated at the international level. The pioneering role of the CFS in finding balance between harnessing the benefits of data-driven agriculture and protecting the interests of smaller farmers is to be highlighted.  

More than negotiators, the CSIPM’s evidence was also put forward thanks to the monitoring of the CFS policy recommendations on food price volatility and social protection.  CSIPM’s intervention shed light on the local effects of COVID-19, conflicts, and crises on food rights and food sovereignty.   

The renewal of the Multi-Year Programme of Work (MYPoW) for 2024-2027 displays that the policies we make in the future will be in line with how the world is changing, presenting important processes to respond to the ongoing food crisis, such as for instance the upcoming policy convergence process on “Building Resilient Food Systems”. The MYPoW will be the CFS political agenda, and will hopefully pave the way to a better, more sustainable future where countries cooperate well. This will be particularly possible through the CFS’ coordination function, which will be strengthened in the next MYPoW. It should be noted, however, that no voluntary guidelines are planned for the next four years, only processes that will lead to policy recommendations, which are shorter documents and processes. The absence of guidelines prevents in-depth policy discussions and inclusive regional consultations. 

While acknowledging and celebrating our achievements, it is vital to remain mindful of the persistent struggle for food sovereignty, and the rights of marginalized groups, who continue to face challenges based on their gender, sexual orientation, caste, or ethnicity. Food sovereignty principles must be pursued in the coming years, including access to land, and promoting agroecology. Neglecting these aspects leaves us vulnerable to climate change, conflicts, and economic crises. The issue of data governance, with its growing corporate dominance and global power imbalances, further complicates the path to food sovereignty. Ambiguities and varied interpretations in guidelines and recommendations hinder their effective implementation.  

It was during the adoption of the final report that the situation took an unexpected turn and put the CFS to a test yet again. At a time where the CFS should be stronger than ever to respond to exacerbating inequalities, rising hunger and malnutrition, and climatic crisis, it is the second time in a row that the annual Plenary Session does not conclude due to disagreement over the content of the final report. During the CFS, an elected group of Member States forms a Drafting Committee in collaboration with the CFS Secretariat to write the final report; which is presented to the full Plenary for approval after the Session. The deliberations within the Drafting Committee primarily build upon the draft conclusions and decisions developed several months earlier by the Bureau - the executive body of the CFS - and presented and endorsed during the respective sessions of the Plenary. 

On the last day, a debate initiated among the Plenary mostly centred on reasserting the right to food in Gaza, after the invasion of Israel and broader lack of political support for a ceasefire. Egypt proposed a text in addition to affirming “the need to refrain from using food and water as weapons of war in conflict areas, expressed the need for reliable, sustained, sufficient and unhindered access of essential goods and services to civilians throughout the Gaza Strip”. After long debates, members ultimately voted in favour of a motion proposed by Spain to adjourn the Plenary session, based on the rationale that their delegation needed time to consult with their capitals for guidance on how to proceed. Although our proposals have been adopted, their implementation has been stalled. The CFS proceedings have yet to be concluded, leaving the endorsed proposals on stand-by. The final report incorporating the text proposed by Egypt, remains pending until an additional session is convened. This puts the Committee in a difficult position, raising concerns that the inability to reach consensus might be perceived as a weakness of the space.             

In a nutshell, the CFS 51 presented an opportunity to move towards progress in the centrality of human rights and the transition toward more sustainable food systems. Yet our commitment does not stop with these major victories, as there are still countless battles to be fought, for women, gender, data and social protection. Although the changes are major for many lives, they are slow. Too slow if we think of the current and future crises, such as economic shocks, pandemics and climate change. CFS’ failure to conclude and to rule on the situation in the Gaza Strip demonstrates how much political will is needed to strengthen the Committee. It highlighted that setting up a framework for action is not enough to ensure that they are applied, because where CFS 51 could have condemned the weaponisation of food in the Gaza Strip, it remained silent. It is rather difficult to understand why the mention of Palestine and its occupied territories is being debated when the terms used by Egypt are recognised in the CFS Framework for Action on Protracted Crises. This amplifies the risks around the stability of the CFS. Although funding is a crucial factor in keeping it alive, the platform is increasingly being threatened by the proliferation of new events and initiatives that are emphasising the influence of the private sector. Thus, it would be important to reaffirm the position of the CFS and how its inclusive nature renders it a relevant and unique platform for global food governance. Listening to the voices of those most impacted is paramount in formulating the most relevant voluntary guidelines and recommendations, and this commitment lies at the core of our mission.