UN Rapporteur calls for food democracy and agro-ecology in final report

10 March 2014- The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter,  calls for radical transformation of the world’s food systems. The emphasis in agricultural policy should shift from productivity to “well-being, resilience and sustainability”, he says.The emphasis in agricultural policy should shift from productivity to “well-being, resilience and sustainability”, he says.

This morning De Schutter presented his final report to the UN Human Rights Council after a six-year term as Special Rapporteur. In February, he also presented some of his findings at the Food Otherwise conference, which was co-organised by AgriCultures Network member ILEIA.

The expert warns that the current food systems are efficient only from the point of view of maximizing agribusiness profits. “The food systems that we have inherited from the twentieth century have failed. Of course, significant progress has been achieved in boosting agricultural production over the past fifty years. But this has hardly reduced the number of hungry people.”

The Rapporteur also points at other effects of industrial agriculture, such as signicifant loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, fresh water pollution and climate change.

Major political efforts are needed
To move to more sustainable food systems, De Schutter recommends major political efforts to restructure support around agroecological forms of agriculture. The report outlines how agroecology not only enables environmentally sound ways of food production, but also contributes to nutrition and rural employment.

The Special Rapporteur emphasizes the democratic deficit in the food economy. Agribusiness corporations in effect have veto power in the political system, he states, as they now dominate increasingly globalized markets. “In the process, smaller-sized food producers have been marginalized, although they can be highly productive.”

In the report, De Schutter outlines three levels where food policies can be democratized, shaping the new model that he calls for.

1. Rebuilding local food systems
Strong local food systems can support rural development and the reduction of rural poverty, and slow down rural-to-urban migration. It can be achieved by “appropriate investments in infrastructure, packaging and processing facilities, and by allowing smallholders to yield economies of scale and to move towards higher-value activities.”

De Schutter emphasizes that local food systems are also of vital importance for cities, which will host more than 6 billion people by 2050. “Emerging social innovations in all parts of the world show how urban consumers can be reconnected with local food producers, while at the same time reducing rural poverty and food insecurity,” he notes. “Such innovations must be supported.”

2. Deploying national strategies
The expert warns, however, that these local initiatives can only succeed and be scaled-out if they are supported and complemented at the national level.

“There is no single recipe” Mr. De Schutter notes, “In some countries, the priority will be to promote short circuits and direct producer-consumer links in order to strengthen local smallholder farming and reduce dependence on imports. In other cases, the prevailing need may be to strengthen cooperatives in order to sell to large buyers under dependable contracts.”

The key lies in democratic decision-making, he stresses, in which national strategies are “co-designed by all relevant stakeholders, in particular the groups most affected by hunger and malnutrition.”

3. Shaping an enabling international environment
The Special Rapporteur adds that national and international policies in the areas of trade, food aid, foreign debt alleviation and development cooperation should be “realigned with the imperative of achieving food security and ensuring adequate nutrition”.

Mr. De Schutter highlights in his report the promising efforts of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to bring together governments, civil society, international agencies and the private sector to collectively address the challenges that food systems face, but warned that “the CFS remains the exception in bringing participation and democracy into the global governance arena, and in accommodating different visions of food security.”

In that context, he says the ninth Ministerial Conference of WTO in December 2013 “failed to place food security above trade concerns” and is therefore a “textbook illustration of the need to improve coherence of global governance for the realization of the right to food.”

“Wealthy countries must move away from export-driven agricultural policies and leave space instead for small-scale farmers in developing countries to supply local markets,” De Schutter says. “They must also restrain their expanding claims on global farmland by reining in the demand for animal feed and agrofuels, and by reducing food waste.”

The report ends with the notion of food sovereignty, “understood as a requirement for democracy in the food systems, which would imply the possibility for communities to choose which food systems to depend on and how to reshape those systems.”

Read the Special Rapporteur’s final report to the UN Human Rights Council:

In addition to his report, the expert presented a summary of recommendations issued over the course of his mandate as Special Rapporteur (2008-2014), covering food price volatility, trade and investment in agriculture, regulating agribusiness, agrofuels, food aid and development cooperation, nutrition, social protection, women’s rights, Human Rights Impact Assessments, national strategies, agricultural workers, contract farming, small-holder farmers, agroecology, and the reinvestment in agriculture.

More information about the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food: