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July 21, 2023

Food sovereignty and the right to food have often felt pushed to the side in climate spaces, including the COP. While we’ve seen some incremental change, a lot of agriculture related announcements have mostly been… greenwashing. The recent appointment of Agnes Kalibata, the President of AGRA (The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), to the COP28 President’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change is likely to signal a continuation of this problem.

AGRA is well-known as a champion of fossil-intensive industrial agriculture and a major promoter of chemical use (pesticides and fertilizers) to boost yields in farming in Africa. In the last decade, AGRA has established technical offices, extension agents, and strong links with national elites in many African countries. Hand-in-hand with agribusiness companies, the Alliance championed the Green Revolution recipe – inducing governments to open markets for chemical inputs, with the narrative that this would be the solution to the productivity gaps and persistent hunger in the continent. 

After fifteen years, the results are in: AGRA hasn’t worked. In fact, hunger rose for the tenth successive year in sub Saharan Africa. African soil is deteriorated with high biodiversity loss, caused in no small part by the massive use of chemical inputs. In addition, industrialized agriculture – including from the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers – is responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to destroying the climate, this agribusiness model, popularized in the Global North and then exported to the Global South, has shown no evidence of improvements in farmers’ income and food security.

Unfortunately, giving AGRA a special seat in the COP28 Presidency is another move that confirms the undue influence of big private interests into public policies and spaces.

This already happened in 2019 when Agnes Kalibata was appointed as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the UN Food System Summit (UNFSS) that was held in 2021. The appointment was highly criticized by more than 700 international and national organizations, while more than 300 academics and activists gathered under the People’s Autonomous Response to the UNFSS. Two years ago, the UNFSS sparked an unprecedented global countermobilization.

The main concern of the Summit’s critics was – and remains – the escalating influence of corporations and their proxy organizations within the United Nations. Ms. Kalibata was also criticized for her outright dismissal of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, ignoring human rights concerns and cultural conceptions of peasants and small-scale farmers that do not fit with her own. Peasant and indigenous communities have long been shown to be a key line of defense against the climate crisis – they should not be left out of efforts for real justice.

With Ms. Kalibata’s new role in the COP28 Presidency, history repeats itself. Big corporations – in the fossil fuel sector and now the agriculture sector – are being given the power to set the agenda, influence the narrative, and play a leading role in framing the solutions at the upcoming COP28; the same companies that have a massive responsibility for causing climate change, environmental degradation, deforestation, land grabbing, and human rights violations. The world cannot afford continued greenwashed operations that prioritize corporate profit over public interest.