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October 4, 2019

World Food Day is approaching fast, and as usual, it will be celebrated under the auspices of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and during the 46th Meeting of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

The CFS meeting agenda is packed, but I’m very excited to be here because, for the first time ever and after years of pressure by civil society and food producers, agroecology will be a topic of discussion. Our hope, and what we will push for throughout the entire meeting, is that the CFS will support a radical shift toward agroecological practices, for the sake of the planet and the people.

In the face of global crises, agroecology is the way forward

The need to talk about agroecology is urgent. Agriculture is the primary source of income for millions of people around the world, especially those facing the most vulnerable conditions. Yet the small-scale farmers who produce the majority of the world’s food are the most food insecure. Every day, 820 million people experience hunger, and more than two billion people lack regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, big, industrial agriculture is wreaking havoc on people’s health and the environment. Its massive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is causing health problems and driving greenhouse gas emissions. Agribusinesses are taking more and more land from communities to grow animal feed and agrofuel – all for the sake of meeting developed countries’ demand for energy and meat. They are exploiting natural resources well beyond the capacity of our planet to regenerate.

Meanwhile, those who rise up to defend their land, water, and basic rights are increasingly persecuted and even killed at the hands of governments and corporations.

That’s why agroecology is so important. Against these alarming trends, small-scale food producers continue to practice agroecology as they have for centuries. Agroecology provides a way for peasants and family farmers to produce food while respecting the ecosystem, allowing the natural resource base to regenerate, reducing their carbon footprint by eliminating fertilizers and pesticides, and building a society that is more socially, economically, and environmentally just.

Despite being a viable solution, the U.S. continues to push back

The opportunity to discuss agroecology at CFS comes just after the release of a report by the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) highlighting the benefits of agroecology and the risks associated with industrial agriculture.

The process leading up to this point has been rocky. For several years in a row, the U.S. government vetoed any discussion about agroecology and the best policy options to achieve food security for all, especially those most affected by hunger, and instead turned it into something political. Not only did the U.S. initially oppose the idea of producing a report on agroecology, but they also launched a massive lobbying effort to undermine the process. They managed to expand the scope of the report to include issues like climate smart agriculture, sustainable intensification, bio-fortification, and GMOs. Every single one of these are false solutions to climate change and completely opposed to agroecology.

And before this final report came out, the U.S. also opposed attempts to get agreement to a follow-up on the report, blocking the only decision needed to move the process forward. They created tensions and delays by attempting to veto the appointment of the Iranian Ambassador as rapporteur of the policy convergence process on agroecology. They gave up after four months because they were completely isolated. The Rapporteur has now been appointed and can finally start working on the timeline for negotiating and adopting policy recommendations at next year’s CFS. However, the U.S. government’s track record gives little certainty that they will not obstruct the process again in the future.

What we do know is that agroecology represents the only viable solution to the food and climate crises. International discussions on how to shift production towards agroecology must happen now if we don’t want to address a bigger crisis in the future, with much less chance to build resilience. The U.S. government must accept it and play its role.