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October 29, 2020

With a second coronavirus wave on the horizon, the need for a coordinated, global response cannot be overstated. It’s critical that coronavirus response supports people most affected by food insecurity, including small-scale women farmers in African, Asian, and South American countries.

Just as it has done for the past 75 years, the world observed World Food Day on October 16. Historically festive and energetic, this year’s World Food Day was a sober reminder that 2 billion people still do not have enough to eat, and the COVID-19 crisis is expected to put 130 million more people at risk of food insecurity. Some organizations even started a campaign to rename the day “World Hunger Day”.

With a second coronavirus wave on the horizon, ActionAid continues to push for a global and coordinated response to help those who are most affected by food insecurity. Keep reading to see how we are using our influence in high-level spaces and working with allies to make our demands – and which gaps still need to be filled.

Calling on wealthy governments to channel funds towards small-scale farmers

A crucial component of coronavirus recovery is sustained investment in small-scale farmers and their organizations. On October 13, Germany took an important first step by hosting the launch of the replenishment period for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), an innovative fund supporting smallholder farmers in the some of the world’s poorest regions. As a civil society representative on GAFSP’s Steering Committee, I collaborated with dozens of organizations to formulate and publicize our demands ahead of the event.

The virtual kick-off event gathered hundreds of participants and witnessed Australia, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Germany, Norway, and Spain pledging $300 million to help end global hunger. These funds will enable GAFSP to support governments and producer organizations with short- and long-term COVID-19 response.

This is a promising start towards reaching the $1.5 billion goal over the next five years. But it’s just the beginning. We need more governments to step up. And we need continued and reliable funding for GAFSP to move us closer towards eradicating hunger.

Envisioning a food system that works for everyone, no strings attached

On World Food Day we released findings from 14 countries showing how women farmers are experiencing high levels of food insecurity and increased gender-based violence during this pandemic. To support these farmers to cope with the multiple crises they are facing, governments should invest in gender sensitive local food systems, where women can grow and sell their produce in a safe environment and have more power in decision making

Just a couple of days before, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) held its Special Event on strengthening global governance of food security and nutrition in the time of COVID-19. The CFS is expected to facilitate a global coordinated response to the millions of producers affected by COVID. Governments, UN Agencies and all the actors dealing with food security were expected to coordinate their responses adopting the right to food approach while putting the poorest at the center of any decision making. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.

While COVID-19 is undermining the livelihoods of millions of women around the world, the United Nations is turning its attention towards corporate interests. Specifically, it is set to convene a Food System Summit in 2021, with the objective to “launch bold new actions to transform the way the world produces and consumes food”.

On the one hand, the Summit signals that the time has arrived to think through how to reshape the food system in a more sustainable way, to build resilience in the face of the climate and health crises. On the other hand, we are very concerned that this initiative is being planned in the worst way possible. The appointment of Agnes Kalibata as Special Envoy of the Summit clearly shows a heavy connection with the agribusiness sector. Dr. Kalibata was formerly president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, known to divert public resources towards big corporate interests, at the expense of farmers. Her appointment means the corporate-led model of agriculture will have undue influence over the Summit.

ActionAid joined hundreds of organizations to express our concerns around the Summit and to denounce the corporate capture of the UN space. Since then, ActionAid has consistently engaged with movements, smallholder food producers, rural women’s organizations, and other civil society organizations to explore an alternative strategy to engage with the Summit. We responded to a global call to help shape the vision for the new food system we need, without being coopted by the current Summit. Even the UN’s own Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is calling for the Summit to prioritize the right to food.

What’s next?

At the heart of it, ensuring food security of the world’s smallholder farmers is about human rights and sustainability. The solutions we need to change the way we produce and consume our food are deeply connected to the solutions we need to recover from COVID-19. The corporate recipe does not work for rural women now and it will not work in the future, no matter how nicely packaged it is. They have told us they don’t need more pesticides and fertilizers. What they need are policies to dismantle the patriarchal industrial agriculture system and resources to grow their agroecological alternatives. It’s time that world leaders listen to women farmers.

Join the movement for a more just food system

Smallholder farmers around the world are leading the transformation in how we produce, distribute, and consume food. We are working alongside them to defend the right to nutritious, accessible, and culturally appropriate food while also promoting sustainable agroecological agriculture. Join the movement for a more just food system.