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UN indicates shift in food policy


19th June, 2009

UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, has made welcome statements indicating a shift in attitude towards food policy

Environmental groups reacted with surprise to statements made by Mr De Schutter during the 17th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development of the United Nations in New York.

De Schutter said that increasing agricultural production ‘must go hand-inhand with increasing the incomes of the poorest, particularly small-scale farmers’. He also encouraged a switch to more sustainable modes of agriculture, ‘which do not contribute to climate change’, and called for a model that instead of trying to ‘feed the world’ would ‘help the world feed itself’.

Friends of the Earth International and global peasant movement La Via Campesina welcomed the statements, describing them as ‘a welcome shift’ in the UN’s conventional attitude to food sovereignty.

In his address to the Commission, De Schutter said that investment in agriculture in the less-industrialised world needed serious thought to ensure it prioritised those most in need.

‘The experience gained from the [food] crisis showed that the key question is not merely that of increasing budgets allocated to agriculture, but rather that of choosing from different models of agricultural development which may have different impacts and benefit various groups differently,’ he said.

Both FoE and Via Campesina welcomed a renewed focus on the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Commission’s final report, which also promised to encourage the development of ‘locally appropriate farming systems and agricultural practices’.

However the campaign groups were keen to go further, calling for radical reform of the Bretton Woods institutions.

‘There is a need to unmask and resist the false promoters of models to block the right to food and food sovereignty, like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization,’ FoE and Via Campesina said in a joint statement. ‘Their policies have led us to the current crisis, and these actors should not be part of the “international community” looking for solutions.’

Meanwhile, Japan is said to be leading a campaign with the G8 to regulate increasing levels of ‘land grabbing’, where rich nations buy up tracts of fertile land in less-industrialised countries to boost their own food security.

According to the Financial Times, the proposals include a call for increased transparency in the investment deals, respect for existing land rights, better sharing of benefits, and commitments to environmental standards.


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