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Since it was reformed in 2009 to become the most transparent, inclusive and democratic institution of the United Nation, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has given birth to some very ambitious policies. In 2012 for example it adopted the Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. These created a huge wave of enthusiasm and hope within global civil society.
The guidelines were not perfect, of course, but still, we all welcomed them as the first step toward a series of global standards that could finally ensure the respect of the right to food for all.
Two years later, enthusiasm and hope is growing thin.
Today CFS member states adopted the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems. They are a long way from being the gold standard we were looking for.
The process started well. The CFS openly involved all stakeholders from the very start, and we stuck with the process for two years. But this final policy leaves a bitter taste. The so-called Civil Society Mechanism of the CFS was even moved to publicly denounce the Principles in plenary as weak and incoherent.
Worse, we are worried the Principles could be used to legitimize irresponsible investments. What’s wrong with them?
1. First, the Principles refer to human rights but then repeatedly undermine these by references to trade agreements that have removed from governments the resources and policy space needed for responsible investment. Instead, it’s mainly about protecting investors’ interests.
2. The Principles fail to provide the kind of ambitious action we need to stop land grabbing. For instance they don’t recognize the need to apply Free Prior and Informed Consent for all affected local communities, despite this being now an widely accepted minimum standard.
3. They fail to prioritize agro-ecology and are weak on the need to stop environmental damage and to tackle climate change by reducing emissions from deforestation and industrial agriculture.
4. They provide no guidance on so-called “agricultural innovations” such as Public Private Partnerships and contract farming, and include some provisions that imply that economic interests are more important than food security objectives.
5. Finally, there is no clear process by which to monitor and evaluate these new policies and a total absence of a strong accountability mechanism for those who need to implement them. This is frankly deplorable.
These Principles are weak, vague and arbitrary. The only people who might benefit by them are unscrupulous investors who need cover for their irresponsible deals. In a number of areas they are actually worse than the standards that already exist.
Oxfam distances itself from these Principles. They won’t work to promote global food security. We will keep campaigning to ensure they are not used to weaken human rights. We will continue to pressure investors and governments to account for their impacts on human rights, food and nutritional security, as well as on our environment.
However we do not believe that these Principles will help us much in those efforts.
What you can do
Download Oxfam's new discussion paper: The Right to Adequate Food: Progress, Challenges, Opportunities
Join the campaign: Help stop climate change making people hungry