The Voices of the Board

Sowing the Seeds of Resistance

Spring Newsletter’s Editorial

Now more than ever, it is the time to reject the business as usual of food as a mere commodity and to reject the idea that we shall move to a ‘new normality’ of a greener corporate food system. It is time to join forces all across the food system and to seize the opportunity for a transition that is truly green, just and for everyone (and not only for the wealthy countries, like the vaccine).

A system in failure

COVID-19 and the lock down measures have exposed the multiple fragilities of the global corporate food system and its incompatibility with the right to food: from farm to fork, socio-environmental unsustainability is more evident than ever. [1] The paralysis of the just-on-time system of logistic has led to empty shelves and impoverished farmers who did not have buyers for their products. The lack of income and adequate structures of public support have amplified the conditions of food poverty, produced longer queues outside of food banks, and generated a situation of social stress not dissimilar to the one that the virus is provoking on hospitals.

To keep the machine running, farm workers and food workers have been declared essential, but they have not been provided with the adequate protections and medical support. The numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 that happened in slaughterhouses, in Europe, United States, Brazil and other countries around the world, are just one of the examples of a vision of the food system where the rights of those who make food possible are of less importance than financial return and production. [2]

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There has been no time in the recent history, not even the 2008-2010 food crisis, to hold a collective, democratic, open and transformative conversation on the food system that is capable of putting at the center the human right to food, the respect of the planetary boundaries and the multiple notions of justice (climate, food, land, etc.). Yet, the crisis and the lock down risk to become an opportunity for ‘disaster capitalism’ in the food system and for an intensification of the processes that have led to the current situation.

This is why the CA supports FIAN Belgium’s decision to join the international coalition leading the opposition against the Food System Summit [3], a summit happening in Fall under the coordination of the World Economic Forum, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the Rockefeller Foundation, aims to put corporations at the center of the food of the future and promote a false solutions to the social and environmental problems that corporate capitalism has created. This is visible in several ways: the exclusion of the Civil Society Mechanism from the conceptualization and organization of the Summit, the smokescreen of multi-stakeholderism that promises that ‘everyone will have a seat at the table’ without accounting for the imbalance in power and the incompatibility between corporate objectives and socio-environmental justice [4], and the pre-identification of technological innovation and sustainable intensification as the remedies for a food system rather than the redistribution of lands and productive resources, agroecology, and the full respect of the rights of all the people involved and Mother Nature. We are thus glad that FIAN Belgium and hundreds of other organizations addressed a letter to the CFS General Director, Oscar Gutierrez, and took the decision to oppose the Summit unless our requests of de-corporatizing the Summit and directly addressing power and conflicts of interests in the food system are heard.

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The right to land and soil

The need for a change in food paradigm implies to collectively rethink the way in which the economy is expanding and at the expenses of who and what. This is why we are particularly pleased by the role that FIAN Belgium has had in setting up and strengthening the network Occupons le Terrain’, a network that has grown and accumulated experience on how to best keep the most voracious concrete builders at bay. This know-how has been collected in a Manual of resistance to unsuitable, imposed & harmful projects! that has now been shared in open source and that we hope will become an opportunity to reinforce existing struggles for the protection of land and soil in Belgium (and elsewhere) and to stimulate new actions.

People’s right to food cannot be protected, respected and fulfilled unless we protect, respect and fulfil the right to land and soil. Not only of the present generations, but also of the generations who will come.

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Feronia’s Case

Finally, we recognize the determination of FIAN Belgium in its continuous commitment to guarantee the extraterritorial respect of human rights by Belgian enterprises and Belgian development actors operating abroad. As you may already know, FIAN Belgium has been providing policy and advocacy support to nine Congolese communities that for several years have been opposing the 110,000ha palm-oil investment realized by Feronia PHC and supported by Belgian taxpayers’ money through the intervention of the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO) [5]. During the years, FIAN Belgium has mobilized Members of Parliament and reached out to the Ministry, directly engaged with BIO and its accountability, made public actions and coordinated with sisters organizations in other European countries whose national development banks are equally involved.

The latest step in this long lasting partnership is a report [6], realized along with other ten organizations, that unequivocally presents the neo-colonial character of PHC Feronia and the limited care that has been adopted in financing a ‘development project’ is rooted on land that Leopold II took away from the local communities in 1911, reproduces the colonial model of the plantation and treats local people as nothing but workers for shareholders’ profit. The ongoing crisis and the sufferance that many are experiencing in Belgium and in the Global North shall never become an excuse to turn a blind eye on the past and on the responsibility of Belgian actors operating abroad.

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The transformative potential of the right to food

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility and the violence of the corporate food system. It has clearly demonstrated that, even in the Global North, the right to food is far from being achieved. Now more then ever, it is the time to reject the business as usual of food as a mere commodity and to reject the idea that we shall move to a ‘new normality’ of a greener corporate food system. It is time to join forces all across the food system and to seize the opportunity for a transition that is truly green, just and for everyone (and not only for the wealthy countries, like the vaccine).

The transformative potential of the right to food, i.e. the three pillars of sustainable production, sustainable consumption and the fight against poverty and inequality, indicate the way and can certainly dialogue with the multiple struggles for justice, equity and sustainability that are ongoing everywhere.

We are thus pleased to see that FIAN Belgium is strengthening collaboration and fostering national and international cohesion. The violence of pandemic has clearly showed that the process of imagining and implementing a human-rights based food system is not just a matter of production, distribution and consumption: it is a matter of addressing the socio-ecological injustices of our society and changing its premises, priorities and objectives.