Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

Herman Kumara, National Convener, NAFSO; General Secretary, WFFP

The climate crisis is being used as an opportunity for vested interests to propagate false solutions like blue carbon, so-called ‘nature based solutions’, seawalls, the 30×30 agenda, debt-for-ocean swaps and more. Under these false solutions, farmers, fishers, Indigenous peoples and peasants are being displaced from their original lands, water bodies and forests, dispossessed of their customary tenure rights, and are facing disruption to their peaceful living with nature.  We urge caution against adopting ineffective climate solutions like 30×30, carbon credits, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP).

Instead, the focus should be on restoring the legitimate traditional, customary, or Indigenous tenure rights of fishing communities and redistributing such rights where they have been infringed upon. Fishers are among the most vulnerable groups during storms and cyclones and the victims of the climate crisis as they often work in open waters and are exposed to the elements. It is important that the state provides better accessible early warning systems and search and rescue operations to ensure the safety and security of fishers during such events. States should prioritize community-centred climate solutions based on traditional ecological knowledge and practices of small-scale fisher communities, instead of technocratic and market-based approaches such as seawalls, tetra pods, blue carbon, and conservation carbon credit solutions. WFFP is fighting back against this trend by strengthening campaigns that seek to educate and warn policy makers and communities against false solutions and instead push for real solutions that are developed in consultation with the affected communities.

Voices from the field 2

Tom Goldtooth IEN presentation to United Nations permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, April 2024

Last year we requested a special session [of the UN Indigenous Peoples permanent forum] to address climate false solutions, the green economy and their impacts on Indigenous peoples. This request included a moratorium on all false solutions activities until affected Indigenous peoples from the south to the north can thoroughly investigate the impacts and make appropriate demands…

I have been involved with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since 1998. Our network has complied over 20 years of undeniable evidence showing how carbon markets, pricing and carbon offsets mechanisms do not reduce emissions at source.

Carbon markets provide the loophole that many of you have talked to us about. They provide a loophole the fossil fuel industry needs to continue extraction, combustion and with a fossil extractive economy that is wreaking the harmony of mother earth and father sky. We are long overdue for demanding a permanent moratorium on false solutions being negotiated in article 6 of the Paris [climate] agreement. The UNFCCC has goals to finalise these negotiations this year, after 2 decades of polluters profiting from causing human rights violations, land grabbing, division harm and exploiting Indigenous Peoples through carbon markets and REDD[1] plus.”

See the whole event here.

Voices from the field 3

Extract from the Statement of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP 15 (Conference of the Parties), December 2022

[…] This is the first biodiversity COP since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants (UNDROP) was ratified, and small-scale food producers should be respected as rights holders by referencing UNDROP alongside UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) in the new Global Biodiversity Framework and the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity). Every time those in power fail to uphold the human and collective rights of the best custodians of biodiversity, you fail to uphold your duty to protect biodiversity.

We sit in these meetings as people of the land, for the land, listening to so-called debates about land and life, wondering what will happen if you continue to separate people from nature with false solutions? What is Nature to each of you here?

Some propose DSI (Digital Sequence Information), to save biodiversity, as if you can just de-materialise our Mother and piece her back together and hope she functions better. Turning nature into capital is anything but ‘living in harmony with nature’. The ‘nature-based solutions’ debated here and at the climate COP put nature on a ledger and then sell her to polluters at the expense of biodiversity, land, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers, and local communities.

We sit in these rooms bearing grim witness to the greed of a handful of big exporting countries and their corporations who seek to destroy 30 years of multilateral agreements. It is easy to see why the most powerful and least accountable prefer to set targets towards a so-called ‘nature-positive world’ than talk about Mother Earth. You don’t need to lock up land away from her careful custodians as proposed in the 30×30 target, you need to protect her from corporate and state greed.[…]

[1] More info in the newsletter no. 32.


Box 1

The Africa Carbon Markets Initiative

The Africa Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI) claims to “help shape and harness the potential for carbon markets in Africa”. Its steering committee boasts the who’s who of fossil fuel, big tech and agribusiness supporters—including The Gates Foundation who promote industrial agriculture and GMOs across Africa and The Bezos Earth Fund of Amazon corporation. The ACMI claims that “with carbon credits valued at roughly $2 billion globally and potentially growing 5-50x by 2030, high-integrity carbon markets could provide significant benefits to African people and be a critical source of climate finance for the continent.” Yet they recognise that “there is intense scepticism that credits are used for greenwashing, an excuse to keep polluting” and that “some people are asking whether carbon credits, particularly large land-use projects, are causing Africans to lose their land to facilitate continued pollution by rich countries—driving concerns about a form of recolonisation in Africa.”

Despite these astonishing admissions and no real answers for them, ACMI is pushing ahead with trying to expand and build buy in for carbon markets across the continent. Yet this push is going against the principle of historical responsibility and justice which demands that climate finance should be publicly funded from developed country governments and not reinforce the debt spiral in Africa.

Box 2

Land grabs from green economy

By 2030, Shell intends to offset 120 Megatonnes (Mt) in emissions a year, which represents about 85% of current annual CO2 emissions of all citizens and companies in the Netherlands. As of August 2022, Shell is or had been involved in 30 ‘nature based’ offset projects, in 17 countries. An analysis of Shell’s pathway to 1.5 degrees shows that it is essentially the same as its 2 degree pathway, but with an added plan to “extensive scale-up of nature-based solutions”, specifically planting trees over an “area approaching that of Brazil”. When Shell plants trees, they often just plant one tree species. Usually this is the fast-growing eucalyptus tree, which can actually damage biodiversity in the surrounding area. A lot of land is needed to offset Shell’s emissions. The land they choose is often located in the global South. For this, (agricultural) land belonging to local communities is used, which can lead to human rights violations and food shortages.

More info here and here.

Box 3

What is carbon farming and why is it a false solution? 

Carbon farming is an offset scheme wherein farmers are paid to sequester carbon to offset continued carbon emissions of a company, country, or individual. Carbon farming schemes involve paying farmers to implement ‘climate-smart’ farming practices that supposedly increase the amount of carbon stored in their farms. The change in practices is used to verify the creation of carbon credits which are sold to corporations or governments, through ‘carbon markets’. Though the buyers are still emitting greenhouse gases, they claim to have ‘offset’ these emissions. Demand for offsets is increasing, with 82 countries and 44% of the world’s 2000 largest companies having made ‘net zero’ commitments. Most existing carbon farming schemes rely on carbon stored in trees with agroforestry and tree plantations, but the number of ‘soil carbon farming’ schemes is growing.
Soil carbon offsets are dangerous for climate justice and food sovereignty because…
Soil carbon offsets increase the entrenchment of unsustainable corporate-controlled seeds and agrochemicals. Schemes often encourage or require specific farming practices that rely on proprietary seeds and agrochemicals, like using affiliated pesticides to control weeds instead of tilling. Algorithms and digital farm machinery that are needed to earn carbon credits may require specific crop varieties and practices to function.
Soil carbon offsets are an excuse for data grabbing, increasing the power of the food and technology corporations that control the digital platforms which monitor and market soil carbon credits.
Soil carbon schemes drive farm consolidation and mechanisation, giving an advantage to the largest farmers because large farms can more easily adopt the technology and practises and also generate large quantities of carbon credits.
Carbon farming schemes accelerate the loss of traditional agricultural knowledge by teaching that traditional practices degrade soil and by locking farmers into contracts requiring ‘climate-smart’ practices.
Not all carbon is equal. The “carbon is carbon” assumption behind offsets ignores the violence, health consequences, and economic and socioecological damage created locally around mines, fossil fuel extraction and factory farms. In addition, biological carbon in soil cannot compensate for the release of fossil carbon.
Offset schemes distract from real solutions and shift public subsidies from agroecology to carbon farming.

Box 4

Sinking seaweed to fix the climate: a new wave of false solutions

While the earth is burning, investors keep finding new and ever more unlikely ways to increase profits without reducing carbon emissions. Oceans are now in the line of fire: a new seaweed—or “macroalgae”—industry is invading coasts and seas under the umbrella of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. By mid-2023 there were more than 1,300 companies involved in commercial seaweed, including more than 200 start-ups.

The new big profit-focused promise of the so-called “seaweed revolution” is to sell carbon credits, pretending industrial seaweed captures carbon. Surfing on the “blue carbon” wave, even though there is no formal carbon market for seaweed cultivation yet, industrial players such as Canopy Blue, The Seaweed Company and Running Tide are already selling carbon offsets to corporations on the voluntary market.

However, their promises do not hold. First of all, seaweed does not capture very much carbon. Once the maths is done, it appears that industrial seaweed ecosystems may actually be net emitters of CO2. Increasing industrial seaweed acres could therefore lead to more CO2 in the atmosphere, not less.

Second, the development of marine monocultures and the use of chemical inputs could cause harm to existing ecosystems that naturally capture carbon and provide livelihoods to local communities. The potential risks of seaweed plantations include shading the seabed, seagrasses and natural algae, altering local ocean currents, contaminating genetic diversity, and robbing plankton of vital nutrients, affecting not only marine ecosystems but also coastal livelihoods.

Finally, carbon financiers are attracted to the ocean for its vast size, presented as a huge unexploited gold mine. But the oceans are not empty. Industrial seaweed farms would need to occupy a significant portion of global coastlines, which would deprive local communities of their rights to live and to work in all these coastal areas.

On land, the expansion of monocultures has been destroying forests and its inhabitants for decades. If we don’t put an urgent end to the so-called “seaweed revolution”, industrial algae plantations will follow the same course, destroying marine ecosystems and marginalising coastal communities even more.

To learn more, you can read: “The Seaweed Delusion: Industrial seaweed will not cool the climate or save nature”

Box 5

Nyéléni process, towards a Global Food Sovereignty forum 2025

Voices from our allies

Mariam Mayet,  African Centre for Biodiversity, acbio.org.za

From 10 to 11 June 2023, I represented the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), as part of the global food sovereignty movement, at a meeting of social movement activists convened by the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty in Rome Italy.

The main aim of my participation was to contribute towards building new strategies to transform the global system towards economic, social, gender, race, climate, and environmental justice, to inform and co-create the Nyéléni Process. Rich discussions were had regarding the need to address and co-generate discourses at the intersections of the biodiversity, climate change, agriculture, and food systems crises, particularly in the Global South, and strengthen alternatives to capitalism, which is driving us all towards ecocide.

We reflected on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly that it has accelerated the processes of the disintegration of the capitalist project through: the sharp rise in inequality across the globe; economic decay, precarity, and vulnerability; authoritarianism and fascism; racism; femicide; and conflict and social unrest. We committed ourselves to the Nyéléni Process as being pivotal to supporting the active resistance against extractivist/capitalist encroachment, which will build upon continued critical analysis and reflection, and deconstruct and challenge corporate and false narratives on transformation.

We fully understand that capitalism, while in its dying stages, is in fact doubling down on extraction and dispossession – voraciously and constantly seeking new frontiers to exploit – particularly in biologically and mineral resource-rich Africa. The Rome meeting represented an important kick-off point for the Nyéléni Process, which is viewed as an opportunity to strengthen and support democratic and progressive spaces rooted in mass-based, democratic organisations and networks, driving toward the systemic transformation of the global food system.

In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

The “Green economies” narrative needs to be stopped

We are living in a time where Mother Earth is struggling to sustain life, faced with financialised capitalism. A system where our earth and all life on it—underneath the ground, in forests and seas, as well as care and health in our homes and communities—is being turned into a commodity for corporations and the finance industry to profit from. This logic is permeating the three United Nations “Rio” conventions[1] which were set up to stop the existential threat faced by humanity from climate change, biodiversity loss and desertification.

Climate justice movements have long demanded that those most responsible for the climate crisis—historically industrialised countries, and wealthy classes within them—must provide the necessary resources to help solve it. Finance is one crucial part of a demand for climate debt and reparations. Yet, despite research showing that climate finance is needed in the trillions, not even 100 billion USD of real, public, democratic finance has been mobilized. Instead predatory private finance has stepped into the gap, with an array of new and bewildering financial instruments such as payments for ecosystems services, carbon banks, carbon credits, nature based offsets, and debt for nature swaps. Some banks hope that the voluntary carbon market, where financial actors can buy, sell, trade and speculate on carbon, will reach 1 trillion dollars by 2027, yielding mega profits for investors.

Meanwhile the new global biodiversity framework has called for 200 billion USD of biodiversity financing to be mobilized by 2030 and some are pushing for biodiversity offset markets. Like existing market-based climate finance, these will be characterised by “blended finance” where public money is used to “de-risk” investments (ensure “adequate” profits for private financial actors). New mechanisms like debt for nature swaps allow countries to effectively sell their protected territories to banks and the big conservation industry in exchange for debt restructuring. These are termed “innovative”, but the only innovation is to squeeze more profit from a dying planet when investments in extractive industries are being challenged, and to hand over control of ever more land and ocean territories to private financial investors without democratic oversight. Initiatives like the UN’s 30X30 commitment, to conserve 30% of Earth’s surface by 2030[2], are being implemented in ways that drive dispossession of communities and create new forms of corporate profiteering.

The normalization and expansion of these approaches, which many see as beneficial, poses profound dangers to people and the planet.

  • One, the financial sector is looking, above all else, for returns on their investments. This means that in many cases local communities are expelled from their lands, fishing grounds, and territories, to enclose them for lucrative carbon and conservation projects. Sometimes traditional practices of local peoples that store carbon and protect biodiversity are monetized, with the majority of any profits going to investors. Often violence is used to enforce dispossession: from private conservation militias or from police and armies of states who align themselves with corporate profiteers.
  • This deepens the power and reach of the very same actors who are responsible for the destruction of the earth and human rights injustices via their huge continued investments in mining, agribusiness and fossil fuels. It promotes the idea that profits for these corporations can continue while they pretend to “save” the planet. It does nothing to stop the crisis of corporate control, extraction, profit and over-consumption that is driving the crises.
  • By changing the narrative towards “green economies”, it shifts it away from the binding regulations and policy changes that our movements have been fighting for, which are needed to stop climate chaos and the collapse of biodiversity. It de-politicises questions of democratic access to and control of land, water, resources and territories by advancing a false narrative of a “triple win” (people, planet, profit), which stops us from asking who is paying the price, and who is reaping the profits, from these interventions.

We must stop the rise of the new financial-corporate-green complex. People who live on, with and from land and territories, communities of the global South, and working people all over the world have borne the cost of our current destructive capitalist/neoliberal economic system. In order to avoid repeating this, they must have power and control in the transition. Concretely this means we must demand an end to debt, fulfilment of promises for public climate and biodiversity finance, full respect for the human rights of peasants, Indigenous peoples, and other affected communities, and reparations made through popular and democratic channels.

In the spotlight 2

Confronting “Blue finance”

Over the past decade, international strategies for ocean conservation have changed radically. Increasingly, conservation projects are based on raising money through financial markets and are, therefore, intended to provide investors with profitable returns. Many refer to this as ‘blue finance’. International support for this is growing, and it is considered a critical way to bridge an imagined funding gap to save marine biodiversity. What can be understood as the financialization of conservation has produced so-called innovative financial instruments, including blue bonds and debt for ocean swaps.

Blue bonds build on an earlier wave of so-called ‘green’ or ‘social’ bonds. The basic premise is to raise capital in the international bond market but with the stipulation that the money is spent on green and/or pro-social outcomes. The obvious question is who defines what is green and social, and who checks that the money has been spent on green and social issues? This is deeply contested. In 2018, the World Bank helped the government of the Seychelles issue the world’s first blue bond. That was described as a bond intended to support ocean conservation and the development of the blue economy. In reality, it is an example of what is known as ‘blended finance’, where public funds (i.e. development aid) are used to facilitate investments from the private sector.

The basic idea behind a debt swap involves a creditor (the organisation that has lent money to a developing country’s government) agreeing to forgo a portion of what is owed to them. The savings this generates for the developing country are then redirected to conservation. That seems straightforward. However, the mechanisms involved can be highly complex, and each debt for nature swap is unique in how it is structured.

Blue finance is considered in its early days. However, already US conservation organisations, led by The Nature Conservancy, have refinanced over $2.5 billion in debt for ocean swaps in just five countries. A blue bond is also being pursued for the Great Blue Wall Initiative by the UN.

Despite international support for blue finance, where it is closely aligned with global ambitions for the 30×30 biodiversity target, there are several reasons why blue bonds and debt swaps pose risks to small-scale food producers. They can be opaque financial transactions that manipulate the debts of Southern countries, leading to a transfer of wealth and power to unaccountable US conservation organisations, now working in close partnership with investment firms and the banking sector. They further entrench the reckless view that saving nature must produce never-ending profits for the private sector.

A lack of finance is not the root cause of the biodiversity and climate crisis. These are crises of affluence and short-term profiteering, which are existential problems driven by poorly regulated global financial markets. Lasting solutions that promote livelihoods and food sovereignty must, therefore, come from political and cultural change, not through manipulating debt.

Read more about blue finance here.

[1] I. United Nations Framework convention on climate change II. The convention on biological diversity III. The United Nations convention to combat desertification.

[2] An example in In the spotlight 2, newsletter no. 46

Newsletter no 56 – Editorial

Challenging the financing behind green and blue grabbing

Illustration: Luisa Rivera, www.luisarivera.cl

Mobilising large quantities of private finance to replace the lack of public finance is fast becoming a new goal in discussions on climate and biodiversity financing. But this push means that the commodification and financialization of nature is reaching alarming levels, causing a new territorial grab and undermining environmental justice. “Green economy” mechanisms like carbon credits, biodiversity offset markets, and debt-for-nature swaps are not only misguided but perilous.

This edition explores some of the varied and bewildering array of new schemes that financialise oceans, soils, seaweed, and forests. A fundamental flaw lies in the approach that prioritizes profit over genuine environmental stewardship and returns for investors, often at the expense of local communities. These mechanisms frequently lead to the dispossession of Indigenous Peoples and small-scale producers, who are forced off their lands and seas to make way for lucrative conservation projects. The promised benefits of these financial schemes rarely reach those who bear the brunt of their impacts.

The testimonies here clearly show that the movements of Indigenous Peoples, fishers and peasants are fighting back across the different UN platforms and in their own territories. Our movements are demanding public funding for climate and biodiversity, debt cancellation, reparations, respect for the rights and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and other communities, and genuine accountability and regulation of the corporations that have long profited from environmental exploitation.

We know the curtain has been pulled back on the fantasy of neoliberal ideology, its failures exposed. So, we collectively fight its proliferation into nature and our territories.

Friends of the Earth International, ETC Group, Transnational Institute

Voices from the field

Voice from the field

The ‘Corredor afroalimentario’ Afro-food initiative in Northern Cauca, Colombia

Julio Cesar Rodriguez Castrillon, Corporación Colombia Joven, Northern Cauca, Villa Rica Cauca

The “corredor afroalimentario” is a social and community-based initiative that originated from the coordination of several organisations, with the aim of promoting and strengthening an alternative dynamic solution to achieve food sovereignty and the fulfilment of the human right to food. This dream is full of hope, as this initiative restores farmers’ dignity  and in turn provide a strategy to ensure that the work of the Afro-Caribbean peasantry—a fundamental part of rural communities’ development —is made visible and is recognised. I am convinced that northern Cauca must shift its current developmental model, which focuses on monocultures such as sugar cane used in ultra-processed beverages, towards the strengthening and conservation of traditional and sustainable farms, the conservation of native and creole seeds, the promotion of solidarity economy and the creation of shorter market chains. The Afro-food market is one of the best strategies for farmers, to sell their products at fair prices without the need for intermediaries, while communities enjoy real and healthy food based on Afro-Colombian culinary traditions. I believe that the work of social initiatives is fundamental so that this commitment to life is also viewed as a strategy to provide a solution to the national government’s zero hunger project, thus influencing the demand for adequate spaces through municipal and departmental development plans.

Nyéléni process: towards a Global Food Sovereignty Forum 2025

Voices from our allies

Stefano De Angelis, World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), www.wftucentral.org

In 2016 the WFTU participated in the Nyéléni Europe process. In fact, we believe that the important issues of food and nutrition must include workers who are often directly involved in both the harvesting and processing of agricultural products.

The union also deals daily with large numbers of workers who buy low-cost food due to low wages, without being aware of the damage they do to themselves and to small food producers. This shows the fundamental need for greater involvement and knowledge sharing with workers (and consumers associations) on the issue of producing good food and respecting nature.

The battle for food sovereignty must be articulated in a united front, coordinating farmers, labourers and consumers. This is vital in order to swiftly overcome the particularities of each struggle that separate and make us weak in the face of an enormously stronger enemy.

At a European level, the development of the Food Sovereignty movement needs to move from a more academic and research focus instead towards the construction of a platform able to make demands –demands which can be brought forward both at European and regional levels. That said, we are aware that a platform of this kind requires a lot of coordination and resources.

Achievements in the area of rights are generally attained through local battles and advocacy work directly with decision makers. This is why it would be useful to organize more assemblies, street initiatives and actions on contentious issues such as the unjust distribution of subsidies, the danger of new GMOs, the high costs faced by small scale producers etc. On this the union, if stimulated, can be of help.


Box 1

What are ultra-processed ‘food’ products?

Ultra-processed ‘foods’ or rather ‘edible products’ – commonly referred to as ‘junk food’ – are industrial formulations based on substances derived from natural foods and additives that make these products more appealing and enhance their shelf life. They are often high in free sugars, refined starches, saturated and trans-fats, and sodium. The excessive amount of these so-called “critical ingredients” combined with a typically low nutrient content (“empty calories”) and the addition of additives, such as colourings, emulsifiers, and taste enhancers, make UPP harmful to our health.  At the same time the sensory features that these products are designed to display (which can reach the degree of addiction) and their low satiating qualities (due to removal of fibres), combined with colourful packaging and aggressive marketing, triggers an overconsumption of these products – and a parallel displacement of real food in our diets.  

The NOVA classification system has been developed to group different foods and helps to distinguish ultra-processed edible products from real food, including processed food.

Group 1 – Unprocessed or minimally processed foods: These are natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains, nuts, milk, and meat that are either unaltered or minimally processed, for example by peeling, cutting, grinding, drying, freezing, cooking, pasteurization, or non-alcoholic fermentation. There is no addition of salt, sugar, oils, or other additives.

Group 2 – Processed culinary ingredients: Directly obtained from Group 1 foods or from nature, these are substances used for cooking and seasoning meals. They include sugar, salt, oils, and fats. 

Group 3 – Processed foods: These food products are made by adding culinary ingredients (Group 2 foods) to natural or minimally processed foods (Group 1 foods) with the aim of making them more durable and enjoyable. Examples are fresh cheeses, freshly baked breads, and bottled/canned vegetables and legumes (in saltwater/marinade).

Group 4 – Ultra-processed products: These are industrial formulations of edible substances derived from low-cost Group 1 foods and other organic substances. Among these are ingredients not found in normal kitchens (i.e., of purely industrial use), such as protein isolates, as well as cosmetic additives, such as colours and flavours, that make the product look and taste more appealing. The products undergo multiple steps of processing involving different industries – hence they are “ultra-processed”. Examples are packaged crisps and other sweet or salty snacks, chocolates, ice cream, candy, sweetened drinks, sweetened and flavoured breakfast cereals, instant soups, and pre-prepared pasta and meat dishes.

References:  Global Food Research Program, 2023, Ultra-processed foods: a global threat to public health.

Monteiro et al. 2019. Ultra-processed foods: What they are and how to identify them, in Public Health Nutrition.

Box 2

Direct sourcing from small-scale food producers for food aid schemes in the US

In recent years, the United States has seen a rise in programs connecting local farms with food assistance partners like food banks, pantries, and grassroots efforts to combat hunger. Known as Farm to Food Assistance (F2FA), these initiatives offer a promising strategy for addressing food insecurity among the 44 million food-insecure Americans with real food rather than UPP. They also play a role in revitalizing local and regional food economies, which are foundational to a community-driven and equitable food system. The Wallace Center’s 2022 National Farm to Food Assistance Survey[1] highlights the positive impact of these programs on farmers and communities.

While F2FA do not fully shift the need to rethink how hunger relief and poverty eradication are addressed in the United States, these efforts are transitional and challenge the dominance of the corporate industrial food system through redistribution of public funds. For example, the USDA’s Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program (LFPA) fosters partnerships between state agencies, tribal governments, food banks, pantries, and farmers to source and distribute food, benefiting local socially disadvantaged producers and underserved communities with a $900 million budget.

Iowa and New Mexico[2] are standout states in the LFPA program, showcasing highly collaborative, strategic, and equity-centered approaches. In their first year, these states saw close to $4 million in new sales for farmers, enabling them to provide nutritious food to communities in need.

Box 3

Lab-grown proteins

Lab-grown proteins pose a direct threat to food sovereignty. This new market serves to protect the financial interests of corporations and cement an even greater concentration of power, while these ultra-processed and often genetically modified foods have huge economic, social, environmental, and cultural impacts. Public funds should not be attributed to this technology. Policymakers must rather support the farming sector, to ensure numerous farmers on the land. EU institutions should ensure a thorough and independent assessment of the potentially destructive consequences of lab-grown proteins before allowing them anywhere near people’s plates. Find out what’s at stake for farmers and citizens alike in ECVC’s video on lab grown proteins and accompanying fact sheet:

Video here, factsheet here, webpage to both on ECVC website.

Box 4

Law to combat food waste and the right to food in Spain

Today, being in a state of social exclusion means having limited choices, even in your eating habits. The population in general is affected by multiple influences, but those who are in a situation of poverty experience a lack of perspective of rights in access to food on a daily basis. A basic right such as food is subject to multiple constraints in order to access a range of products deemed to be “basic”. Instead of nourishing our bodies, these products continue to feed the interests of multinationals and an unequal food system that places the market at the centre and not the needs and rights of all people.

Another example of this is the food waste law in Spain, which will formalise the link between impoverished people and leftover food. This law will force all leftover food to be consumed as a priority by people in vulnerable situations. This would be positive if it included a differentiation of products according to their nutritional value and put the health of these people at the forefront, but instead the focus is on solving the food waste problem of big business without really reducing the problem, while treating impoverished people as an object and limiting any choice in their food.

Moreover, this new, publicly funded scheme will not be managed by public institutions, but by the Red Cross, a private entity, thus privatising social welfare, at least as far as food aid is concerned. The aid will be managed through digital cards for purchases in large supermarkets, which will be limited to certain products that the large supermarkets decide when they are considered “waste”.

In response to this, initiatives are already being organised by the population to support the most vulnerable with healthy and agroecological food. From the perspective of community-supported agriculture, producers and consumers are organising support groups to be able to provide healthy food for people living in poverty. This gives hope, but also brings sadness because once again a basic right such as food will not be sustained through the responsibility of the institutions.

Box 5

Food challenges: Fighting the corporate diet in Latin America

In recent decades, we have witnessed the consolidation of an agri-food system that perpetuates poverty and inequalities, favours the economic interests of large industries and weakens ecosystems, and that, instead of favouring real food, has led to the decline of biodiversity and the imposition of the corporate diet. This regime, based on the consumption of ultra-processed food and drink products, has triggered a worrying increase in cases of people being overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  Recent data reveals that since 1975, obesity has increased almost threefold and is now responsible for 4 million deaths per year globally. In the Americas, NCDs cause 5.5 million deaths annually, equivalent to 80% of all deaths. Each year, 2.2 million people between the ages of 30 and 69 in the region die prematurely from these diseases.

In this context, where the realisation of the Human Right to Adequate Food and Nutrition and food sovereignty has been constantly violated, civil society has led efforts to regulate the widespread availability of ultra-processed food and drink products and their consequent increase in consumption, which has displaced traditional eating patterns where real food, with minimal processing and home preparation, prevailed. The struggle to regulate this industry includes the implementation of clear labelling to warn of harmful health contents and the application of taxes on ultra-processed food and drink products—regulatory developments that have been recommended by bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). However, these initiatives face strong interference from food industry corporations, who seek above all other objectives to protect their commercial interests. As a result, they often distort or block regulatory measures intended to protect public health and promote adequate food. The struggle for a fairer and healthier food system thus finds itself in a constant confrontation between civil society efforts and commercial interests that perpetuate a model that is unsustainable and detrimental to human and planetary health.

For more on the fight against the corporate diet in Latin America see: Alianza por la salud alimentaria (Mexico), FIAN Colombia, Proyecto Squatters y Colectivo Duda (Argentina).

Box 6

Fighting the rise of Ultra-processed ‘Food’ Products (UPFs)/Junk Foods in India

India is known as the diabetic capital of the world—1 in 4 adults is either diabetic or pre-diabetic and 1 in 4 is obese. Junk food consumption is rising rapidly, making diets unhealthy and a major factor in this epidemic. While the Government of India has put in place regulations on advertisement and labelling to address the aggressive marketing of such foods, these regulations are ineffective by design. Given this background, the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi), a public health interest independent think tank, analysed advertisements and challenged the celebrities endorsing them. It compiled all the scientific evidence and shared it all over India. In 2022 the Government of India issued a draft policy to allocate stars on the front of junk food packets, which declared that pre-packaged food could be ‘less healthy’ to ‘healthiest’. People of India sent thousands of letters demanding warning labels placed on the front of the packets instead of the stars.  This way people can more easily identify food products that are unhealthy by being high in sugar/salt or fats. NAPi also mobilized several civil society and academic organisations to issue a position statement,  demanding a warning label on packaging for food that is high in sugars/salt or fats. The media supported this work wholeheartedly. Civil society groups also filed several complaints to the consumer protection authority. Calling for a comprehensive policy, NAPi in 2023 launched “The Junk Push” report, highlighting how aggressively junk food is being advertised. Experts wrote opinion pieces in the daily newspapers and published reviews in the peer-reviewed journals.

#EndTheJunkPush, more info here.

[1] https://foodsystemsleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2023-Wallace-Center-F2FA-Infographic_Final.pdf

[2] https://foodsystemsleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/Iowa-LFPA-Spotlight.pdf and https://foodsystemsleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/New-Mexico-LFPA-Spotlight.pdf

In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1 

The imposition of ultra-processed edible products and what it takes to reclaim choice over what we eat

The rise of UPP in our diets is not a question of individual choice, as the food industry would like us to believe. We are made to want these products. UPP are industrial formulations created with the aim to be highly palatable (tasty) and even addictive, especially if introduced at an early age. The food industry invests billions in marketing and sales, using cartoons and celebrities, free giveaways, and strategic placement in shops. Small vendors are provided with branded refrigerators and food carts, while school meal and public aid programmes are additional lucrative markets.

A vast amount of research demonstrates that UPP harm our health and are a central cause of premature deaths.[1] This includes an increased risk of obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular (heart) diseases, diabetes, and cancer, and also heightened vulnerability to infectious diseases. While this link is recognized by international and regional health authorities, it is fiercely contested by the food industry, which invests heavily in research and in public media downplaying the negative impacts of its most profitable product.

Social inequalities are an important factor driving consumption of UPP and related NCDs. Especially in high-income countries and urban areas, these products tend to be more easily accessible, both physically and economically, than fresh and minimally processed food. A central reason is that the true cost of production is not reflected in their pricing. While the UPP industry presents us with an “illusion of diversity” in its products, these are largely based on a handful of high-yield, low-cost crops: corn, wheat, soy, sugar, and (palm) oil. The monoculture production and global trade chains attached to these have heavy environmental impacts, the costs of which are not accounted for. These include deforestation, pollution of water, air and soil with agrotoxics, excessive use of water, loss of biodiversity, CO2 emissions arising from production, transport and packaging, and plastic waste.

Added to this are immense social costs—displacement of rural populations (and alternative ways of production and exchange), dependency and low prices paid to food producers, as well as exploitative work conditions and wages across the industrial food chain. The mass-scale of production and distribution together with the fiscal benefits the companies obtain further add to the artificially low cost of UPP.   

To reclaim control over what we eat and have a true choice we need to curb corporate power across the entire food system. Regulatory measures around UPP, such as warning labels and marketing regulations, are urgently needed and are a public health imperative. At the same time, we also need to work on viable alternatives. To have diversity on our plates we need diversity in our fields; to have healthy food, we need healthy soil. This requires public policies for the transition towards agroecology, as well as support for farmers’ markets, cooperatives, and other distribution and exchange systems, based on proximity and solidarity. Moreover, we must address the structural inequalities that impede access to real food, including by ensuring decent wages and income.

In the spotlight 2

UPF pose enormous threats to Africa’s food systems and just agroecological transitions

Food systems are rapidly changing in Africa, mimicking the global trend of increased consumption of ultra-processed food (UPF). This is notable in urban and rural areas, beginning in coastal urban areas and spreading to landlocked regions. Food consumption in urban areas is largely based on purchases, with a greater amount of these being ultra-processed foods. In rural areas less than half of food is purchased and most of this food is still minimally processed.  UPF imports are also rapidly increasing, with soft drink imports into the Southern African Development Community surging by 1200% between 1995 and 2010, while snack foods increased by 750%. 

Rising UPF consumption in Africa is linked to changing socio-economic and politico-economic conditions, and structural inequities that contribute to making UPF more accessible, affordable, and desirable in both urban and rural areas. The privatisation of food-related parastatals and liberalisation of foreign direct investment (FDI) have greatly enabled the entry of UPF into Africa. Investment in UPF (breweries, distilleries, soft drinks, sugar products) comprises 22% of all FDI into the food system and is double that invested into farms and plantations.  UPF are manufactured and supplied by small and medium enterprises and large corporations, including transnational food corporations such as Nestle, Unilever and Danone. Supermarkets have expanded exponentially on the continent, typically packed with UPF. However, it is also sold by local street vendors and can also be found in small convenience stores across the continent.

As UPF is consumed more extensively and frequently in Africa, and by more people, it inevitably displaces traditional healthy and nutritious food, dietary and agricultural diversity, and local farming systems. This phenomenon is closely correlated with the obesity pandemic taking hold in the region and several other diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as type 2 diabetes and cancers. The rise in people becoming overweight and obesity occurs alongside continued high rates of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.

There is a critical gap in knowledge regarding consumer interactions with food systems in current food sovereignty discourse. While there are clear linkages with struggles for a just agroecological food system transition, the current discourse tends to be biased towards rural areas, with limited relevance for urban populations, farm workers, industrial food workers, and other actors across the rural-urban continuum. The discourse needs to deepen, addressing the structural factors that both limit access to healthy diets and perpetuate poverty, inequities, hunger, and malnutrition in a never-ending cycle on the continent.

Find out more in the African Centre for Biodiversity Fact Sheet series on UPF in Africa.

[1] See Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses.

Newsletter no 55 – Editorial

Ultra-processed food, a “corporate diet”

Illustrations: Nikau Hindin, Obesity and Junk Food, 2009, @nikaugabrielle

The past 60 years have seen an exponential rise in the production and consumption of ultra-processed ‘food’–or rather, edible–products (UPP), such as packaged crisps, biscuits, sweetened beverages, and ready-to-eat meals. Driven by an expansion of the industrial food system, including global sourcing and retail structures, and corporate concentration and power within this system, UPP are replacing fresh and minimally processed foods and home-cooked meals in our diets.  Dietary patterns are becoming increasingly homogenized and culinary traditions are disappearing. This shift started in high income countries and has now reached all countries, in some making up over 50 percent of what people eat.[1] 

This edition of the Nyéléni newsletter explores how the ‘corporate diet’ based on UPP is being imposed in different regions of the world and what this means for people’s health and food sovereignty. It further provides examples of resistance, from the recovery of traditional crops to the struggle for effective regulatory measures. What is clear is that to reclaim sovereignty over our plates we must look beyond our plates and reshape the food system as a whole.

FIAN International and AFSA 

[1] Global Food Research Program, 2023. Ultra-processed foods: a global threat to public health and Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria, 2022, Planeta Ultraprocesado: Los riesgos para la salud y el medio ambiento de los productos ultraprocesados   

Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

IPEF: Secretive negotiations over the future of the Indo-Pacific economy

As international trade deals continue to evolve, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) is being negotiated between multiple nations in the Asia-Pacific region. With the United States taking the lead, its members include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Despite its claims of trans-regional economic cooperation, critics argue that the IPEF is designed to advance U.S. corporate interests and provide an avenue for them to influence national regulation in critical sectors such as agriculture, labour, environment, manufacturing, services and digital technology. A significant point of contention surrounding the IPEF (as in other trade-investment agreements) is its secretive negotiations, shutting out public and democratic scrutiny, checks and balances.

Joseph Purugganan from Focus on the Global South summarized civil society concerns, stating:[1]The consensus was evident: IPEF, despite being touted as a new model for trade, appears to be heavily tilted towards mega-corporations and tech giants. The lack of transparency in its negotiations and the haste to finalize it, compounded by the geopolitical tussle between the U.S. and China in the Asia-Pacific, raises red flags. Governments are urged to carefully reflect, to place their citizen’s welfare above corporate windfalls, and to ensure that the IPEF, in essence, aligns with the aspirations and rights of those it stands to affect.“

Voices from the field 2

Exclusion and discrimination at the FAO World Food Forum

Melissa Gómez Gil, MAELA, Colombia

The FAO World Food Forum demonstrated the exclusion and discrimination of historically marginalised populations and communities, such as young people, women and rural communities. There, spaces for dialogue and the exchange of experiences were created, but they lacked the tools and mechanisms needed for interpreting. The accommodation and catering facilities were inadequate for those (like us) who had travelled from our territories, perhaps for the first time, to a country with a currency that is three times the value of our own national currency.

We felt that our right to food was being undermined by offering us their crumbs because they think that we are used to a violent system of social inequality; and this clearly replicates both the state of inequality in which we live in our own territories as well as the xenophobia that we experience in “first world” countries. Perhaps the experience for some was exciting for the simple fact of being in Rome or being at the FAO headquarters, but the truth is that for the young people of our social movement it was a traumatic experience without any safeguards or dignified conditions  in which we were allowed to participate fully.

Voices from the field 3

Digital tsunami:  A technology that is not discussed with the peoples creates exclusion and dependency

The following testimonies were obtained during the two year discussion, among diverse peasant, Indigenous, local community and family farmers organizations, on the digitalization of food systems, prompted by the “Data Work Stream” inaugurated by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in 2021.

Digitalization in agriculture and food is perceived as a driver of profit, more than a series of tools and processes that can ease work in the fields and benefit the majority of non- industrial agriculturalists. There is awareness that this technology has not been developed by the peoples for the peoples, but comes from the corporate world and intends to create dependency and exclusion, just like other agricultural innovations throughout history.  —Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSIPM) Vision statement on Data

“A farmer is now forced to produce food in a different way, which is not conventional or traditional, but dependent on technology.” Moayyad Bsharad, LVC-MENA Region, land worker.

The selection of certain data, and ignoring other data, is sometimes used to justify a political or profit-oriented goal. An example of a political goal comes to us from the occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza. —CSIPM Vision statement on Data

 “Using Data collection on the food systems in Gaza and [the] analyzing [of] it by the occupier which holds power, the Israeli occupation was able to calculate an average of calories per person by which people do not starve but never feel well fed. Through this weaponization of food based on very accurately calculated Data, the Israeli occupation aimed at putting direct pressure on the population in Gaza through a form of collective punishment to drive them to abandon certain political choices they have made”. Mariam Mohammad, Coalition of Lebanese Civil Society / Arab Network for Food Sovereignty

[1] https://focusweb.org/press-release-indo-pacific-economic-framework-ipef-under-scrutiny-civil-society-raise-alarms-on-its-potential-consequences/


Box 1

Digitalization of food systems: ‘Big Data’ won’t feed us

During its fifty-first session, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), issued recommendations for the collection of data for food security. Since 2021, the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism (CSIPM) insisted that data recollection won’t solve the historic and structural problems at the core of hunger and malnutrition. Aspects like the governance of digitalization, conflicts of interest (since the main promoters of ‘data re-collection’ are the world’s techno-titans), the importance of other knowledge systems, the environmental impacts of digital tools, and the need to assess the digitalization of food systems, were brought to the negotiations by the CSIPM. Below are the words of Patti Naylor, member of the National Family Farm Coalition and co-coordinator of CSIPM Data Working Group during the plenary on October 24[1]:

These policy recommendations fall short in many areas. Dangers to future food security and the environment were not addressed, neither were surveillance and privacy violations or monopolistic control of digital processes that enable the corporate control of the global food system. The document insists in “data” as the tool for achieving food security while huge amounts of data are already being collected and not driving the policies needed. The extraction of data joins the exploitation of human labor and the extraction of natural resources. As the seriousness of risks become more evident, these discussions around data and digital technologies must continue.

Box 2

Financing for development: a systemic perspective[2]

Struggles for food sovereignty are completely tied to the rules that govern the global economy. Be it how financial speculation and instability affect food, fuel, and fertilizer prices; how unsustainable indebtedness and unfair trade deals, rooted in colonial dynamics, have kept so many countries dependent on food imports and commodity exporting; or how the deregulation of global finance has been pushing farmers and rural communities out of their lands as these are bought by financial actors seeking profitable investments.

This is where the UN Financing for Development (FfD) process comes in as a space to advance on the systemic changes we urgently need to see. The FfD process is unique, as it is the only democratic space in which global economic governance is addressed, while the issues of climate change, inequalities and human rights remain at its core.

The FfD has its historical roots in the active discontent of Global South countries surrounding the structural flaws in the design of the international financial architecture and the inequalities that define it.

Momentum is building on international cooperation to face multiple crises. In recent months, the UN FfD process has regained steam due to two major steps forward: The approval by consensus of a resolution tabled by the Africa Group for an intergovernmental process on tax cooperation at the United Nations, and the momentum building towards the fourth Financing for Development Conference, which is expected to take place in 2025.

The issues of tax dodging and illicit financial flows, which have been raised by developing countries since the inception of the FfD process, cost governments around the world hundreds of billions of dollars in lost tax income every year. Decades of economic deregulation, corporate tax cuts and tax holidays to attract foreign investors have enabled a global land rush and the concentration of corporate power in food systems. These are resources that could be invested in public purchasing from agroecological producers, or in climate resilient and decentralized rural infrastructure to support local food systems, for instance.

The fourth International Conference on Financing for Development in 2025 would be a key moment for global mobilization and public pressure on debt justice. Supporting demands for debt cancellation and the reform of the global debt architecture would also be relevant to food sovereignty movements, as many countries trapped in debt have been forced to shape their economies around destructive large-scale industrial agribusiness exports, in order to earn the dollars needed for debt repayment.

In line with the new Nyéléni process and upcoming Global Nyéléni Forum, strategies for creating just and ecological food systems can only be strengthened by alliances with civil society organizations and social movements demanding a systemic transformation of the international financial architecture.

Box 3

Nyéléni process: towards a Global Food Sovereignty Forum 2025

Voices from our allies

Dražen Šimleša, RIPESS Int. https://www.ripess.org

The Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS Int.) doesn’t envisage a real and alive social solidarity economy (SSE) without food sovereignty and vice versa—our constituencies are inseparable and mutually supportive. We are standing on the position that today polycrises are rooted in the rules and design of today’s economic system. That is why we support transformative potentials in the global struggle for a better world. The area in which this growth obsessed, destructive economy and political system is the most visible is our food sector. We can see it from the position of small farmers and women in rural areas over the situation involving soil and biodiversity, to public health and monopolisation of the food sector. That is why work on food sovereignty and agroecology is important for a social solidarity economy. We see our movements as streams of the same river, as parts of the same ecosystem.

Within SSE constituency we are already working on many crossing points and overlapping areas. Our members are active in the promotion and implementation of territorial food systems, collective farms/farm shops (small local cooperatives), collective/shared food production and processing, territorial public procurement, preservation of the Commons (land, water, seeds, etc.), producer/consumer solidarity with shared risks and benefits, and general improvement of health. In those areas, among others, we can see the connection between SSE and FS.

Our input can be seen through highlighting the above mentioned close related programs, projects and activities.

We will continue to work on solidarity within our societies and the needed transformation of the neoliberal capitalist economy that is endangering the planet, small food producers, women, minorities, and all other groups that are not running the profit-above-all agenda. RIPESS Int. can also provide support for building capacities and knowledge with education activities and trainings on SSE and FS.

[1] https://www.csm4cfs.org/csipm-data-working-groups-statement-at-cfs51/

[2] For more info on this check the article by Flora Sonkin and Iolanda Fresnillo.