The IUF, our sister federation PSI, peasant organizations and civil society groups campaigning for the right to food have called on the hastily-convened April 21 extraordinary meeting of G20 agriculture ministers to put rights on the agenda as they discuss potential disruption of food supplies in the COVID-19 crisis.
A joint statement conveyed to the G20 governments and ministries underlines the wider range of issues which need to be immediately addressed to effectively defend the right to food and nutrition. “While governments must coordinate closely to guard against interruptions in food supplies which threaten access to basic nutrition, it is necessary to ensure that these measures do not undermine the food security, the health and the livelihoods of those who produce food for the world. Closed borders and lockdowns have highlighted the extreme fragility of a food system in which 820 million women and men were chronically hungry and 2 billion food insecure before the COVID-19 crisis. Half of the world’s hungry people are food producers, peasant farmers and waged workers in agriculture. Their extreme vulnerability in the current crisis is the result of the systematic denial of their basic rights: the right to a safe workplace, the right to potable water and decent sanitation and housing, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the right to health care and social security protection. These rights need to be on the G20 agenda, and not simply as crisis measures. The wealthiest countries in the world depend for their food on the labour of millions of migrant workers. It is unacceptable that governments, in the rush to secure the flow of migrant workers, are failing to devote resources to protecting their health, safety and livelihoods, measures which are at the same time vital to mitigate against the spread of the virus.”
Action to keep food moving across borders must be accompanied by measures to curb speculation in food commodities, the statement warns, to avoid a replay of the ‘food price crisis’ which accompanied the 2008 financial meltdown and plunged millions into hunger and poverty.
Crisis measures, the statement warns, should not distract from the urgent need to begin rebuilding food systems which are “strip mining the soil, polluting water, rapidly destroying biodiversity, driving the climate crisis and incubating future pandemics. The food system is highly vulnerable to shock because of its dependence on external inputs and long supply chains.”
A coherent policy response for the present crisis and beyond should be coordinated by the UN Committee on World Food Security, where trade unions, peasant organizations and civil society organizations are represented. The response must be based on our collective experience and understanding that the universal right to food is inseparable from rights for food producers.