Scientists Boycott the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit

Together, we build….strong objectivity. That is, we build fragile and increasingly sturdy contact zones where diverse knowledges dialogue. – Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor at The City University of New York and cofounder of The Public Science Project

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 4/15/2021

CONTACT INFORMATION agroecologyresearchaction@gmail.com

In response to crises of hunger, obesity, and unsustainable food systems, the UN Food Systems Summit of 2021 is being widely heralded as a chance to present “principles to guide governments and other stakeholders looking to leverage their food systems” to support the Sustainable Development Goals. But from the start, this summit has been deeply compromised by a top-down exclusion of many food systems actors and an impoverished view of whose food system knowledge matters. This exclusive approach undercuts ongoing work by farmers, farm workers, and food workers worldwide to advance transitions to justice and sustainability. 

For this reason, we write as researchers, faculty members, and educators who work in agriculture and food systems across disciplines to announce our boycott of the UN Food Systems Summit. We invite you, our colleagues, collaborators, students, and mentors, to consider doing the same.

We are not alone in our critique. Three UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to food have made their critical opinions known about the summit’s deep deficiencies. The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism — representing more than 500 civil society groups with more than 300 million members — has promised to boycott the summit and hold a parallel meeting. Longer, academic treatments of the summit’s “innovation frame” and historical contradictions are being published as we speak. There has been much attention to the summit’s lack of epistemic justice — the extent to which it includes diverse forms and communities of knowledge, from Indigenous peoples to smallholder farmers. 

Some critics of the UNFSS have suggested ways that the process could become less problematic: (1) it could incorporate a human rights framing into all of its “action tracks”; (2) it could create an action track led by the CSM on the corporate capture of food systems; and (3) it could designate the UN Committee on World Food Security as the institutional home to implement recommendations coming out of the summit. We don’t believe these changes would validate the summit, but they could mitigate its worst possible effects.

We offer just a brief recap of why food systems scientists should pay attention to this debate, and why it is important to reject a process that problematically claims to be grounded in inclusivity, trust, and complexity. 

First, the timeline of inclusion in the summit’s organization indicates that the summit’s outcomes have been largely predetermined. Although certain people of color, community organizations, and scientists across disciplines are now cordially being invited to the table, more than a year ago, the summit agenda and themes were defined by the World Economic Forum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and select natural scientists and economists who initiated the process. ‘Human rights’ as a thematic concern was not even added until months after the summit was underway. Adding diverse perspectives, knowledges, and experiences at this late stage only exploits multiculturalism to obscure an exclusive process where priorities have largely been set in advance.

Second, knowledge-intensive agriculture like agroecology has largely been sidelined from summit discussions so far. Unsurprisingly, given the aforementioned process, an early concept paper mentioned precision agriculture, genetic engineering, and data collection as key to addressing food security, but made no mention of agroecology, organic farming, or Indigenous ecological knowledge. Innovation, in other words, is being narrowly defined along the lines of innovations in corporate-dominated agribusiness. But as former UN FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva recently argued: “Agroecology should not be seen as a movement backwards that rejects new technologies. It is a different way of producing food that requires innovation, respecting local conditions and the participation of producers in the innovation process.”  Agroecology must be recognized as a paradigm for transforming food systems, alongside food sovereignty and the human right to food.  

Agroecology should not be seen as a movement backwards that rejects new technologies. – José Graziano da Silva

Third, the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) already has an international forum for participatory dialogue across communities of diverse expertises, positions, and worldviews. It’s called the Civil Society and Indigenous People’s Mechanism (CSM). The summit appears designed to bypass the CFS and CSM, erecting instead a new “multi-stakeholder” process to “assess potential trade-offs and to design policy options that deliver multiple public goods across these various systems” that was initiated by – and continues to be dominated by – corporations and governments. Such multi-stakeholderism has been widely criticized in the academic community for failure to contend with power and legitimacy imbalances among stakeholders and few accountability mechanisms for promises made or actions undertaken. 

Fourth, the role of Dr. Agnes Kalibata casts the legitimacy of the UNFSS into real doubt. The former Rwandan agriculture minister is president of the Gates-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Founded in 2006, AGRA has supported the opening up of Africa to genetically modified crops, fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers, high-yield commercial seed varieties, technologies for marketing, and other features of industrial agriculture. By appointing Kalibata as the Special Envoy to the UNFSS, the United Nations has given AGRA, and agribusiness, special entry to the negotiation process underway right now. In February 2020, 176 agricultural and food civil society groups opposed Kalibata’s appointment as a major conflict of interest. This underlines the affiliation of many UNFSS leaders with influential corporate and mainstream scientific groups more generally.

Now, as hundreds of farmers and human rights groups plan to boycott the Summit, a pro-UNFSS narrative is shaping up that pits rational “scientific experts” against hyperbolic activists and NGO dissidents. As scientists who work in agriculture and food, we call on our colleagues and collaborators to take a moment to ask: Whose knowledge matters in shaping global food policy? Who is being recognized as experts at the UNFSS – and when? While UNFSS now claims they are inviting everyone to the table, we must question who has set that table, and to what ends. Ultimately, who gets to decide what’s to eat? 

Based on the above, we suggest you can take the following actions:

  • If you are involved in UNFSS dialogues or action tracks, or being invited to participate in its processes, engage critically and consider boycotting if rights-based governance and epistemic justice demands are not met.
  • If you are teaching about the UNFSS, teach about the debate (and here, here, and here)
  • If you are participating in panels, workshops, or other events about the UNFSS, press to have rights-based governance and epistemic justice put at their heart.
  • If you are writing about the UNFSS, include critical, peasant/smallholder, and Indigenous voices. Make sure to reflect on demands #1,#2, #3 noted above.
  • If you are working with movements around the UNFSS, lift up their perspectives and knowledge.
  • If you are boycotting or otherwise resisting the UNFSS, consider working with others! More than 550 organizations and networks have called on the summit to undo the WEF-UN partnership. North American groups include: the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, the Northeast Organic Farming Organization, the National Family Farm Coalition, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Friends of the MST, the Oakland Institute, members of La Via Campesina North America, and many more.

~ Members of the Agroecology Research-Action Collective


Maywa Montenegro, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
& Honorary Research Fellow
Centre for Agroecology, Water & Resilience

Matthew Canfield, PhD
Assistant Professor
Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance, and Society
Leiden Law School, Netherlands

Antonio Roman-Alcalá
PhD Candidate
Institute for Social Sciences, The Hague, Netherlands

Raj Patel, PhD
Research Professor, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs
University of Texas at Austin, TX, USA

Christine M. Porter, PhD
Associate Professor, Wyoming Excellence Chair in Community & Public Health
Division of Kinesiology & Health, University of Wyoming

Hannah Wittman, PhD
Professor, Faculty of Land and Food Systems
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Alastair Iles, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of California, Berkeley, USA

Molly Anderson, PhD
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Food Studies & Academic Director of Food Studies
Middlebury College, USA

Annie Shattuck, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Geography
Indiana University, USA

Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, MTS, PhD
Associate Professor
School of International Service
American University
Washington DC (Piscataway traditional territories), USA

M. Jahi Chappell, PhD
Executive Director
Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON), USA
& Honorary Research Fellow
Centre for Agroecology, Water & Resilience
Coventry University, Coventry, UK

Colin Anderson, PhD
Associate Professor
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience
Coventry University, UK

Barbara Gemmill-Herren
Associate Faculty
Prescott College
Prescott, Arizona, USA

David Meek, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Global Studies
University of Oregon, Oregon, USA

Vivian Wauters, PhD
Postdoctoral scholar
Department of Plant Sciences
University of California, Davis, USA

Estelí Jiménez-Soto, PhD
Postdoctoral Scholar
Department of Community Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

Margarita Fernandez, PhD
Executive Director
Caribbean Agroecology Institute
& Coordinator Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network

V. Ernesto Méndez, PhD
Professor of Agroecology
Co-Director, Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)
Department of Plant and Soil Science
University of Vermont, VT, USA

Michelle Miller
Associate Director, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

Anne C. Bellows
Professor, Food Studies, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies
Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA

Faris Ahmed
Independent Research/Consultant, Sustainable Food Systems
Ottawa, Canada

Adam Calo, PhD
Research Scientist, Department of Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences
James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, UK

Martha Caswell
Co-Director, Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)
Department of Plant and Soil Science
University of Vermont
& Honorary Research Fellow
Centre for Agroecology, Water & Resilience
Coventry University, Coventry, UK

Rachel Bezner Kerr, PhD
Professor, Department of Global Development
Cornell University, Ithaca NY, USA

Shiney Varghese
Senior Policy Analyst, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Hans Herren, PhD
Millennium Institute Washington DC, USA

Michael Bell, PhD
Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor
Department of Community and Environmental Sociology
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sarah E. Lloyd, PhD
Food Systems Scientist, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA

Tomas Madrigal, PhD
Chicana and Chicano Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA, USA

Hannah Kass, MSc
Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, Wisconsin

Nicholas Jackson, PhD
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University
Coventry, UK

Annette Desmarais, PhD
Sociology, University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Canada

Allison Hellenbrand, PhD Student
Civil Society and Community Research, University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin

Megan Carney, PhD
Anthropology/Center for Regional Food Studies, University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ, USA

Joshua Sbicca, PhD
Sociology, Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO, USA

Hart N. Feuer, PhD
Department of Agriculture, Kyoto University
Kyoto, Japan

Mindy Price, PhD Student
Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management
University of California Berkeley, CA, USA

Johanna Jacobi, PhD
University of Bern
Bern, Switzerland

Nicole Civita, JD, LL.M.
Office of the President, Sterling College
Craftsbury Common, VT, USA

Carrie Seay Fleming, PhD Candidate
Sociology, University of Colorado- Boulder
Boulder, CO, USA

Emilia Cordero Oceguera, PhD Candidate
Sociology & Anthropology, North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC, USA

Andrew Flachs, PhD
Anthropology, Purdue University
West Lafayette, IA, USA

Matthew Schnurr, PhD
International Development Studies, Dalhousie University
Halifax, Canada

Rick de Satge, PhD
Phuhlisani NPC
Cape Town

Stephan Rist, PhD
Professor, Institute of Geography, Unit of Critical Sustainability Studies
University of Bern
Bern, Switzerland

David Greenwood-Sanchez, PhD Student
Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI, USA

Douglas Hertzler, PhD
ActionAid USA
Washington DC, USA

Mary Stockdale, PhD
Community, Culture and Global Studies, University of British Columbia
Kelowna, BC, Canada

Michelle Perro, MD
www.gmoscience.org
San Rafael, CA, USA

Miguel A Altieri, PhD
ESPM, University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley. CA, US

Philip McMichael, PhD
Development Sociology, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY, USA

Hossein Ayazi, PhD
American Studies Program, Williams College
Williamstown, MA, USA

Valarie Blue Bird Jernigan, PhD
Center for Health Sciences, Oklahoma State University
Tulsa, OK, USA

Stephen Gliessman, PhD
Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Vandana Shiva, PhD
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
New Delhi, India

Faith Saeerah, MS
Sociology, Michigan State University
Lansing, MI, USA

Tara Conway, PhD student
Applied Plant Sciences, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Kathleen McAfee, PhD
International Relations, San Francisco State University
San Francisco, CA, USA

Tony VanWinkle, PhD
Sterling college
Craftsbury, VT, USA

Laura Raquel Piaggio, PhD
Programa Nutricional – Ministry of Health – Buenos Aires City
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Amelie Gaudin, PhD
Plant Science, University of California, Davis
Davis, CA, USA

David Shaw, PhD student
Environmental Studies, UC Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Hailey Shanovich, MSc
Entomology, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Dvera Saxton, PhD
Anthropology, Fresno State
Fresno, CA, USA

Pablo Lapegna, PhD
Sociology, University of Georgia
Athens, GA, USA

John E. Peck, PhD
Economics, Madison College
Madison, WI, USA

Samina Raja, PhD
Professor, Food Systems Planning Lab, University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY, USA

Marela Cely-Santos, PhD
Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Munich, Germany

Stefan Ortiz, MSc
Social-Ecological Systems Institute, Leuphana University of Lüneburg
Lüneburg, Germany

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, PhD
Nutrition & Food Studies, Syracuse University
Syracuse, NY, USA

Mark Haggerty, PhD
Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, University of Maine
Orono, ME, USA

Rose Cohen, PhD
Executive Director, Community Agroecology Network
Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Rachel Portinga, MS, Integrated Biosciences
Health Sciences, Lakehead University
Thunder Bay, Canada

Christopher Bacon, PhD
Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, CA, USA

JoAnn Jaffe, PhD
Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina
Regina, SK Canada

Carol Henry, PhD
Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Bruno Borsari, PhD
Biology, Winona State University
Winona, MN, USA

Nadia El-Hage, MSc
Independant Food Ecologist
Rome, Italy

Monika Korzun, PhD
Sociology, Saint Paul University
Ottawa, Canada

Sunny Rijnaarts-Morrison, PhD candidate
Wageningen University
Wageningen, the Netherlands

Tammara Soma, PhD
Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

Caterina Batello, MSc
former FAO staff
Roma, Italy

Jessica Duncan, PhD
Rural Sociology, Wageningen University
Wageningen, Netherlands

Carmen Cortez, PhD
Graduate Group in Ecology, University of California Davis
Davis, CA, USA

Duncan Hilchey, MRP
Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development
Ithaca, NY, USA

Elisabeth Abergel, PhD
Sociology, Université du Québec à Montréal
Montreal, Canada

Graham Riches, PhD
Social Work, University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada

Claire Burgess, LLM, PhD student
Geography, University of Tasmania
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Gabriel Tamariz, PhD candidate
Geography, Pennsylvania State University
State College, PA, USA

Marcia Ishii, PhD
Pesticide Action Network North America
Berkeley CA, USA (Ohlone land, Turtle Island)

Johann Strube, PhD Candidate
Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, Pennsylvania State University
State College, PA, USA

Diana M Valencia-Duarte, PhD Candidate
History, University of Exeter
Exeter, UK

Christina M. Schiavoni, PhD (ISS, Netherlands)
Independent
Bangkok, Thailand

Cathy Davies, PhD
CEO, Food Safety Mid Atlantic
Millville, NJ USA

Martha Stiegman, PhD
Environmental Studies, York University
Toronto, Canada

Carla Johnston, PhD candidate
Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo, Ontario

Mark Vicol, PhD
Rural Sociology, Wageningen University
Wageningen, Netherlands

Adam Jadhav, PhD candidate
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California, USA

Evan Bowness, PhD Candidate
Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, UBC
Vancouver, Canada

Sibth Ul Hassan, Masters
International Institute of Social Studies (Netherlands)
Islamabad, Pakistan

Naoki Yoshihara, PhD,
Economics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Amherst, MA, USA

Steven McGreevy, PhD
Research Department, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature
Kyoto, Japan

Aude Chesnais, PhD
Sociology, Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO, USA

Raymond Auerbach, PhD
Centre of Excellence for Food Security, Nelson Mandela University
George, South Africa

Joseph Gazing Wolf, PhD candidate
School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
Tempa, AZ, USA

Sebastián De La Rosa Carriazo, PhD candidate
History Department, KU Leuven
Leuven, Belgium

Lorenzo Marelli, Master of Food Studies,
Food Studies, The American University of Rome
Rome, Italy

Spyros Tsoutsoumpis, PhD
History, Lancaster University
Lancaster, UK

Krista Marshall, PhD candidate
Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis
Davis CA USA

Manabu Igarashi, PhD
Business Administration, Senshu University
Tokyo, Japan

Maria Takeuchi, associate degree
Mukogawa Women’s University
Kobe, Japan

Natsuka Ikeda, Masters
Geography, Paris X
Pondicherry, India

E.C. Kamalu, PhD
Cranfield University
London, UK

Malin Olofsson, PhD candidate
Human geography, University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Caitlyn Sears, PhD candidate
Geography, University at Buffalo SUNY
Buffalo, NY, USA

Constance Gordon, PhD.
Communication, San Francisco State University
San Francisco, CA, USA

José Undurraga, PhD candidate
Silviculture, University of Freiburg
Freiburg, Germany

Michael Goldman, PhD
Sociology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Helda Morales, PhD.
Agroecology. El Colegio de la Frontera Sur
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

Rodrigo Villarroel
Ingeniero Agrónomo
Máster en agroecología, Universidad de Córdoba, España
Curicó, Chile

Daniel López-García, PhD
Institute of Economics, Geography and Demography, Spanish Superior Council for Scientific Research
Madrid, Spain

Sarah Berquist, MS
Stockbridge School of Agriculture, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst MA

Hiroaki Hayashi, Master’s degree
Humanities and Science, Nihon University
Tokyo Japan

Madeleine Fairbairn, PhD
Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Cesare Pacini, PhD
Sustainable Food Systems, University of Florence
Firenze, Italy

Neeraja Havaligi, PhD
Courtesy Faculty at Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon

Carlo Triarico, PhD
Apab Istituto
Firenze, Italy

Raffaele Zanoli, PhD
Agricultural Food and Environmental Sciences, UNIVPM
Ancona Italy

Richa Nagar, PhD
College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Charles Levkoe, PhD
Health Sciences, Lakehead University
Thunder Bay, Canada

Jeffrey Ensminger
Natural Environmental Ecological Management
Durham, UK

Alexandra Gulachenski, PhD candidate
Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Davis, California, USA

Suprasanna Aryal, Masters
Center For Food Safety
Washington DC, USA

Ruben Savels, PhD candidate
Agricultural Economics, Ghent University
Ghent, Belgium

Manjsri Chatterji, M.A.
English, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA

Jeanne Koopman, PhD
African Studies Center, Boston University
Boston, MA, USA

Tammi Jonas, PhD candidate
School of Social Sciences, University of Western Australia
Perth, WA, Australia

David Gilbert, PhD
South Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA

Georgina Mulcahy, Masters of Sustainability)
School of Public Health, University of Sydney
Sydney, Australia

Adele Wessell, PhD
Southern Cross University
Lismore, Australia

Eugenio E F Re, Laurea
Scienze della Salute Firenze)
Firenze Italia

Nilson de Paula, PhD
Federal University of Paraná and Brazilian Network on Food Sovereignty and Security
Curitiba – Pr – Brazil

Louis Thiemann, PhD Student
International Institute of Social Studies
The Hague

Shoji Hisano, PhD
Kyoto University
Kyoto, Japan

Daniel Chavez, PhD
Transnational Institute (TNI)
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jennifer Franco, PhD
Transnational Institute
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jun Borras, PhD
International Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
De Haag, Netherlands

Angèle Proust PhD
Geography, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne
Paris, France

Frédéric Leroy, PhD
Applied Biological Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Brussells, Belgium

MaryEllen St.Angelo, Masters in Sustainable Food Systems
Prescott College
Prescott, AZ, USA

Amy Pagett, Master of Sustainability
Yume Foods/Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance
Sydney, Australia

Donald E Heacock, MS
Fisheries biology and management, Humboldt State University; Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources
Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii

Hedley Freake, PhD
Emeritus Professor of Nutritional Sciences, University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT USA

Carolina Rodriguez, PhD student
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Alnarp, Sweden

Naoya Matsudaira, doctoral course
Organic Farmer, Kyoto University
Kyoto-city, Japan

Kristen Borre, Ph.D, MPH
Anthropology, Northern Illinois University
De Kalb, IL, USA

Olivia Byrne, Research Masters
Research Department, Institute of Technology Sligo
Sligo, Ireland

Fatih Özden, PhD
Ege University-Faculty of Agriculture-Department of Agricultural Economics
İzmir, Turkey

Jessica Ham, PhD
Anthropology, Emory University
Atlanta, GA, US

Mauro Rubichi
Associazione Ita-Nica di cooperazione e volontariato
Collesalvetti (Livorno) Italia

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