The IPC originates back to the World Food Summit organised in Rome in 1996 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as a part of global civil society’s reaction to ongoing global processes on food and agriculture, and to engage actively with them.
OUR HISTORY IN A TIMELINE
The eighth round of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), held in 1986 in Uruguay, which led to the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), included agriculture in multilateral trade negotiations, together with intellectual property and dispute settlement. GATT’s primary purpose was to increase international trade by eliminating or reducing various tariffs, quotas, and subsidies, while maintaining meaningful regulations. Although GATT did apply to agriculture, it was incomplete: as a result, signatory states (or ‘contracting parties’) excluded this sector from the scope of the principles stated in the General Agreement.
In 1994 the Marrakesh Agreement enabled a new multilateral framework to encourage the gradual liberalization of agriculture. It facilitated corporate access to (financial) markets and raw materials through international standard rules, removing many national social protections. The Marrakesh Agreement on Agriculture and the formation of the WTO accelerated global coordination by civil society, in particular small-scale food producer organizations.
The November 1996 FAO World Food Summit (WFS) held in Rome addressed the 800 million people without adequate food through the neoliberal vision of trade policies fostering food security for all through a fair and market-oriented world trade.
At this juncture, global civil society and social movements felt FAO to be a politically interesting intergovernmental forum for advocacy, and an alternative to the WTO and international financial institutions such as the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There were several reasons for this: as a UN body, FAO stood for more-democratic governance with universal membership and, formally, a one country/one vote decision-making process.
FAO maintains a specific focus on food and agriculture and a mission to eliminate hunger, a mandate that includes a strong normative dimension and relative openness to the engagement with civil society and rural people’s organizations.
The parallel NGO Forum, held on 11–17 November 1996, gathered more than 1,300 delegates of food producers organizations from some 80 countries. They were asking for a review of the Uruguay Round and a departure from both market-led solutions dominated by transnational corporations operating within the global economy and from the policy framework created by the Structural Adjustment Programs of the WB and IMF. Their aim was to counter-propose a new agenda based on Right to Food and Food Sovereignty to overcome the social injustices rooted in the governance of food production and marketing.
The 1990s were the decade of global UN summits, starting with the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, each accompanied by a parallel civil society event. The Rome civil society forum held in connection with the WFS, however, was the only one in which a deliberate political choice was made by the organizing committee to put social movements in the majority among the delegates. They had the deciding voice in determining the statement that was being adopted, which highlighted the autonomy and self-organisation of civil society as principles.
The forum gave the newly established organisation La Via Campesina its first global opportunity to present the principle of food sovereignty. The forum also pushed for the recognition of the “right to food” in a dedicated legal initiative. In effect, civil society advocacy’s greatest success in influencing the outcome of the official Summit was the identification of freedom from hunger as a fundamental human right.
The coordination among the different food producers’ organisations continued until the NGO/CSO “Forum for Food sovereignty: a right for all”, held in parallel to the “World Food Summit: five years later” in Rome (June 8–13 2002). This forum led to the institutionalisation of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) as a space of coordination among different food producer organisations, with a formal recognition from FAO through an Exchange of Letters defining common priorities, such as the drafting of Right to Food Guidelines. In the following years, the IPC facilitated the participation of thousands of small-scale food producers in various FAO processes such as in the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD), held in Porto Alegre in March 2006, which recognized the collective right to control land and acknowledged land’s cultural, social and historical dimensions. In 2007, the IPC co-organised a global gathering during the Nyéléni Forum in Mali to address the absence of global food policy coherence and a global body deliberating on food issues, as well as the necessity not to leave the regulating power to WTO, the World Bank, the G8, or transnational corporations.The Nyéléni Forum was intended as an occasion for reflection by some 500 delegates representing peasants, family farmers, fisher folk, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, women’s groups, workers, environmentalists, consumers, NGOs and youth groups from around the world who had subscribed to the concept of food sovereignty and were taking action to put it into practice in their respective territories. The Forum’s objective was to develop a common understanding of what food sovereignty entails, starting from the concrete practices of the participants, and to develop collective strategies and action plans on that basis.
The venue was a village in southern Mali and the name given to the forum (Nyéléni) was that of a legendary Malian peasant woman who had farmed and fed her people well. The forum, which took place from 23 to 27 February 2007, adopted a Declaration and an action plan covering seven themes:
- Trade policies and local markets;
- Local knowledge and technology;
- Access to and control over natural resources–land, water, seeds, livestock breeds;
- Sharing territories and land, water, fishing rights, aquaculture and forest use, between sectors;
- Conflict and disaster: responding at local and international levels;
- Social conditions and forced migration;
- and Production models: impacts on people, livelihoods and environment.
The eruption of the food price crisis in 2006/2008 opened another phase in IPC-FAO relations. For the first time in years, the governance of food and agriculture and food policy were at the top of the official global agenda. The IPC and social movements organized a civil society conference, Terra Preta, in June 2008, in parallel to an official FAO conference addressing the crisis. The civil society conference called for “a paradigm shift toward food sovereignty and small-scale sustainable food production that, unlike industrial agriculture, can feed the world, while making a positive contribution to ‘cooling’ the climate and for a fundamental restructuring of the multilateral organizations involved in food and agriculture”. Over the succeeding months, the IPC and social movements sided with the G77/GRULAC and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf against donor and bureaucracy-driven responses to the governance vacuum that the crisis revealed. The IPC/FAO/GRULAC proposal was the only one that sought a political response to the causes of the crisis. It called for a profound reform of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to turn it into an authoritative, inclusive forum for ensuring policy coherence in the name of food security and the human right to food.
As a result of the IPC’s work, the G77 and the Transnational Agrarian Movements, with FAO support, proposed to transform the CFS into an inclusive global policy forum deliberating on food security and nutrition. It ensured a strong presence of small-scale food producers contributing to the definition of the agenda through a Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) that replicated the regional and constituency structure of the IPC.
The first outcome of the reformed CFS was the approval of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (Tenure Guidelines/VGGT) in May 2012. This new international instrument has been actively used since then by peasant, fishing and pastoralist organizations, indigenous peoples, the landless, women and youth, and civil society as a whole, to assert their rights to access land and other natural resources.
After the CFS reform, the IPC worked with FAO to disclose a similar space for Civil Society in the other FAO processes. The first step was the IPC contribution in drafting the FAO Strategy for Partnership with CSOs, operationalizing the principles of autonomy and self-organization, the technical and grassroots knowledge of CSOs participating in FAO processes, and recognizing that their concerns and work often coincide with FAO’s work and mandate.
After the approval of the FAO strategy, the IPC focused on the FAO plan of work. It sought to implement the Tenure Guidelines, negotiate and implement the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines), bring agroecology in the FAO regular programme through two International Symposia and six Regional Dialogues, open the negotiation on the implementation of the Art. 9 of ITPGRFA on the Farmers’ Rights to seeds, recognize the role of peasant agriculture, oppose false biotech solutions, open a strong institutional debate on Digital Sequencing Information and to facilitate CSOs participation and priority setting in all the FAO Regional Conferences. Following the mandate of the last IPC General Meeting, IPC Working Groups started to open work stream in other forums such as the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) or the UN Human Rights System.