Here in the United States, it’s time for harvest — reaping what grew from the seeds sown in spring. Yet despite the abundance of seasonal foods like squashes and apples in our supermarkets, the fact is that 94% of global seed varieties have been lost, while the biggest agrichemical companies control most of what’s left. This loss of diversity is felt throughout our food system, from the reliance on pesticide-drenched monocrops, so vulnerable to disease, to the global extinction crisis.
So the worst thing we can do, in rebuilding the way we feed people, is to give more power to agrichemical companies. Yet that’s what happened when the United Nations Global Food Systems Summit invited the worst transnational corporations to its Sept. 23 gathering while excluding equity-driven solutions like agroecology. Its focus on agribusiness over small farmers was met with widespread revolt, including a boycott of the summit by scientists and food-sovereignty organizations around the world.
Agroecology is one of the most effective ways to grow healthy food and create thriving communities. Put simply, agroecology elevates ecological values in farming by rooting it in traditional knowledge and research that works with nature. Farmers emphasize crop diversity, environmental health and communal well-being. This builds an economy of human solidarity that protects biodiversity and helps rural communities. Farming with nature is a way of life grounded in nourishing people and the planet rather than the profit margins of large corporations.
Excluding agroecology from the summit — and from the wider global funding of agricultural initiatives — moves us further away from an intersectional food system. A recent article in Scientific American by scholar, filmmaker and author Raj Patel illustrates the damage such a decision does to the time-sensitive crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and hunger. It’s become clear that ignoring agroecology harms the rights of women, children and small farmers.
Why is agribusiness superseding human rights in deciding the best ways to feed people? Globally funded agribusinesses seek to impose commercial seeds and agrichemicals to grow food in the global South despite little evidence of success with high-cost industrial models. Yet Indigenous people around the world coexisted successfully with nature for thousands of years, providing sustainable foodways to their communities — often through knowledge held by women.
According to the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, one of many major organizations that boycotted the event, the U.N. Food Systems Summit was “used to promote a narrow technocratic vision of food systems in a manner which is opaque, exclusionary, and ignores a diversity of knowledge systems and contributors to sustainable food systems.”
And it’s not just knowledge systems that reflect disparity — who owns the land is as important as how that land is farmed. Bill Gates is the largest private landowner in the United States (according to the 2021 Land Report). Tellingly, the Gates Foundation sponsored the failed food-systems summit. Power over land and agriculture is concentrated among wealthy players instead of equitable human communities that depend on the natural ecosystems in which they exist. As environmental advocates, we know that to fight climate change, protect biodiversity and create sustainable food systems, we must elevate agroecology and deconstruct agribusiness.
In case you missed it, a week before the U.N. summit, the Center for Biological Diversity hosted its second annual Food Justice Film Festival, which highlighted efforts like agroecology and reminded us, as Malawi farmer Anita Chitaya says in Raj Patel’s film The Ants & the Grasshopper, that “women can teach men, Black people can teach white people, the poor can teach the rich.”
The festival is over, but you can still watch the speaker panels, access food-related free films and learn more about the activists featured in the films at this year’s festival.
Let’s stay connected — write to me at EarthFriendlyDiet@biologicaldiversity.org.
For the wild,
Jennifer Molidor, Senior Food Campaigner
Population and Sustainability Program
Center for Biological Diversity