CSO Consultations with FAO, 2019–2020
Since 2018, FAO’s Near East/North Africa Regional Office (FAORNE) and concerned civil society have been trying to implement a program of closer cooperation, complementarity and knowledge exchange. Two important activities in the wider program were accomplished in the past few months, refining collective CSO positioning and contributions to the work of FAO, as part of the global platform: International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty (IPC). The outcome recommendations demonstrate a pattern of continuity across both the intersessional meeting of CSO in cooperation with FAO, held in Beirut, November 2019, and the CSO Consultation at Casablanca, in February 2020. The latter of these had held in preparation for the biennial FAO Near East/North Africa Conference that was intended to convene states at Muscat, Oman in March.
Participants in the Beirut intersessional meeting addressed priority civil society issues that are still absent from the FAO agenda, the most important of which is promoting gender equality and non-discrimination in developing rural areas and fighting poverty, especially in the absence of a strategy to support women in conflict, occupation and other protracted crises.
The intersessional meeting reviewed implementation of the 34th NERC recommendations and decision on the main topics, namely:
- Agroecology: Adapting to climate change in semi-arid regions for sustainable agricultural development
- Agricultural transformation in the region and the challenge of youth employment and migration.
- One Health: Treating Transboundary Plant, Animal and Fish Pests and Diseases: Justification for Regional Cooperation.
Among the important subjects of the inter-sessional consultative meeting was the IPC’s Working Group on Land and Territories and its efforts to diagnose land issues and the struggles of the region’s local communities and indigenous peoples in defense of their human rights to livelihood, land and other production resources. CSO participants discussed financialization and commodification of land and its plunder in cases of conflict and wars, especially in Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Iraq, and in the occupation of Palestine and Western Sahara.
Participants in the intersessional meeting also addressed such civil society priorities as supporting small producers and managing water scarcity, with HIC-HLRN leading a critical review of the FAO strategies for support to small-scale family farming and investment in agricultural water. The participants also renewed their proposal to apply the FAO Tenure Guidelines in Iraq to support policy formation toward sustainable use of natural resources, and ensure equitable access land to produce food.
At the Casablanca consultation in February, CSOs echoed concerns expressed at Beirut. Partly because of the negligible CSO engagement with FAO in between the biennial NERCs, as well as the lack of published information on the progress of these initiatives since 2018, the CSOs questioned the utility of shifting agenda items from NERC to successive NERC without indicators of progress. They noted also that some former priorities have dropped completely without sufficient rationale, including the of women and gender issues championed in 2014, which have submerged and now disappeared from the successive NERC agendas.
In preparation for FAO’s biennial Near East Regional Conference (NERC), the International Planning Committee Food Sovereignty held its regional consultation of civil society organizations (CSOs) with officials of the FAO Regional Office on 24–26 February 2020 in Casablanca, Morocco. The CSO regional consultation, hosted by the Moroccan National Agricultural Sector Union addressed a set of priority issues in the region, particularly:
- Strengthening the partnership between civil society organizations and FAO,
- Strategies to support small-scale family farming,
- FAO policy advice in addressing water scarcity and water-sector investment,
- Agroecology to enhance resilience and recovery to face climate change, and
- The human rights approach integrated with the SDGs with FAO`s policies to achieve food security and nutrition.
At the opening of the CSO consultation, FAORNE Senior Policy Officer of the FAO Regional Office Mr. Kayan Jaff explained the new “hand-in-hand” initiative for all regions of FAO to pursue greater and more-effective participation of non-state actors and stakeholders (academics, the private sector, CSOs and communities).
Jaff also reviewed the results of the regional technical consultative meeting to shape the future of food and agriculture in the Near East and North Africa region, which was held by the FAO Regional Office in Cairo last January, and set a set of priority regional issues in the region in the context of transforming the agenda FAO to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That meeting focused on the challenges facing the countries of the region: political and social instability, resilience and recovery from protracted crises and emergency situations, scarcity of natural resources, climate change, youth employment and migration, and low growth in agricultural productivity.
The main sessions of the Casablanca session prepared the CSOs for their contributions to the upcoming NERC. At the consultation, small groups reviewed the available NERC conference papers, addressing the three main initiatives and priority issues on the NERC agenda:
- The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa - Adapting food systems to respond to an increasingly urban population;
- Building Resilient Farming Communities to Boost Local Economies and Promote Rural Employment;
- Ensuring Environmental Sustainability in the Context of Water Scarcity and Climate Change.
In addition to these NERC agenda items, the CSOs discussed the current monitoring of the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises, a policy that the UN Committee on World Food Security adopted in October 2015.
On the subject of civil society’s role in implementing programs and activities with FAO, the participants reiterated their concern over the lack of communication between civil society and FAO country/national offices both in implementing the recommendations of the previous NERCs (2014, 2016 and 2018).
The CSOs reviewed the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peasants and Other Workers in Rural Areas, which the UN General Assembly adopted in November 2018. They noted that those principles are absent in the FAO policies and programs at the regional level, at the country/national office level and in the planned 35th biennial NERC.
The participants also presented an important set of recommendations and observations that the FAO should take into account, within the framework of those three new priorities through which the sustainable development goals are achieved, the first of which is that the FAO staff must theirs is a UN Charter-based international organization committed to the purposes of the United Nations, including the human rights obligations of states. In this light, the CSOs identified the need to review the terms and concepts promoted by FAO within its initiatives that prioritize private-sector interests. Accordingly, the organizations called for FAO to adopt civil society’s vision of food sovereignty, as a higher and greater goal than mere food security. The CSOs expressed their concern with food system and natural resource governance, and greater support to small-scale food producers.
Progress was realized, however, when the Casablanca consultation reviewed now-completed IPC Database of the region’s civil society partners with FAO. The database, produced in cooperation with HIC-HLRN, aims to enhance communication and strategic partnership between CSOs in the region, as well as bridge the information gap within FAO concerning civil society’s capabilities, expertise and history of engagement with FAO. This practical tool is expected to facilitate greater participation and closer collaboration among CSOs and with FAO.
The CSO voices found harmony in these consultations at Beirut and Casablanca. However, their expression at the 35th NERC has been delayed with the postponement of the official Muscat meeting in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The consistent CSO recommendations arising from the two deliberations will be no less relevant in the post-COVID-19 era.