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Which way for food systems? A Kenyan perspective.

“The world urgently needed a food systems summit, but not this Summit,” wrote Milllion Belay, General Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) in a memo dated 26th July 2021. The memo was to notify organizers of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) of the decision taken by IPES-Food[1] experts to withdraw from Summit proceedings.

The decision taken by IPES-Food marks yet another cry against the UN FSS. Since last year, farmers’ organizations, social movements, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, and independent scientists, have raised concerns about the Summit process and proceedings. The most notable of which include the strong influence of corporate interests, lack of transparency in governance structures and undermining the legitimacy of existing global fora namely the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The movement gained momentum and culminated in a three-day virtual rally organized by the Indigenous People’s Mechanism (CSM) calling for the transformation of corporate food systems. The counter-mobilization activities run alongside the official pre-Summit programme (the actual UN FSS is scheduled for 1st September this year).

However, for many stakeholders, the UN FSS looks to be the beginning of an overdue conversation to transform global food systems. Through a series of Dialogues, stakeholders have been able to submit comments to the UN FSS leadership on “Action Tracks” pertaining to food safety, sustainable consumption, and nature-positive production, so the list of good-sounding things goes on. The professed aim of the UN FSS is to “build a just and resilient world where no one is left behind”.

As a member of the Route to Food Alliance, which is an alliance of more than 1000 women and men in Kenya working to achieve the Right to Food, it was difficult to decide which side of the divide we stand. Where do we want to add our voices and who do we want to support? Through which avenue of engagement is our greatest chance for impact and being heard? These were some of the questions debated in our team meetings.

Generally-speaking, in Kenya, there was the desire amongst members of the Route to Food Alliance and other close civil society actors to participate through the official platform provided by the UN. This was evident in various Dialogues organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and the County government of Nairobi. We decided to add our voice to the mix and convened an Independent Dialogue in collaboration with Welthungerhilfe (WHH), Rural Outreach Africa (ROA) & African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC). We submitted documentation of the discussions to the UN through the formal reporting mechanism highlighting that we need increased democratic space in the food system. This shift will create equal freedom for all people to participate. Currently, citizens have been reduced to listeners, without space or adequate attention given to the people’s views. A transformation of our food and farming systems to an agroecological approach was also a major highlight. You can download the report here.

In solidarity with the rallying cry #FoodSystems4People, and to reiterate the voice of the Route to Food Alliance, that we need agroecology for the Right to Food, that we need to put people – and farmers – at the centre of our food systems, and that we too, stand against the commodification of food and the profit-driven motives of seed and pesticides companies, we shared videos in the digital rally organized by the CSM.

Taken together, the videos are an artistic expression of diversity in our food systems. They are fact, and they are feminist. They are bold. They are a call from Kenya. They say it all.

A call for change on our food systems

The Language of Resilience: A Food Systems Saga

And so, in the end, it is not clear which route, will impact our route to food for the better. We can only hope that the UN FSS leadership will take seriously the contributions made by people around the world – whether through official channels or counter-movements. Better yet, that the UN FSS stops, recalibrates and addresses the concerns raised. There is still time.  

This article was written Felistus Mwalia, member of the Route to Food Alliance and Programme Assistant for the Route to Food Initiative.


[1] International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food)

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