Some of the main players of the UNFSS science group promote the establishment of a new science-policy interface for food systems. Academics following the UN Food Systems Summit have contested this proposal that would bypass existing democratic mechanisms and science policy advice through the UN Committee on World Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE).
Open Letter to Policy Makers: No new science-policy interface for food systems
Science-policy interfaces consist of groups of experts who present the latest scientific thinking to governments to support them in making informed policies. They play a crucial role in responding to the challenges of governance around complex issues like food system sustainability, for which the science is often disputed, multidisciplinary, and evolving. Ideally, SPIs recognize that ‘evidence’ comes in multiple forms, rooted in multiple knowledge systems, and that providing scientific advice to governments takes place within an ecosystem of actors with uneven power and legitimacy to have their knowledge brought to shape governance.
The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) was reformed in 2009 to become the ‘foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all.’ It is embedded within the United Nations’ normative framework of human rights and has facilitated multilateral policy negotiations on a wide range of critical food system issues. The CFS is, hence, the most legitimate body to establish a global SPI on food systems, and it already has its own SPI: the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE).
Designed to provide state-of-the-art, independent, scientific expertise as the basis for negotiations within CFS, the HLPE has a clear mandate to serve as a global food SPI. To generate its reports and issue briefs, the HLPE gathers evidence from existing high-quality research, data, and technical studies. It works through an iterative science-policy process, including open consultations that enable input from civil society, Indigenous communities, academics, and the private sector. This process is overseen by a multi-sector, transparently selected international Steering Committee which has, since 2011, produced 15 science-based studies of key food system issues, ranging from food waste to sustainable forestry to agroecology and other innovative approaches to food security and nutrition. By being grounded in the CFS, the HLPE is also accountable to member states and civil society groups represented in that body.
By contrast, proposals for a new SPI seem to lack clear accountability mechanisms and other important features for legitimate and effective science-policy work, all of which have been adopted by the HLPE: openness to a wide range of different knowledge systems, public consultation, and ability to treat controversies from a range of different perspectives. With its one-dimensional focus on modern science as the gatekeeper of ‘truth,’ the new SPI is in fact designed to exclude many of the knowledges (e.g., Indigenous, experiential, farmers’, tacit, feminine) that are now needed to deal with uncertainty and co-create more just and sustainable food, farming, and land use systems. Such a SPI risks favoring science that reflects and reinforces the economic and political interests of an elite network of governments, researchers, and foundations with strong business ties.
The UN Food Systems Summit has become an opportunity to push this proposal, which would fragment public food governance through the CFS/HLPE and create new spaces that a handful of powerful actors can more easily control and dominate.
We call on governments and policymakers to:
- Decisively reject the new SPI. Any new SPI on food systems would undermine the HLPE and, by extension, weaken the architecture of public food governance developed by the CFS.
- Strengthen commitment to, and investment in, the HLPE. The HLPE provides a much stronger and more valid evidence base for policy than what is being proposed by this newly invented SPI. It should be strengthened rather than replaced with an SPI accountable only to elites.
- Support participatory processes that actively and meaningfully include plural perspectives and voices in food system governance. Farmers and other citizens need inclusive, participatory, and safe spaces within the CFS-HLPE process to co-create the knowledge necessary to govern food systems at global, national and local levels.
It is Indigenous people, peasants, and so called ‘lay’ people who have contributed to establishing the myriad of diverse, regenerative, and sustainable food systems that have been compromised by centuries of attempts to control and commodify nature. They are not stakeholders to be consulted by scientists, but rights-holders and knowledge-holders around whom food systems transitions should be built.
Letter of endorsement to the European Commission to reject the proposal for a new science policy interface
This form is addressed to academics, researchers and scientists around the world to endorse a global call on the European Commission to reject the recommendations made by the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group for the UN Food Systems Summit Process (HLEG). We urge the Commission to reject any proposal for creating a novel Science-Policy Interface (SPI) replacing the already existing High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE). We expose the implications a new SPI will entail for international public food governance, legitimacy and accountability. We also challenge the lack of a formal political mandate of the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) Scientific Group to propose a new SPI.
Teaser photo credit: Overlooking a large shade cacao plantation where the Ixcacao Mayan Belizean Chocolate company grows and produces chocolate using Mayan techniques. By Mvfarrell – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37131194