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How Valuable are UN’s Food and Agriculture Business Principles?

21 May 2014

ANALYSIS - The United Nations six Food and Agriculture Business Principles that were launched this week, designed to help agricultural communities in underdeveloped and developing regions, in particular, produce food sustainably, while receiving general support, may not be the ultimate panacea the global leaders had hoped, writes Chris Harris.

An analysis of the proposals from the University of Wageningen points to some fundamental and elementary flaws and concerns in the way the principles have been presented and how these principles can be adopted by farming communities and implemented effectively.

The six principles cover:

  • Minimising waste and pollution, protecting biodiversity and conservation and mitigating climate change
  • Protecting smallholders and eradicating poverty, ensuring market access and fair mechanisms and emphasising a supply chain-wide approach
  • Protecting smallholders and eradicating poverty and investing in local communities and protecting children
  • Focusing on accountability and anticorruption, with a need for government involvement and a need for monitoring systems and standards
  • Educating smallholders, investing in local communities and disseminating knowledge and creating sharing platforms
  • Food safety and health care together with a change of food patterns and consumer behaviours and minimising waste and pollution.

However, the report from Herman Brouwer and Guan Schellekens from Wagineningen, Validating the Food and Agriculture Business Principles, says that while there is broad support for the principles “the high level language of the FAB Principles draws concerns from stakeholders regarding how they might be applied in implementation and actually translated into partnerships and enabling actions relevant for local situations”.

They call for greater clarity on what signing up to the principles actually means and requires.

“Do the FAB Principles call for endorsement, implementation, or advocacy?” the report’s authors say.

“A view on what adherence to the principles means, or could practically be, would be helpful to have in place when the Principles are adopted.”

The feedback from consultation has called for a number of changes and improvements. One of the main points is to broaden the focus of the principles to include forestry and fisheries.

The consultation also showed a desire to give just a prominent role to the consumption end of the food chain as the production end.

The criticisms said there was a need to work more on a waste reduction strategy to become more sustainable.

There were concerns that the principles could be used to isolate certain communities by taking them as single silos and not working together or with other similar initiatives.

“Generally, stakeholders mention the need to position the FAB Principles clearly in relation to other sustainable agriculture initiatives. This would help avoid confusion between initiatives, and make the FAB Principles more actionable in conjunction with other initiatives,” the Wagineningen report says.

“The feedback suggests that ongoing effort is needed to prioritize underrepresented stakeholder groups to achieve a better regional and industry balance in implementing the FAB Principles.”

The consultation suggestions called for the role of women in the agricultural communities to be considered in the report as well as the non-food industry in relation to food security.

The feedback to the report paid long and strong consideration to waste reduction and called for more explicit wording on land and water management, and reference to biodiversity.

It added that there should be emphasis on limiting the negative impacts of capture fisheries, aquaculture and extractive industry on the environment.

The wording of economic viability, unprofitability, and shared value needs to be clarified the critics said and there should be a stronger reference to the role of regulators and retailers in delivering shared value.

The critics said the report should consider extending the description beyond ‘Businesses... to be transparent in their activities’ by including ‘and accountable for their commitment’ and it should “consider reference to ethics within the business model”.

Further Reading

Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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