HIC at the Expo dei Popoli, Milan

From 3-5 June 2015, international social movements and NGOs working on issues of food sovereignty and environmental justice gathered together in Milan at the Expo dei Popoli. This event was organized outside of the Global Expo Milano which boasts the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” However the Expo dei Popoli was not simply an alternative forum, but rather the space to put forward the voices of small-scale food producers that feed some 70% of the world and to share our knowledge and information on how to support radical transformations in the food system, as well as civil society participation in the decision making processes. Prior to the forum many international networks worked together to create a document that articulates our core strategies in realizing food sovereignty and for advocating for our relevant human rights- including the interrelated rights of food, housing, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and land.

With broad experience in local and international governance, urban-rural linkages, Right to the City and interaction with local authorities, HIC-HLRN was asked to deliver a contribution in order to share strategies and experiences with participatory governance at all levels- from international institutions to local governments. This Forum provided an excellent opportunity to better link our work, in particular the Right to the City and city-region planning, to other movements and efforts; it is this kind of collaboration across sectors and areas of expertise that we will create the most impact and change! For any questions about this process or for more information on HIC-HLRN’s involvement in the food sovereignty movement, please contact hic-mena@hic-mena.org.

Below is the text of the intervention that was delivered during the Expo dei Popoli:


Many of us here are directly or peripherally involved in the Civil Society Mechanism for the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). For those who are not involved, the CFS is the UN body that reviews and follows-up food-security policies issues related to food and nutrition, including food production and access. CFS is the most-inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together in a coordinated way to ensure food security and nutrition for all. The Civil Society Mechanism is an autonomous coordinating facility that engages with the CFS and brings together representatives of those populations suffering most from hunger, including different small-scale food producers, workers, indigenous peoples, landless, urban poor, consumers and the NGOs and researchers that support them. And through this mechanism, we have seen the benefits, as well as the limits of multistakeholderism. But in any case, the effective participation of civil society and social movements in the work of the CFS should be considered a universal model of good governance.

This is a space the we collectively fought for and maintain, and now we have the space and expectation for full and meaningful participation in international discussions and policy making on food and nutrition; however, we fail to have this space when we go back home and seek change at the local level. In fact, what we are all fighting for here is a radical shift in the dominant food system, re-localizing our food systems and for policies at the international level that recognize and support this change, upholding policies that protect us and realize our right to food as peasants, fishing communities, indigenous persons, as marginalized urban poor and conscious consumers.

We must demand inclusive decision making at the local level. We must have the same expectation of inclusive and meaningful participation at the local level in all areas, from urban planning, budgeting, transportation networks, to water, sanitation and health, all of which also have direct impacts on our food system. Our experience at Habitat International Coalition in collaborating to implement polices at a local level, in particular, through our work developing and applying the Right to the City and engagement in the Habitat III process, the coordinating and cooperation with local authorities has been critical, but equally critical is to have a reconceptualization of how we see the inter-relation between what is urban and rural.

Other speakers have discussed the importance of public policies at the local level, and in particular, the need for food policy councils- but in order for this model of inclusive decision making to work at the local level- for local government to actually interact with the small- scale food producers who can feed not only the city, but the surrounding rural areas. We have to push local governments to better link rural and urban areas together, what we could refer to as “city-regions.” Upholding human rights, including the human right to food, often requires local governments to fulfill their duties by integrated planning and policies that optimize resources of the city-region as a whole comprised of complementary urban and rural spheres. This approach also completes the concept of the right to the city for our Members and partners in the current Global Platform on the Right to the City.

City Region Food Systems

Currently, urban and rural people, particularly the disadvantaged and marginalized groups and peoples we are here representing, suffer the same global-local forces of marginalization that contribute to massive displacements that violate their common food, housing, health and other rights. The food and nutrition needs of affected urban and rural people are linked in many ways, but both suffer the tendency of policy makers and other observers to treat these communities as separate, and even as competing with, or otherwise adversarial toward each other.

In other processes, including the development of Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals on sustainable cities and human settlements, as well as the preparations for the Habitat III summit in 2016, HIC, along with other partners, have pushed to replace our understanding of the “City” with the “city-region,” in particular when discussing local food-system development, but also when advocating responsible and inclusive decision making.

The reality is that decisions are taken in cities and urban areas; that is, where most local and regional government offices are located, including the departments that have a dominant role in the food system. Unfortunately, even when there is “inclusion,” it usually stops at the city limits. If we reconsider the spatial dimension of local food governance as the city-region, we then create a clearer idea of what “building rural-urban linkages” actually looks like and, thus, how to fulfill “balanced rural and urban development,” as our government committed to achieve at Habitat II, in 1996. Throughout its 40 years of activism, this is something that we in Habitat International Coalition have prioritized with civil society in many forums. It is a critical understanding that we must promote to better understand how food sovereignty can be operationalized within a local food system.

CFS and Local Authorities

Then we come to our other point regarding the role of local authorities. We have struggled to have decentralized “responsibilities” in CFS decisions, in particular clear mandates for local authorities to implement policies negotiated at the international level. In fact it this issue has not only been difficult, but also quite contentious, despite the fact that human rights treaty law extends the same state obligations to local authorities as to central governments.

Last year at the CFS during the policy round table on food losses and waste, we spent many late nights and long sessions negotiating different issues. This was one that was particularly sensitive for many governments. many were fighting against the inclusion of local authority responsibility in the decisions we were making—decisions about policies that had a direct link to the local level! Here is what we ended up with:

“States and, as appropriate, subnational and local authorities”

It may seem like a small phrase, but this is a big achievement, and was a resulting of from a long battle. This is the first time that we had this kind of language in a CFS decision; and we need to continue to use this language, because, with this language, there is a mandate for local authorities find an incentive to engage in change, and a clear mandate for us as civil society to hold them accountable, as well as, and in some cases, collaborate closely with them.

Food losses and waste is one of many issues that need to be discussed at a very local level and across urban and rural areas- and should be addressed on the current CFS workstreams of water and connecting smallholders to markets, as well as future workstreams. We also need this kind of local authority guidance, and support for inclusive local governance with the implementation and monitoring of the Tenure Guidelines. Especially as cities are expanding and taking over rural hinterlands, and to better understand how communities see the social function of land and how there can be stronger policy protections and responses.

HIC Experience with Local Authorities

In 1996, with the Habitat II Declaration and Global Plan of Action signed in Istanbul, states recognized that local authorities as the closest ally in implementing and realizing sustainable development:

Recognizing local authorities as our closest partners, and as essential, in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, we must, within the legal framework of each country, promote decentralization through democratic local authorities and work to strengthen their financial and institutional capacities in accordance with the conditions of countries, while ensuring their transparency, accountability and responsiveness to the needs of people, which are key requirements for Governments at all levels [para. 12].

As the preparation s for Habitat III this commitment, along with others have largely been forgotten or ignored!

The UN Human Rights Council has also acknowledged the need for more clarity in the operations of the local government and human rights, and has undertaken an extensive report and information collecting process that will be finalized this year.

HIC has a long history of working with local authorities, especially through our work on the Right to the City and local food systems, in particular United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), and we have worked to hold states accountable to this, above commitment at Habitat II but it has been difficult. Many local-authority networks have failed to find a place in international discussions, or rather have failed to see international policy documents as giving them clear guidance on how to create policies that are coherent and consistent with international human rights obligations, as well as those made in other forums such as the CFS. So, sometimes on their own, or in collaboration with civil society, they have made their own commitments. This has led to interesting outcomes including:

  • World Charter on the Right to the City (finalized in Barcelona, September 2005) , which is a civil society driven process that came out of the World Social Forum and has resulted in city-commitments in Mexico City, Sao Paolo and Gwanju, among others.

  • Seoul Declaration (2015) which is the result of a meeting on 100 cities and includes commitments to City-Region Cooperation, city-region food systems, local economy and improved procurement polices.

  • Urban Food Policy Pact (to be signed October 2015), which outlines city commitments to creating local, participatory food policy and includes specific actions and examples on governance, food production, nutrition, social and economic equity, food supply and distribution, and food waste.

In the cases, where our local level governments have created their own space, we also need to meet them there. If we want policies to protect us at the local level, where we live, then we need to be part of their development. Therefore, we need to have relationships and interaction with those implementing and forming these policies. No man is an island, and no successful institution can operate as a silo. Building societies and economies requires deliberate cooperation, particularly if they are to be, at once, coherent, equitable and sustainable.