We have to resist greenwashing of companies – economy and ecology


It wasn’t that long ago that some people started hoarding food when the pandemic started. Others were suddenly helpless, staring at empty supermarket shelves. More recently, the Covid-19 crisis has shown us how fragile the just-in-time supply chains that dominate our food system are.

The UN Food Systems Summit will take place in New York on September 23. This could be an excellent opportunity for companies to legitimize greenwashing practices as a means of combating climate change and global hunger – a dangerous trend.

In the final year of the pandemic, one in ten people worldwide suffered from acute hunger, and around 2.4 billion people lived in constant fear of not getting the right diet. Profit must not be put before food security and sovereignty. The massive rise in food prices and the terrible hunger crisis of 2007/2008 should have been warning enough.

The pursuit of profit has yet to be stopped. But just the opposite is the case: arable land has become even more valuable for potential investments. In early 2021, it was revealed that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was the largest landowner in the United States. In 2016, the global transparency initiative Land Matrix estimated that around 42 million hectares of agricultural land had been bought by foreign investors.

Greenwashing through agriculture

Agriculture can become even more lucrative for companies. The idea is that arable land can help reduce CO2 emissions and protect against climate change. Farmers can receive carbon credits from a government or UN agency for using carbon sequestration methods, such as switching to zero tillage, which avoids overculturing the soil, or by growing catch crops. The plants remain unharvested and decompose in the field, preventing the carbon stored there from being released. But unfortunately it’s not that simple. When the soil is finally worked, the CO2 simply escapes into the atmosphere – just a little later than usual.

This year’s UN Food Systems Summit will also include companies, banks and philanthropic organizations as part of a multi-stakeholder model.

Critics also say that it is extremely difficult to measure the amount of carbon stored in the soil and that it is highly dependent on the location. In addition, it is susceptible to abuse by greenwashing. When farmers sell their carbon credits to corporations, they can “offset” their own emissions without actually having to reduce them. The more carbon that is stored, the more the soil is worth. If these loans are traded in the financial markets, this increases the risk of fluctuating food prices.

Industrial agriculture is responsible for around a third of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions, however, don’t come from CO as much2, but methane (CH4th) and nitrous oxide (N.2Ö). Methane is mainly produced in cattle breeding, rice cultivation and the use of artificial fertilizers. More than half of the CO2 Agricultural production is achieved through activities outside the farm – namely deforestation and the production and transport of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and seeds.

The climate benefits of these carbon farming initiatives, as they are called in the European Green Deal, are controversial. The subsidized financial added value for small producers is also limited. Only those who own thousands of hectares of land could actually make a profit, as a group of environmental activists in the USA recently discovered.

The evil influence of the private company

This year’s UN Food Systems Summit will also involve companies, banks and philanthropic organizations as part of a multi-stakeholder model. At the pre-summit in Rome at the end of July, the participants put their ideas on how to transform our food systems on the table. They argued that we also need actors on board who can fund our “costly” agri-food revolution. Unsurprisingly, soil health is at the heart of this company-compiled “menu of solutions”. But that won’t do anything to CO2. to reduce-Emissions still fundamentally improve global food security.

A current Oxfam report also warns against this. Carbon farming initiatives could trigger a new surge in demand for arable land, solely for carbon capture. This would put food production inoperative, with serious consequences for global food security. However, the UN Food Systems Summit threatens to do just that by paving the way for these carbon-centric solutions.

Due to its multi-stakeholder structure, the summit is not a multinational meeting where legitimate decisions can be made. It is an event organized by the UN Secretary General in close cooperation with the World Economic Forum. The Committee on World Food Security, the UN body most closely involved in this matter, was only later involved in the preparations for the summit.

If we are to focus on land-use-based solutions to fight hunger and climate change, food security and sovereignty in the food chain must come first.

However, the strong influence of the private sector appears to be working. The multi-stakeholder action alliances that emerged from this framework will continue to advise the countries on various summit topics, such as carbon farming, after the summit. The composition of these alliances and their legitimacy are heavily criticized by civil society, which is organized in the UN Committee on World Food Security. In his most recent report, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fachri, drew the UN’s attention to the enormous dangers posed by the rise in corporate power at the summit.

Radical change is needed

There are a number of useful suggestions for addressing the current nutritional challenges. This includes environmentally sound farming practices that are sustainable, inexpensive and put people first. They have been shown to rejuvenate low-carbon soils while increasing food security.

The agroforestry industry increases soil carbon storage by planting trees on agricultural land. In addition, it helps smallholders to break free from their permanent dependence on chemicals in production. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides and seeds are usually expensive and have to be bought new every year, so that many smallholders get caught in a spiral of poverty. Carbon farming will not help them break free from these dependencies because it does not give them the autonomy they need to run their business. Far from it, corporations use the zero-tillage model to increase their profits through cross-selling products such as artificial fertilizers. Neither the environment nor small farmers benefit from this.

If we are to focus on land-use-based solutions to tackle hunger and climate change, food security and sovereignty in the food chain must come first – for both producers and consumers. At the UN Food Summit, governments should oppose the continuation of this multi-stakeholder approach in the United Nations and support the full involvement of inclusive bodies such as the UN Committee on World Food Security. Only in this way can the UN be protected from the gradual collapse of democracy and the UN member states retain their responsibility as duty bearers.

It can no longer be as usual – radical solutions are required. Herbicides must be banned and the global seed monopoly must end. Governments must put a stop to growing corporate power by introducing binding rules to protect the climate, the environment and human rights.


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