WINDHOEK – A non-governmental organisation from the Netherlands led a demonstration at the 11th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 11) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) underway in the capital last week, protesting the presence of a multinational company that has been granted observer status to the conference.
Natalie van Haren of Stitch and Both Ends, Environment and Development, which provides services to non-governmental orgnisations in the Netherlands said they are “very concerned that parties are welcoming agribusiness companies as UNCCD observers, despite knowing their notorious record of undermining farmers’ resilience and driving land degradation.” The multinational company in question is the Swiss agri-business company Syngenta. Van Haren accused the company and other agribusinesses of monopolising genetic resources. “Their patents for hybrid and genetically engineered seed is impoverishing poor farmers from saving, exchanging, using and selling seeds that they have produced,” she said.
“We want to bring local realities to the policy arena. They (UNCCD) are in negotiation that Syngenta will be in a financial partnership in the UN Fellowship Programme, which supports academics to do research on drivers of land degradation. We feel that Syngenta and agribusiness are one of these drivers, and we are really concerned that they have observer status within the UNCCD. We as civil society [representatives] cannot say anything on the matter. Maybe the UNCCD should rethink their decision,” she said.
Louise Baker, responsible for partnership building in the UNCCD Convention said the UNCCD knows that they are not a perfect company. “They are not an NGO. The UN is a reflection of member states. We work on the basis of democratic values. If the majority said we must involve the private sector then we provide the platform,” said Baker. Baker said the reason why Syngenta was accorded observer status, is that from the perspective of the UNCCD and from the parties to the convention, the 10-year strategy of UNCCD is very clear about the need to involve all stakeholders in a dialogue. “It is the perspective of the parties and the secretariat as well that we would want to ensure that everybody that has an interest in the management of the land, is invited to sit down and have a conversation.
If you exclude people from the discussion or dialogue then they have no particular interest in listening to your advice and listening to the outcomes of the discussion. I think it’s certainly not the case that we are endorsing any particular technology. We are not endorsing the company. We are inviting them to a dialogue with us and to work with us to try and improve the policy framework; to try and improve the way that the land is managed,” she said. Syngenta, she said, is one company out of 60 from different sectors to be engaged in the dialogue on sustainable land management.
By Fifi Rhodes