What is the CFS (Committee on Food Security), CSM (Civil Society Mechanism) and what is their role in food security and nutrition?

The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the United Nation’s Governing Body for reviewing and following up on policies concerning global food security and nutrition (FSN), and the Civil Society Mechanism for the Committee on World Food Security (CSM) is the largest international mechanism of civil society organisations (CSOs) seeking to influence agriculture, food security and nutrition policies and actions, nationally, regionally and globally.  The CFS  was established as a result of the food crisis in the 1970s, and aims to make CFS the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform dealing with FSN. There are 137 Member States’ Ministry of Agriculture represented at the CFS which reports annually to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). The  CFS is supported by the Bureau, Advisory Group, High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) for research, and by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The CFS holds an annual plenary session every October at the FAO headquarters in Rome.

The CSM is a network of hundreds of civil society organisations from all continents who come together to share information on global food security and nutrition policy debates and processes to influence the CFS.  In terms of functions and activities, the CSM supports CSOs to participate in the annual CFS Plenary Sessions, Open-Ended Working Groups, Task Teams, the CFS Advisory Group and other CFS mechanisms.  The CSM, through its Secretariat and working groups, facilitates the broad and regular exchange of information, analysis and experience between CSOs from around the world.  These functions are performed through face to face and virtual meetings, trainings, consultations, reports and papers, the CSM website and at an annual CSM forum which is always held right before the CFS forum in October.

The 42nd session of the CFS was held in Rome from October 12-15th 2015 with the following agenda items:

  • CFS and its role in the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • Review of the state of food insecurity in the world 2015;
  • Review and adoption of policy documents
    • Water for food security and nutrition
    • Framework for action for food security and nutrition in protracted crises
  • Coordination on food security and nutrition at the global, regional and national levels;
  • CFS workstreams and activity updates;
  • The role of the CFS in advancing nutrition.


A brief presentation of the State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) report 2015 showed that global hunger continues to decrease but remains high with 793 million people undernourished, down 214 million from 1990-92. Under-nourishment fell from 18.6% down to 10.9% for that same period, and 73 developing countries (out of 129) managed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of halving the proportion of undernourished by 2015. Member States are now aligning and adopting the new Sustainable Development Goals with its 2030 target of 0 hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition as well as the sustainable development of agriculture. The policy documents were reviewed and working groups including State member representatives, private sector mechanisms, civil society mechanism discussed and reached agreement on the final wording and decision boxes  which were presented at the CFS Plenary and to the UN. It is then up to the Member States to review and adapt their national legislations.


The CFS can be a place to learn of successful initiatives on food security and nutrition. This year, the focus was on coordination which put a strong emphasis on multi-stakeholder partnership as a way to strengthen linkages and encourage dialogue among the CFS and its Member States. It was emphasised that food security and the new SDGs can only be reached through multi-stakeholder partnerships:

  • Multi-sectoral approaches between ministries and other stakeholders;
  • Regional and national alliances to improve the food systems, where the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) offered some practical lessons on partnerships based on shared interests, added value and collaboration;
  • Experience of Zimbabwe with FSN through Food and Nutrition Security Policy, its National Nutrition Strategy and its multi-sectoral approach through the national Cabinet Committee on Food Security and Nutrition, with participatory linkages from the community to the national levels.

The CSM, which held a 2 day preparatory session on Oct 10-11 cautioned that multi-stakeholder does not mean that all actors have the same status. The State holds obligations to deliver services to its population, civil society and its constituencies have human rights to defend and the Private Sector has interests and must be regulated.


The MYPOW or Multi-Year Program of Work was also adopted and defines the priority areas which will be addressed by the CFS for the next 2 years. For the period of 2016-17, these will focus on monitoring of the impact of the CFS work at the Member State national level, the role of the CFS in advancing nutrition, the CFS engagement in the SDGs, linking small-holder farmers to markets, women’s empowerment in FSN as well as other topics. However, funding of the CFS is voluntary for the Member States, and there is currently a significant gap of 5 million USD$ out of a total budget of 11 million, which in fact is a small amount and can be interpreted as a lack of political will to support FSN. The danger is that there may not be sufficient funds to support the ambition of the CFS to play a much bigger role, which could then lead to a pick and choose of the MYPOW.


The EU funded Project Improving Regional Food Security through National Strategies and Small Holder Production in the South Caucasus sent civil society delegates representing farmers and gender constituencies of Georgia and Armenia to participate in the CSM and CFS events in October 2015, bringing their own views and expertise and providing exposure to the key global debates. One delegate, Elene Shatberashvili of the Elkana Biological Farmers’ Association of Georgia, was recently elected as member of the Coordination Committee of the CSM, representing the region of Eastern Europe. All 5 delegates agreed that the process was an incredible learning experience which reinforced their belief that the CFS is a unique and inclusive global platform and that the active participation of the Ministry of Agriculture of both countries in the CFS would contribute to the advancement and strengthening of national food security and nutrition policy initiatives.

The work of the CSM continues throughout the year and requires a significant amount of time of the different working groups. Civil society organisations can sign up to the WG on the CSM web site and receive email updates on the documents being developed. The Nutrition WG engages with the CFS Open-Ended-Working-Group (OEWG) to develop a proposal on the role that the CFS can play in advancing nutrition for its Members States. The Agriculture Investment Working Group engages with the OEWG and the Task Team to reach recommendations and best practices for Member States to consider to improve small-holder farmers’ linkage to market. A similar process will develop a proposal on the role of the CFS to implement and monitor the SDGs. Throughout the year, proposals and decision boxes are developed and presented in October at the Annual event for adoption. This then leads to workstreams being taken forward by the CFS Bureau in the coming year.

The FAO also holds regional conferences every 2 years which feed into the CFS process and the 30th Regional Conference of Europe will be on May 2-6th 2016 in Antalya, Turkey Regional Conferences are an official forum where Ministers of Agriculture and other high officials from all Member States in the region meet to debate challenges related to food and agriculture, thus promoting regional coherence.

The participation of the Ministry of Agriculture of the South Caucasus in the May and October main events would contribute to strengthening food security and nutrition in the region through information sharing, policy debates and engagement in key global processes and decisions on FSN. Additionally, the participation of civil society organisations through the CSM is also critical to provide the grassroots perspective on these key debates and ensure that small-holder farmers and the most vulnerable segment of the population, including the poor, women and children, are not left behind and can reap the benefits of development.