The challenges ahead

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - 10:19

I arrived yesterday in Paris to follow the G20 Agriculture ministers´ meeting which will happen this week. Today a number of NGOs had a meeting with host of the ministerial, the French Minister of Agriculture Mr. Bruno Le Maire who gave an update on the status of the negotiations so far. The minister used strong language to say that the French Government is very committed to an ambitious, strong and meaningful action plan on food price volatility and agriculture. During the conversation, however, it sounded like in some key areas - such as biofuels and regional coordination of food reserves for food security - it is more likely to get only some ``hints`` rather than proper commitments…

These weaknesses contrast blatantly with the so called ambitious plan… Later on we also heard discouraging news: Apparently, the commitment to implement a pilot emergency humanitarian food reserves system to complement national and regional ones, is at risk of being watered down, to just a commitment to do feasibility studies and cost analysis of the pilot… Is it believable? With a food crisis very possibly approaching, the G20 would only commission a study about a pilot!!! 

Peuples Solidaires/ ActionAid France, Oxfam France, Via Campesina and Confédération Paysanne, hold a joint press conference to express their views about the G20 negotiations. We took the opportunity to launch a new AAI report that calls the attention of world leaders to an imminent food crisis. AAI warns that high international prices in many staple crops ,a huge increase in the average prices of the basic food  basket (as per FAO data), a number of serious prices increases in countries such as Guatemala, Bangladesh and Uganda, all suggest that we are on the verge of another food crisis, unless urgent action is taken. The AAI report also documents how the current price shock is increasing hunger and malnutrition at community level. 

As we presented this tough reality that we are just one bad harvest from another food crisis, we also explained what would be a really ambitious, strong and meaningful G20 response to food price volatility, to cope with the enormous challenge ahead. On our view it should encompass a check list, with the following items:


  • Strong investment in women farmers, smallholders and sustainable agriculture:  this is the long term strategic solution to food insecurity, as smallholders, especially women farmers, produce the vast majority of the food in the world. However, the G20 track record on this is far from ideal. The G8 L`Aquila food security initiative is still very far from reaching the promised 22 billion dollars to be invested in agriculture. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) is also yet to get the necessary funds. Policy commitments on both need to be stronger to ensure that the money actually ends up being invested on supporting smallholders , instead of big agribusinesses… We expect the G20, which endorsed both L´Aquila and the GAFSP, to fulfil its promises, bring new money in and ensure it will be invested on smallholders, women and sustainable agriculture.
  • Ensuring that biofuels production will stop harming food security: Since 2007/2008 it has been clear that biofuels are part of the food crisis causes. In the case of US ethanol from corn there is a direct impact, as 40% of the US corn harvest is being used for biofuels instead of food or feed. In the case of sugar cane ethanol, of which Brazil is the biggest producer, there are risks of indirect effects as land that could be used to produce food is increasingly being used to produce ethanol.  Last year the G20 commissioned a number of international organisations to produce a report on food prices volatility. The one crystal clear recommendation of this report is that biofuels targets and subsidies should be eliminated. What we expect is that this recommendation is followed and accompanied by concrete measures to prevent unsustainable biofuels production to expand into arable land that could be used to produce food.
  • Promoting national and regional food reserves: There are a number of cases in which food reserves played a fundamental role on mitigating price volatility, ranging from Indonesia to Brazil. There are also many cases of regional coordination of food reserves management. We expect the G20 to make its so called commitment to food security real by supporting such mechanisms and implementing a pilot of an emergency food reserves system.
  • Stopping land grabbing: Smallholders feed the world! In order to do so, access and control of land is crucial. Currently a number of land grabs are happening across the Global South, to a great extent led by companies from G20 countries. We expect the G20 to take concrete measures to stop it.
  • Global food system governance: The G8 and G20 have the responsibility to clean up the mess that was created to a great extent by its own policies and/or conditionalities (liberalization of agriculture, dismantling of agriculture services in developing countries, disproportionate promotion of biofuels, speculation, to name a few). However it does not have the legitimacy to play any role that resembles a food system governance body.  We expect G20 to fully recognise and respect the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) as the legitimate body due to its multilateral nature and participatory processes. It should determine the global responses to food crisis and the most needed in-depth changes of the global food system.
  • Strengthening the role of states on promoting food security: the ActionAid scorecard on who is really fighting hunger, found that the countries that achieved the best results on fighting hunger were the ones where the state played a strong and strategic role. Wherever we had strong public policies to ensure credit to smallholders, procurement from poor farmers, insurance, extension, food stocks and prices control mechanisms, social protection, etc., hunger diminished sharply. We expect G20 to recognise and strengthen the role of state and food sovereignty.
If we want to achieve an ambitious, strong and meaningful action plan, these are the minimum requirement given the increasing challenge of the food price rises. If the G20 Agriculture Ministers do not measure up to these requests, the meeting will be just another missed opportunity covered by nice but empty rhetoric.