Where is the political will to fight hunger?

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - 13:50

I spent the morning waiting to see what would come out from the G20 agriculture ministerial meeting. Before the final declaration we already heard some hints of what was coming. About lunch time the final declaration came out, confirming our pessimism about G20 political willingness to really fight hunger.

The declaration again voices support for the L´Aquila initiative and GAFSP, but without firm commitments it sounds like empty rhetoric once again. 

After all, similar promises were made in 2009 and we have yet to see them fulfilled.

In fact,  the donors have not even bothered to reflect on why they did not manage to fulfill even one-third of their original promises yet. It is good to see that the G20 recognized again the role of smallholder farmers, women and youth, but this should be followed by concrete measures to support them, which the declarations fall short-of.  On food reserves, the G20 only agreed to commission a proposal of a pilot program for coordinating regional emergency food reserves. 

This falls far short of the strong international tool required to fight a looming food crisis. On biofuels, the G20 decided to ignore the recommendation by international organizations, such as FAO, the World Bank, and others, to eliminate targets and subsidies. Even the mild proposal to commission a study on flexible mandates was rejected. This is one of the top two failures of this meeting. The other one is on risk management of food volatility.

After so many market failures that led to a food crisis in 2007/2008, and a financial crisis a year later, the G20 wants to manage the risks through market-based instruments…

Once again they want to put the wolf in charge of the chicken pen. On land grabbing we also had no concrete measures to stop G20-based companies from grabbing land from smallholders. The role of the state is mentioned here and there, but always accompanied by assurances that everything will adhere to WTO rules,  or be part of a partnership with the private sector. There were some few positive developments, such as stronger recognition of the role of smallholder farmers, women and youth on food security, recognizing that the multilateral committee on food security is the foremost body to coordinate global food policy,  and the recognition that countries’ first responsibility it to ensure the food security of its population.

On Monday we reflected that if the G20 was to achieve a meaningful plan, they would have to agree on concrete measures for support to smallholders and women, establish a system to coordinate food reserves, stop unsustainable biofuels expansion, stop land grabbing, recognize the need for multilateral governance on food issues and  strengthen the role of the state on food security.

On this 6-item checklist , the agriculture ministers get full marks only on  the governance issue.

They could be given quarter-credit for  their increased rhetorical support of smallholders . On the role of the state, they also get quarter-credit because they acknowledge countries’ main responsibility to feed their people. But on  biofuels, land grabbing, and reserves, they scored zero. So out of 6, the G20 scored one-and-a-half (1½), and even on that we have been generous.   

If they were in grade school, they would have to be held back. On the beginning of the week we heard the French agriculture minister say that the agreement would either be “meaningful” or there would be no agreement at all. Today, looking at the final communiqué, I’m confused about whether he was over-optimistic, or just the King of Spin.   In my view, this failure just shows that G20 is only fully functional when it is bailing out bankers!