Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘Committee on World Food Security

Why agricultural investment ‘principles’ must be buried

leave a comment »

FAO_IYFF_1This year the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) will through its Committee on World Food Security, advocate principles concerning what are called ‘responsible agricultural investments’. The adoption of principles such as these are expected to promote investments in agriculture that contribute to food security and nutrition, and which support the realisation of the right to food, particularly within national contexts of how food security is defined.

While the principles are intended to provide practical guidance to governments, private and public investors, intergovernmental and regional organisations, civil society groups, research units and universities, donors and philanthropic foundations, they will be voluntary and will not be binding upon their signatories.

FAO_IYFF_2The problem with such a conceptualisation of international or globally applicable principles is that the negative consequences that accompany investment are left undefined and therefore weak as a countervailing argument. Investment made to acquire land, to pursue industrial agricultural techniques (in contrast to policies and programmes that support smallholder cultivation), and which – experiences of the last three decades have shown – have deepened income inequalities while making those vulnerable to food scarcity and food price volatility even more so.

These investments are determined by a dominant political economy found in a country, or a sub-national region – important variations that cannot be recognised or dealt with in any meaningful way by a set of voluntary principles (nor even with the aid of a ‘knowledge platform’ on the subject set up by the World Bank, FAO, UNCTAD and IFAD.

In this article published by Pambazuka News – the pan-African community of some 2,600 citizens and organisations that make it one of the largest and most innovative and influential web forums for social justice in Africa – I have examined the rationale and background to the principles pertaining to ‘responsible agricultural investment’ (which is now referred to commonly by the ‘RAI’ short form); and also concepts about agricultural investment (or public and private spending on agricultural activities) especially what are assumed and what are implied; and a conclusion criticises the RAI and the effort to promote a multi-lateral common ground for problems that are essentially local.

FAO_IYFF_3“The adoption of RAI will aid, in any host country, the tailoring of all policies and strategies to fit investors (foreign and domestic, for the technological advantages are now common, as much as the conduits of capital flow for food and agriculture investment are many) so that they can be ‘competitive’ in the market. Instead of prioritising a model of agricultural production where women, farmers/peasants, pastoralists and all small-scale food producers are at its core, in which agro-ecological forms of farming and raising livestock are supported, and through which local markets and economies are strengthened, the draft RAI principles will if accepted legitimise policies that put the government and country at the service of such investors (both foreign and domestic, it must be noted).”

Moreover, from the point of view of human rights terms this is discriminatory; and will turn a parlous situation into a destabilising one – already countries are falling short of their obligations related to realising the right to adequate food (a foretaste of which was seen most recently during the World Trade Organisation ninth ministerial conference in 2013 December which brought to the fore disagreements about governments’ own procurement of food for public programmes as distorting world trade).

[Read the full article on Pambazuka News.]

Advertisements

How the World Bank is leveraging the new food crisis

with one comment

Soon after the FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS) meeetings, the World Bank has said that it is “reactivating” its Food Fund (called the Global Food Crisis Response Program) “to run through June 2011”. What does this mean? In short it means that the World Bank is leveraging the food supply and food price rises for staple cereals of 2010 in much the same way it did in 2008, during the earlier food crisis.

The Global Food Crisis Response Program list

“In response to the severity of the food crisis and the need for prompt action, the World Bank Group set up the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) in May 2008 to provide immediate relief to countries hard hit by food high prices” is how the Bank puts it. There’s a lot of cross-referencing in order to legitimise its actions, such as “The Bank response has been articulated in coordination with the United Nations’ High-Level Task Force (HLTF) on food security. Through its response, the Bank is supporting the implementation of the joint Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA)”.

According to the Bank, the GFRP has approved US$1,238.2 million in 35 countries as of 09 September 2010. The Bank says that “grant funding has also been made available through several external-funded trust funds in support of the full range of interventions available under the GFRP”. There’s more cross-referncing to make it all sound happily multi-national: a “Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) has received contributions” of AUD 50 million from the Australian government, €80 million from the government of Spain, 3 billion Korean Won from the Republic of Korea, CAD 30 million from the government of Canada, and $0.15 million from International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The point is, how are governments of small countriess with populations vulnerable to the price volatility of global food market being pressurised by the Bank? Take the case of Honduras, one of the 35 countries. The Bank calls it “Honduras – Food Prices Crisis Supplemental Financing to the First Programmatic Financial Sector Development Policy Credit”. US$10 million in “development assistance” for “budget support”.

From the project document for this assistance, here is the objective: “2. Proposed objective(s). The proposed SDR [XXX] million (US$10 million equivalent) operation would support the Government’s commitment to maintain macroeconomic stability and persevere in its Financial Sector DPC’s (development policy credit) development objectives and allow the government to respond to the food price crisis. As such, the supplement will be processed under GFRP procedures.”

World Food Day 2010

16 October is World Food Day 2010

We’re seeing two objectives here: (1) macroeconomic stability and (2) response to food price crisis. Nowhere in the project documentation (there’s only one document publicly available) is there an explanation of why the World Bank thinks the macroeconomic stability of Honduras is threatened by the rise in prices of food staples, and nowhere is there mention of the Honduran government’s own response.

A new objective appears soon after: “Honduras is committed to a reform program aimed at strengthening the financial sector so as to ensure that it contributes to long-term growth and poverty reduction. The authorities have expressed their intention to continue the implementation of the financial sector reform program and more specifically their intention to strengthen supervisory activities, keeping updated the database of related parties, and further strengthening banking resolution including through fully capitalizing the recently created bank capitalization fund.”

This has to do with rising food prices? Any government can make any number of commitments to ‘growth’ and ‘poverty reduction’, but what’s the financial sector reform doing in a Global Food Crisis Response Program? The Bank doesn’t say.

The Honduras project document continues in its two track logic: “This commitment is particularly important because of the new challenges that the food crisis is creating for the financial sector, as higher food prices negatively affect the portfolio of consumer loans and the country’s macroeconomic stability.” If there is a connection between consumer loans being affected by rising food prices (repayments?) how much over how long from how many?) there’s no explanation) and ‘macroeconomic stability’ (which has to do with a variety of other factors), the Bank has not bothered to explain them.

The Bank then says: “In particular, strong supervisory activities and a well capitalized bank capitalization fund are crucial stabilizing factors for the financial system, because they signal to the market that the authorities would be able to respond to banks in difficulties and avoid a systemic crisis.” Here the Bank trots out the typical systemic crisis bogey, implying that without its intervention, in the name of Food Crisis Response, Honduras would be in serious trouble. How easily one crisis of external making get translated into another of deliberate design.

What use is the Committee on World Food Security?

leave a comment »

The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) opened its 36th session yesterday (11 October 2010). It’s described as “a five-day high-level intergovernmental meeting” which “takes place against a background of recent increases in international food prices which pose additional  challenges to food security”.

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) said the Committee aims to be “the most inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all relevant stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all. In its role as the cornerstone of the global governance of agriculture and food security, the CFS will be more effective in facing challenges to food security”.

I expected that now at least, when the price of food staples is rising the way it did in 2007, the FAO and its constellation of agencies and committees and task forces would quit moralising and get down to naming names and naming reasons for the rise in prices. After all, the FAO food price index is relied on by national governments, traders and commodity markets – all for different reasons of course. It’s absurd to imagine that FAO analysts cannot see the reason why those indices move.

But if you read FAO statements and press releases, it sounds as though the problems they are struggling to describe in real terms have nothing whatsoever to do with things like trade, speculative trading, hoarding, price gounging, dumping, trade rules, tariffs, embargoes and other instruments designed to beggar national neighbours and reinforce trading blocs.

The FAO still refuses to say that market forces – call it what you will, free market forces or speculative trade or consumerist economics – is very largely responsible for food shortages and food price spikes all over the world. If this 36th session of the Committee on World Food Security cannot, will not or dare not speak the truth, it may as well pack up and go home and save some money by disbanding.

As for the statements, sorry but we’ve heard it all before in varying shades of myopic optimism:

1) FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said “Global problems demand global as well as local solutions. The renewed CFS constitutes the required platform for debating global complex problems and reaching consensus on solutions.”

2) “This week marks the launch of a strategically coordinated global effort to draw on the combined strengths of all stakeholders engaged in the fight against global hunger,” said World Food Programme  (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

3) International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) vice-resident Yukiko Omura said: “Investing in small farmers — improving their access to land, to appropriate technology, to financial services and markets, and responding to their other requirements — is the most effective way to generate a broad-based movement out of poverty and hunger.”

Messers Diouf, Sheeran and Omura, set aside your prepared statements and summon up the courage to tell the countries which support the FAO the truth about global food prices. Tell them about the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and free trade agreements and the conditions attached to development aid. Help your agencies do their work by being honest about the problem.

Chronic hunger persists, says FAO, but doesn’t tell us why

with one comment

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released new estimates of the number of chronically hungry in the world. The numbers themselves are quite terrifying, because the fact that there are so many chronically hungry even while the CGIAR assures us that global wheat stocks are a comfortable 175 million tons, means quite simply that food is being inequitably distributed, with terrible consequences.

It is this reason that seems to compel the FAO to speak in two voices in its current set of briefings. On the one hand, the organisation must call attention to the widespread nature of hunger and its persistence. On the other, it refuses to describe honestly the economic conditions and market influences that make the distribution of food inequitable.

That is why in his statement on 14 September 2010, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said “In this regard, stable and effective policies, regulatory and institutional mechanisms and functional market infrastructures that promote investment in the agricultural sector are paramount” instead of also recognising the food and price inequalities that exist in the seven countries in which two-thirds of all undernourished people live.

Mr Diouf knows the numbers, surely he knows the reasons those numbers are there? But no, instead he said, “The reformed Committee on World Food Security (CFS) which will meet next month opens new opportunities for dialogue and coherence in policy and action among all relevant actors in the fight against hunger. We should not miss such opportunity.” This month, next month, this year, next year. With respect, Mr Diouf, your organisation has already missed the opportunity.

Still, the FAO’s release is worth posting. Here are the main points:

At close to one billion, the number of undernourished people in the world remains unacceptably high in 2010 despite an expected decline – the first in 15 years. This decline is largely attributable to a more favourable economic environment in 2010 – particularly in developing countries – and the fall in both international and domestic food prices since 2008. The recent increase in food prices, if it persists, will create additional obstacles in the fight to further reduce hunger.

(The bit about “decline is largely attributable to a more favourable economic environment” needs some elaboration.)

FAO estimates that a total of 925 million people are undernourished in 2010 compared with 1.023 billion in 2009. That is higher than before the food and economic crises of 2008-2009 and higher than the level that existed when world leaders agreed to reduce the number of hungry by half at the World Food Summit in 1996.

Global cereal harvests have been strong for the past several years, even as the number of undernourished people was rising. The overall improvement in food security in 2010 is thus primarily a result of better access to food due to the improvement in economic conditions, particularly in developing countries, combined with lower food prices.

(The bit about “overall improvement in food security in 2010” needs some explanation.)

In parallel, international and domestic cereal prices have declined from their 2008 peaks, reflecting two consecutive years of record yields. While production in 2010 is forecast to be lower, the overall supply situation is considered as adequate. However, food prices in most low-income food-deficit countries remain above the pre-crisis level, negatively affecting access to food by vulnerable populations.

(The bit about “negatively affecting access to food by vulnerable populations” – think food riots and desperation, as happened in Mozambique two weeks ago.)

The analysis of hunger during crisis and recovery brings to the fore the insufficient resilience to economic shocks of many poor countries and households. Lack of appropriate mechanisms to deal with the shocks or to protect the most vulnerable populations from their effects result in large swings in hunger following crises.

Developing countries account for 98 percent of the world’s undernourished people. Two-thirds live in just seven countries (Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan) and over 40 percent live in China and India alone.

(The bit about “resilience” and “shocks” needs elaboration, especially since the world’s undernourished have had no role to play in the designing of an economics of shock and hunger.)

MDGs, hunger and the global food system

leave a comment »

Rawal Dam Running Dry

Rawal Dam Running Dry: A canoe near the former bank edge of Rawal Dam reservoir was left high and dry when waters receded to dangerously low levels due to the prolonged drought afflicting much of Pakistan. Officials of Pakistan’s Small Dams Organization (SDO) told the nation’s English-language Dawn newspaper that dam water was just 20 feet (6 meters) above the dead level and that the current supply might last only until mid-July. The reservoir has reached such low levels only once before, during the drought year of 2003. Photograph by Aamir Qureshi, AFP/Getty Images

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, a US-based think-tank), discusses meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal to halve hunger. The report is called Business As Unusual.

The report says that the global food governance system itself needs to be reformed to work better. Reforms should include (1) improving existing institutions and creating an umbrella structure for food and agriculture; (2) forming government-to-government systems for decision-making on agriculture, food, and nutrition; and (3) explicitly engaging the new players in the global food system-the private sector and civil society-together with national governments in new or reorganised international organizations and agreements. A combination of all three options, with a leading role for emerging economies, is required.

The first step in reducing poverty and hunger in developing countries is to invest in agriculture and rural development. Most of the world’s poor and hungry people live in rural areas in Africa and Asia and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but many developing countries continue to underinvest in agriculture. Research in Africa and Asia has shown that investments in agricultural research and extension have large impacts on agricultural productivity and poverty, and investments in rural infrastructure can bring even greater benefits.

After the 2006-08 crisis, when staples such as maize, rice and wheat climbed to their highest prices in 30 years, many donor countries, aid agencies and analysts suggested that the existing Committee on World Food Security (CFS) be reformed. The CFS is a technical committee of the FAO, and serves as a forum in the UN system for the review and follow-up of policies on world food security, food production, nutrition, and physical and economic access to food.

Islamabad Water Carrier

Islamabad Water Carrier: Water shortages have become common for many people in the capital who must gather their daily water from government tankers or private trucks, when it's available at all. The nation’s acute rainfall shortage has also cut water supplies at hydroelectric dams, exacerbating disruptive power shortages and forcing officials to implement some rather dramatic solutions. Photograph by Aamir Qureshi, AFP/Getty Images

Jacques Diouf, director-general of FAO, announced last week that the CFS was being reformed to make it a “global platform for policy convergence and the coordination of expertise and action in the fight against hunger and malnutrition in the world”.

Uncoordinated policy actions of governments across the world during the 2006-08 food crisis made prices even more volatile and affected access to markets, said a new joint Agricultural Outlook for the next 10 years, produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and FAO. Food prices have come down, but are still high, according to FAO.

“While food prices have dropped, incomes because of the recession have been reduced by a much higher rate,” said Holger Matthey, an economist at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Some aspects of this “business as unusual” approach have already been successful in a few countries, but they need to be scaled up and extended to new countries to have a real impact on the reduction of global hunger.

Scaled-up investments in social protection that focus on nutrition and health are also crucial for improving the lives of the poorest of the poor. Although policymakers increasingly see the importance of social protection spending, there are still few productive safety net programs that are well targeted to the poorest and hungry households and increase production capacity.

The OECD-FAO Outlook has acknowledged that the 2006-08 food price crisis “was due to the contemporaneous occurrence of a panoply of contributing factors, which are not likely to be repeated in the near term. However, if history is any guide, further episodes of strong price fluctuations in agricultural product prices cannot be ruled out, nor can future short-lived crises”.