05 June 2011

The G20 and Food Security: Five things for them to consider

The G20 at the end of June has a pre-meeting of agricultural ministers to discuss food security. With food prices going beyond the highs of 2008 the issue is high on the political agenda (with Oxfam's GROW campaign being an excellent example of how to move it higher up that agenda). So what should they be discussing at the pre-meeting?

1. Find ways of decoupling agricultural commodity price speculation from the prices consumers have to pay. Agricultural commodities are going to represent a bull market for the next 10 years, fuelled by income growth in Asia, Latin America and Africa, so this problem is not going away. So some time can be spent on getting a long term solution. There may be some parallels between the need to decouple high street banks from financial market speculation. Food prices are too directly linked to the welfare of the poorest for this coupling with speculative behaviour to be tolerated. I don't know how to do it. Perhaps there is a place for some kind of Panic Tax that my IDS colleague Neil McCulloch developed as part of our Reimagining Development project. The Panic Tax focuses not on the level of financial flows (a la Tobin tax), but the speed of flow that is taxed. In effect the tax serves to slow down the speed of transmission of market speculation. Taxes are not an easy thing to talk about in the current centre-right European context, but the broader point is: look outside of the food and agricultural sector for solutions.

2. Find ways to take advantage of the higher food prices. A few years ago FAO was giving farmers advice on how to deal with low food prices. Well, this is an opportunity for those who can meet the higher prices. How can we get supply to be more responsive without putting more pressure on the environment? This is an impossible question to solve generically because each country will have its own set of solutions. National policies and politics will be essential for boosting supply response. To be fair, most of the poorer countries are doing their bit by spending increasing percentages of their budgets on agriculture. It is the donor countries who are dragging their feet. What can you do G8 and G20? Spend more of your aid on agriculture and food security. National strategies are vital for the countries in question, but multiple breadbaskets lend resilience to the global food system.

3. Regulate land purchases. Land purchases are not inevitably a bad thing, but the ways things are going they seem dodgy (they seek out weak national governance and are nontransparent). So on global governance, get more serious about large scale international land purchases. A voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative-type mechanism is too weak a response. Make these purchases fall under a rules based regime policed by the WTO.

4. Support the "construction of outrage". Civil society, with some exceptions, is too quiet on the issue of hunger. We are not "on the verge of another food crisis", we are in the midst of an on-going food crisis. Somehow we have internalised 1 billion hungry as not being a crisis. Why isn't there more outrage? One reason is that we don't have regular updates on hunger. More real time hunger mapping would fuel civil society and the media to keep the issue higher on the agenda and would actually help governments to be more responsive.

5. Support an FAO Revolution. FAO should be the beacon of political light that is shone on hunger. FAO should be populated by people who can support processes to end hunger, but who can also articulate the outrage of hunger. I don't agree with everything Olivier de Schutter, the UN's Special Rapportuer on the right to food, says but his voice is present where it counts. FAO needs senior leaders who can generate as much energy and passion about the issue as Olivier can.


david rieff said...

Excellent post. The point you make that, "We are not 'on the verge of another food crisis', we are in the midst of an on-going food crisis," is, I think, the essential one. I suppose my question is whether you truly think that the kind of systemic reform you are advocating ---'decoupling agricultural commodity price speculation from the prices consumers have to pay,' 'regulating land purchases,' etc. --- are really possible without a fundamental reform of the capitalist system
> --- that is, a reform that would in effect ring-fence food from capitalism, the way social democratic countries have done with health at least to some extent? My own view is that this is really not possible, and that the reason things are going in the wrong direction can be directly correlated to the move within the development community to view multinational corporations as friendly partners rather than groups whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the poor in the case of food (though not, to be clear, in all cases and all economic sectors --- telephony being a good example).
> I was interested to read your comment that you don't always agree with Olivier. But surely, the minimum requirement to beginning to move out of the impasse we are now in is his rights-based approach, which, precisely, insists that food is not a commodity 'like' any other. Do you in fact disagree with this? And if you do, what is a viable alternative? You speak of the 'construction of outrage,' but you know as well as I do that outrage at what is, unless accompanied by a credible account of what should be, is not going to do much to secure the aims you want to see realized.

lawrence said...

david, one your first question, I think we just have to come up with solutions from within the existing capitalist system...even health systems will not be ring-fenced in the emerging economies, so we have no choice..

on rights, yes, I fully beleive in respect, protect, facilitate and fulfil as a starting point, but there are many ways that foundation can be built upon..

thanks for great comments, as usual

Anonymous said...

Re your fifth point, Spanish newspapers say that Moratinos, the candidate for the FAO DG post, is attending the Bildelberg Club meeting in St. Moritz this week-end.http://ecodiario.eleconomista.es/espana/noticias/3142043/06/11/Guia-del-Club-Bildelberg-El-selecto-club-se-reune-de-
The secrecy surrounding the club provokes much speculation about its intent, but many see it as committed to imposing a rather scary "new world order". Even if this is an exaggeration, the secrecy surrounding the event and who goes to it seems at odds with the democratic view of the world that many of us claim to subscribe to. One wonders whether, if elected, Moratinos would feel himself accountable to the 100 members of the Club or to the 191 member nations of FAO; to the rich and powerful, or those now deprived, by erring global and national policies, of food.

mensajes movistar said...

I am agree with @david rieff

Tommy Smith said...

I bet what was lacking here is the proper budget distribution of the countries concerned with this political agenda. Reform will always be a hard word, but why not right?

Anonymous said...

Nice post!