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.