Today I attended a 2 hour roundtable on food security policy and governance hosted by Unilever.
Participants were drawn from the NGO world (Oxfam, Save the Children, the Prince's Trust), the UK Government (FCO, DFID, DEFRA, Cabinet Office, BIS and the Treasury) the private sector (Unilever, Barclay's, IBLF, McKinsey and Yara) and researchers (NYU, Imperial College and IDS). The goal of the roundtable was to figure out how food security governance could do better to connect public and private sector stakeholders in policymaking. The roundtable was one in a series of meetings to feed into the upcoming G20, World Economic Forum and Rio+20 processes.
There is only so much that 25 people can accomplish in 2 hours on such a slippery concept as food governance. My own observations were helpfully organised by a "motive, means, opportunity" framework from IBLF. What are the motives, means and opportunities for public and private sector stakeholders to work together and which governance gaps need to be filled to support this?
* Leadership. Public sector leadership these past 3 years on the food price spike(s) has been pretty weak (one participant called in "G-zero" leadership--Doha, Copenhagen, low investment in agriculture, no restrictions on biofuels, weak on L'Aquila commitments etc.) and yet leadership is vital as a spur to action. Have we been looking in the wrong place for leadership? Perhaps it is there in Ghana, Vietnam and Brazil, or in the private sector? How do we nurture it?
* Lack of a roadmap. There seems to little consensus on what to do. This is inevitable given the different political, economic and social contexts in different countries, but consensus could surely be achieved on some principles. Lack of it was thought to be a drain on action.
* Lack of data. We don't have much data on where hunger is and how this changes in the short term. We don't collect food production data standardised by hunger reduced or by carbon emissions generated--in their absence how can we evolve governance to meet that aspiration? Do we know which countries and companies are really committed to reducing hunger as a result of their actions? Do we know enough about food waste and where to invest in post harvest technologies?
* There was consensus that different stakeholders needed to establish relationships at the national levels and that any capacity and alignment of interests thereby developed would work well to support international agreements. The latter could not drive national action without understanding national level political interests.
* To facilitate public and private stakeholders working together, transparency and trust are paramount. How do different stakeholders know who has a good track record and who does not? This is particularly difficult in the private sector, and some kind of Agroindustry Transparency Initiative would really help.
* Institutional innovations can help cross-working. Despite the lack of appetite for new organisations, potential new virtual charters, conventions and other mechanisms to bring stakeholders together should not be taken off the table. Rio 1992 gave us a number of useful such mechanisms and we should be open to new ones.
* Boundary-crossers. People who can span both cultures (private and public) were seen as essential for cross-pollination. There are not too many of these folks (sometimes for good reasons relating to conflict of interest) but we need to look hard at how to increase the demand for and supply of people with these skills
* The concept of resilience (the ability to preserve the function of a system or organisation because it has a good capacity to adapt to shocks and uncertainty) has a lot of resonance in the public sector and a growing one in the private sector, but what does it imply for business as usual in the public and private spheres? Co-generating ideas about resilience could be one way of developing new blends of public and private.
One participant noted that crises should generate opportunity and novelty and in that spirit we listed some of the newer ideas we had heard of:
* "catastrophe bonds" to help countries/companies deal with shocks
* progressive food commodities investments
* hedging derivatives for helping organisations manage risk
* private sector initiatives to reduce the transactions costs of dealing with lots of small clients (e.g. a private sector version of WFP's purchase for progress model)
* higher stock to use ratios with stronger incentives for good management of stocks
* stress testing of food security organisations (as in stress testing of banks)
* better understanding of the features of value chains that promote hunger reduction
* less decoupling of humanitarian and development efforts might lead to less (not more) variability in each domain and to greater incentives for private-public partnerships
All in all, an interesting meeting and about as much as one could get from so many different people in such a short time--testimony, in part, to the excellent chairing of Alex Evans from NYU.