I am currently on the UN Committee on World Food Security's High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE). It is an interesting experiment and a part of the reform of international governance of food and nutrition put in place a couple of years ago by the UN. It is interesting because (a) the HLPE acts as an independent think tank in the midst of the UN on food and nutrition, making public recommendations to the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and (b) it tries to draw together expertise and know how from the four corners of the globe.
The HLPE has selected and commissioned two teams to work on two hot issues of the day: "food price volatility" and "land tenure and international investments in agriculture". I have just received final copies of the two reports.
The first is on food price volatility. Two interesting points from this report: (1) it shows clearly the transmission lags between world food price changes and local food price changes. There were 3-6 month lags in transmission of increases from global to local, but very muted declines in local prices even after global prices declined substantially between May 08 and March 09. African prices were the slowest to increase, but once up, they stayed up, right into 2011 (Figure 9 in the report) and (2) there is a nice typology of policy solutions (Table 13) although I would have liked to have seen a greater linkage of these options to political and administrative capacities. For example,Table 12 of the report, which summarises policy interventions actually adopted in the wake of the 07/08 food price spike, shows that countries from Latin America and the Caribbean were much less likely to restrict or ban exports than Asian countries and yet African countries were much more likely to reduce or suspend taxes than Asian countries. Why? Technical, political or administrative capacity reasons?
The second is on large scale land acquisitions and is quite explicit in its discussion of power asymmetries between land users/occupiers, governments and large commercial interests. It aligns its recommendations more closely to different stakeholders than does the first report. Like the first report it calls on the CFS to play a stronger role in promoting data access, policy transparency and stakeholder accountability. This is an important role for the CFS. Data sharing does not always come easily to UN agencies in this arena and transparency and accountability are not always easy for organisations governed by 190 or so members.
As a member of the HLPE I have been encouraged by the openness of the HLPE process so far and the initial attention from the CFS to the first two reports. The HLPE members do not get paid, but the HLPE consumes resources. As more reports come in, an M&E function needs to be put in place to see if and how the reports influence the wider field -- and the CFS/UN in particular.