Thursday, 5 June 2008

FIDDLING IN ROME WHILE THE WORLD BURNS? REFLECTIONS ON THE UN WORLD FOOD SUMMIT

By JOHN THOMPSON, STEPS Centre member

When the Chief Executives Board of the United Nations met in Bern, Switzerland, in late April 2008 to assess how the international community could best contribute to combating the global food crisis, they agreed to set up a High Level Task Force, chaired by the UN Secretary General, with the Director General of the FAO as the Vice Chair.The Task Force is composed of the heads of the relevant UN specialised agencies, funds and programmes, the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank, International Monetary Fund), and relevant parts of the UN Secretariat. The aim was to promote a unified response to this huge challenge.

The first objective of the Task Force has been to produce a clear plan of action, known as the ‘Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA)’. Key elements of the CFA were presented to leaders from 151 countries who are participating in the UN’s High-Level Conference on Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy in Rome this week (3-5 June.

Following several days of intensive negotiations, a draft declaration on how to resolve the current food crisis has been circulating among delegates. The final declaration is due to be released later today (5 June), at the close of the conference.

The current version of the declaration is impressive. It calls for immediate action to assist countries affected by the food crisis, immediate support to small-scale producers, and the development of food stocks and other risk management mechanisms.

The declaration also calls for medium- and long-term measures, including for governments to fully embrace a people-centred policy framework for agriculture, to increase the resilience of food systems to meet the challenges of climate change, and to conduct further studies to ensure that production and use of biofuels is sustainable and takes into account the need to achieve global food security.Obviously, this is no small feat.

The draft declaration calls for a rapid and successful conclusion of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation and for the international community to continue its efforts to liberalise international trade, which has led some developing country leaders to claim that some countries were playing politics with urgent food matters.

As Walter Poveda Ricaurte, Ecuador’s Minister of Agriculture told reporters: "We believe the problem is much more political than everything else. We have to differentiate between the countries who are really affected by the food crisis and those who are seeing it as an economic opportunity."

The wrangling over diplomatic language came after United Nations officials announced a major aid package to help ease the food crisis, but UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned up to $15-20 billion dollars a year would be needed. "We simply cannot afford to fail," the UN chief stated at a press conference, "Hundreds of millions of people expect no less." New funding totalling some 2.7 billion dollars was announced on the second day of the conference, where Ban has already called for a 50 percent increase in food production by 2030.

In parallel, and perhaps even more impressive, are ‘Elements of a Comprehensive Framework for Action’, the draft recommendations of the UN High Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis. Once again, the emphasis is on boosting smallholder farmers' food production, increasing social safety nets and strengthening risk management. There is really very little new in these recommendations, but the focus on coordination and concerted action is an important addition, and long overdue.

So it looks like the world’s agricultural leaders may be leaving Rome with some serious proposals in their pockets. But what comes next? There is still a real danger that very little will change in the global food system or international food and agriculture policy when it comes time to implementing the recommendations.

Entrenched interests and food politics may yet win out over shared visions and good intentions. Major corporate interests are lining up to offer their products – genetically modified crops, hybrid seeds and fertilisers, among others. These may have a role to play in getting agriculture moving and boosting productivity, but a wider deliberation about technical options and agriculture futures in different places is often missing. And where are the farmers’ voices in these discussions?

The proposals on the table will require a radical break from the past and a completely different approach to building equitable and sustainable food systems and reducing food insecurity, systems which are capable of withstanding increasing economic, environmental and technological shocks and stresses.

To achieve them will require the international community to move beyond simple, short-term technical or market ‘fixes’ and address the political economy of food and agriculture, which has led to gross distortions in terms of trade, massive underinvestment in farmer-centred research, extension and education, and biased policy processes that have failed to meet the needs of the majority of poor people – both producers and consumers – in developing countries.

If they fail to meet this challenge, it will be said that those who gathered in Rome this week were merely fiddling while the world burned.
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Wednesday, 4 June 2008

UN FOOD SUMMIT: "ENOUGH RHETORIC, MORE ACTION"

By JULIA DAY STEPS Centre member

News agency Reuters has put together a package of the lastest updates coming out of Rome this morning, including work on an emergency plan to ease hunger; UN agencies signing an agreement on Africa food output; and wide consensus on need to reduce trade barriers.

By Stephen Brown and Robin Pomeroy, Reuters

A U.N. summit on the global food crisis asked rich nations on Wednesday to help "revolutionise" farming in Africa and the developing world to produce more food for nearly 1 billion people facing hunger.

"The global food crisis is a wake-up call for Africa to launch itself into a 'green revolution' which has been over-delayed," Nigerian Agriculture Minister Sayyadi Abba Ruma said on the second day of the three-day summit.

"Every second, a child dies of hunger," the minister said. "The time to act is now. Enough rhetoric and more action."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received a petition signed by more than 300,000 people saying there was no time to lose. A draft declaration from 151 countries taking part said: "We commit to eliminating hunger and to securing food for all."

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation called the summit after soaring commodity prices threatened to add 100 million more people to the 850 million already going hungry and caused food riots that threaten government stability in some countries.

The cost of major food commodities has doubled over the last couple of years, with rice, corn and wheat at record highs. The OECD sees prices retreating from their peaks but still up to 50 percent higher in the coming decade.

Ban said the summit was already a success. "There is a clear sense of resolve, shared responsibility and political commitment among member states to making the right policy choices and investing in agriculture in the years to come.

"Hunger degrades everything we have been fighting for in recent years and decades," he told reporters. "We are duty-bound to act to act now and to act as one."

Ban's predecessor at the head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, was in Rome to sign an agreement with U.N. food agencies for a new drive to increase farm production in Africa.

BREADBASKET

"We hope to spur a green revolution in Africa which respects biodiversity and the continent's distinct regions," said Annan, who chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) which is coordinating the effort.

The scheme will provide technical support to improve soil and water management, access to seeds and fertilisers, and improve infrastructure in "breadbasket" areas of Africa which have relatively good conditions for farming.

The Nigerian minister said his country had "the potential to become the food basket of Africa". But its farms were 90 percent dependant on rainfall, making them vulnerable to climate change, and its 14 million smallholders used "rudimentary" techniques.

The Rome summit will set the tone on food aid and subsidies for the Group of Eight summit in Japan in July and what is hoped to be the concluding stages of the stalled Doha talks under the World Trade Organisation aimed at reducing trade distortions.

As leaders made lofty speeches, many blaming trade barriers and biofuels for driving up prices, delegations worked on a summit declaration for release on Thursday.

A draft of the declaration promised to "stimulate food production and to increase investment in agriculture, to address obstacles to food access and to use the planet's resources sustainability for present and future generations".

The United States found itself on the defensive regarding biofuels, along with Brazil which is the world's largest producer of sugar-cane ethanol, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer bristled at the criticism.

"I don't think the United States gets enough credit at all for providing over one half of all the food aid," he said.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who told the summit on Tuesday that former colonial power Britain was to blame for many of his country's problems, came under fire from a human rights group which said he was using food as a weapon ahead of a June 27 presidential run-off election.

Human Rights Watch said the Harare government was deliberately stopping food aid being provided to supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

"President Mugabe's government has a long history of using food to control the election outcome," it said. (Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Rome and Paul Simao in Johannesburg; Editing by Robert Woodward)
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By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Lawrence Haddad, Director of IDS, was interviewed about the food crisis for the BBC 10 O'clock News.

Watch a video of the news item and read about what Mr Haddad said on the IDS website. Read more

UN WORLD FOOD SUMMIT: KOFI ANNAN ARRIVES WITH AGRA MESSAGE

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Ban Ki-moon's predecessor at the head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, was due to arrive in Rome this morning to sign an agreement with UN food agencies for a new drive to increase farm production in Africa. Photo: Kofi Annan / Julia Day

"We hope to spur a green revolution in Africa which respects biodiversity and the continent's distinct regions," said Annan, who chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) which is coordinating the effort, in a statement.

Mr Annan chaired a recent conference in Salzburg, Toward a Green Revolution in Africa, co-hosted by STEPS affiliate Future Agricultures Consortium. There was much debate in Salzburg about a 'uniquely African Green Revolution' needing to consist of more than technical fixes, increased access to seeds and fertilisers and increased production. Find out more about the debates in our Salzburg blogs and on the website.
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UN FOOD SUMMIT: BACKGROUNDER

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation called the emergency meetingafter soaring commodity prices threatened to add as many as 100 million more people to the 850 million already going hungry, destabilising governments in the process. Photo: Guilio Napolitano / FAO

The FAO said the meeting would discuss ways to address hunger and malnutrition in the face of soaring food prices, scarce resources, climate change, increased energy needs and population growth.

The cost of major food commodities has doubled over the last couple of years, with rice, corn and wheat at record highs. The OECD sees prices retreating from their current peaks but still up to 50 percent higher in the coming decade.

According to a statement on the FAO's website, the summit would "offer a historic chance to re-launch the fight against hunger and poverty and boost agricultural production in developing countries."

The event will deliver the following, according to the FAO statement of intent:

  • Identification of the new challenges facing world food security, supply and demand side, policies and market structure.
  • A better understanding of the nexus between food security, climate change and bioenergy.
  • Identification of a process for institutional action for the integration of food security safeguards into international climate-related and sustainable bioenergy agreements.
  • Discussion and adoption of required policies, strategies and programmes for ensuring world food security, in particular measures to address soaring food prices.
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UN FOOD SUMMIT: US$20BN NEEDED, SAYS BAN KI-MOON

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Day two of the UN World Food Summit has commenced with UN chief Ban Ki-moon's declaration that US$15 billion to US$20 billion is needed each year to boost food production to combat hunger.

Most of the money would have to come from concerned countries, say the UN secretary general. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged nations to seize an "historic opportunity to revitalise agriculture" as a way of tackling the food crisis. Mr Ban told delegates that food production would have to rise by 50% by 2030 to meet demand.

But he was already decalring the summit a success. "There is a clear sense of resolve, shared responsibility and political commitment among member states to making the right policy choices and investing in agriculture in the years to come."

"Hunger degrades everything we have been fighting for in recent years and decades," he told reporters. "We are duty-bound to act to act now and to act as one."

He also called for policy guidelines on biofuel production should be put in place because of its impact on food production. Delegates in Rome have been divided over the role biofuels is playing in driving up food prices, sparking riots in countries including have sparked riots in Egypt, Cameroon, Cote d‘Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Madagascar.

Mr Ban also told the summit he has received a petition signed online by more than 300,000 people saying there was no time to lose.

"We call on you to take immediate action to address the world food crisis by mobilizing emergency funding to prevent starvation, removing perverse incentives to turn food into biofuels and managing financial speculation," said the petition, organised by online rights group Avaaz.org.

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UN FOOD SUMMIT: MUGABE'S PRESENCE

From the Independent newspaper, UK


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Tuesday, 3 June 2008

UN FOOD SUMMIT: WILL FARMERS' VOICES BE HEARD?

By DAN SMITH, Future Agricultures Consortium member

In his opening speech for the UN World Food Summit, Jacques Diouf, the FAO Director General, stated that “the world only needs US$30 billion a year to eradicate the scourge of hunger”. This may sound like a large amount but if compared to the fact that “the world spent US$1200 billion spent on arms in 2006” it is actually a very achievable amount.

Dr Diouf went on to ask “against that backdrop, how can we explain to people of good sense and good faith that it was not possible to find US$30 billion a year to enable 862 million hungry people to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food and thus the right to life?”

There were many positive points made in the opening address by Jacques Diouf. He outlined the types of solutions that are needed to address the short term problem of the current food crisis and the longer term structural problem of food security and agricultural development.

But, though there was mention of “innovative and imaginative solutions” and the need to “facilitate farmers access to seeds, fertiliser, animal feed and other inputs”, what was not mentioned was how to include farmers in the policies and decisions affecting them.


Indeed, as in the blog from Julia Day earlier today, at the recent conference in Salzburg discussing what an African Green Revolution might look like, one of the main issues that kept coming back was how to ensure farmers are included in the global, regional, national and local decision making processes. In fact, many argued strongly that however well meaning a policy, if farmers are not part of these decision making processes, they are unlikely to succeed.

This UN Food Summit is a real opportunity to move towards sustainable, farmer-led solutions to the current food crisis and, more broadly, agricultural development. As Jacques Diouf clearly stated it cannot be resources that hold us back. Let us hope that the voices of those most affected by the current rises in food prices come through loud and clear at this summit.
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UN FOOD SUMMIT: WHOSE VISION FOR THE FUTURE?

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The UN World Food Summit opened in Rome today, aiming to address the soaring food costs which have sparked riots in Egypt, Cameroon, Cote d‘Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Madagascar. The press are filing plenty of copy on the issue (and not just about Mugabe's prescence in the Italian capital). And already this morning Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for nations to minimize export restrictions and import tariffs. But are the options on the table in Rome sustainable and in the best interests of the people at the sharp end of the crisis? Photo credit: Reuters

The recent 'Towards a Green Revolution in Africa' conference, co-hosted by STEPS affiliate Future Agricultures Consortium in Salzburg, saw former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in his role as chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), add his thoughts to a new vision for African agriculture.

The event began on the premise that there is a clear need for a new vision for agricultural development in Africa that can deal with the complexities of agriculture in diverse settings across Africa and meet the conditions necessary to achieve more equitable benefits for Africa’s farmers.

But the 90-plus delegates, largely from African countries, asked tough questions about whose vision should this be? How can complexity and diversity be dealt with? What can be learned from the impacts - positive and negative - of the "green revolutions" in Latin America and Asia? And how best to move forward?

Among the central issues pin-pointed by delegates for a sustainable, uniquely Green Revolution in Africa were that farmers and their needs must be placed at epicentre; that gender and ethnicity issues are taken into account; that smallholders and those farmers who are consumers, and not just producers, of food have a voice in farmer organisations.

The quality and reach of data and information on crop productivity and prices is curcial, the conference agreed, as is the need to extend the debate beyond staple crops. Livestock needs to be put centre stage, with the importance of smallstock and poultry production to poorer people and women in particular, acknowledged.

How much the Ministers sitting down in Rome this morning have a sustainable future food supply for world's poor and marginalised peoples at the forefront of thier minds remains to be seen.

All blogs from the Salzburg event


Some of today's key media coverage on the UN food crisis summit:
Seeds of change: Africa seeks to engineer an agricultural revolution



The end of abundance: Food panic brings calls for a second ‘green revolution’

EU food chief: Lift BSE ban to cut grain prices


UN chief: food production must rise 50 percent by 2030
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