On May 11 and 12, 2012, several French institutes for research and studies1 held a seminar entitled “Ending hunger by 2050? Without taboos, without obstacles ” at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris.
Gathering students and experts on the key issue of global food production and the challenges it faces today, the seminar provided an opportunity to explore the matter and point out again that free play of markets cannot be the sole solution to the problem of world hunger.
Pierre Jacquet, Chief Economist at the French Agency for Development (AFD), thus emphasized the “need for strong public policies to implement public goods” such as global food security. In his opinion, these government policies have been dismantled and “we need to reinvent them.”
The 1980s and1990s were indeed marked by the domination of neoliberal theses that considered that free play of agricultural markets would spur the development of poorer countries and improve support to agriculture, in order to meet the economic and political requirements of international organizations––with the World Bank and the IMF topping the list. More recently, the European Union also adopted this approach with the successive CAP reforms made since the mid-1990s.
Yet, this dismantling of government support and trade regulation mechanisms did not improve global food security: The number of people suffering from hunger has continued to increase since 1995 and even exceeded one billion persons in 2009; two world food crises broke out during the past decade; and agricultural markets have never been so unstable.
The failure of such unfettered liberalization rationale has consequently led to a growing demand for “more government” and “more regulation”, as stated by Nicolas Bricas, a socio-economist for food issues at the CIRAD, the French agricultural center for international development.
Nonetheless, is this a permanent trend?
There is some evidence to indicate it. The IMF and the World Bank have included the concept of safety net in their discussions. Criticisms leveled at the Doha Round are now made by a growing number of nations and organizations. But most of all, the G20 Agricultural meeting held for the first time last year, as well as the FAO reform launched in 2008, have breathed a new life into the movement for the introduction of a world governance system for agriculture. The current reform of the Common Agricultural Policy nevertheless conflicts with such drive, as pointed out on several occasions by Aurélie Trouvé, Co-President of the Attac Network, during the seminar. In fact, the European Commission’s proposals do not question the logic behind the dismantling of regulatory mechanisms that prevailed in previous reforms. Let us home that the upcoming months will generate change.
1 The French Academy of Sciences, AgroParisTech, Alumni, Cirad, the Condorcet Campus (Paris 1-University), Inra (French Institute for Agronomic Research), Iddri (Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations/Institute of Political Sciences) and Universciences.