Professor and researcher at AgroParisTech working in the Public Economics Joint Research Unit, Laurence Roudart’s research covers topics such as agrarian systems, economic policies, agricultural policies and the security of the food supply, particularly in developing countries.
In addition to numerous articles and contributions to academic and encyclopedic publications, Mr. Roudart is best known as the author, along with Marcel Mazoyer1, of A History of World Agriculture: From the Neolithic Age to the Current Crisis2 , a true reference work.
His work can contribute to WOAgri's debate on the regulation of global agricultural markets, with a focus on a more balanced form of economic development in which agriculture reclaims the strategic place it deserves.
1) Now that the negotiations have been relaunched, what is your opinion of the WTO and the Doha Round?
While the name of the Doha "Development" Round may seem to be used as an incantation, it does, however, demonstrate a change in mentality from fifteen years ago: people have become aware that it is no longer possible to ignore development and poverty issues when dealing with international trade.
Unfortunately, the WTO continues to confuse ways and means. It sees full trade liberalization, which is part of its mandate, as the only path to salvation and source of fairness. The Doha Round must, therefore, necessarily be guided by this concept of liberalization, in accordance with the only economic dogma that the WTO considers.
Unfortunately, there is little hope for a "rebirth" of the WTO: the lack of understanding of the agricultural sector and its unique characteristics are too big an obstacle. The negotiators seem to have lost sight of the relationship between food, agriculture and poverty, and are unaware of agriculture's fundamental role for humankind. By considering the agricultural sector to be just like any other, the very essence of the negotiations has been destroyed.
I don't believe we can reduce food security to just self-sufficiency; more than that, it's about the freedom of peoples and governments to autonomously define their agricultural and food policies, without these policies undermining the food sovereignty of other peoples or governments. This requirement should be maintained throughout the negotiations. And if the main goal of the talks had been respect for the universal right to food3 , the Doha Round would have taken a different, and certainly preferable, course. That's part of FAO's mandate, you might say. But the FAO has only a few effective levers, such as the "Voluntary Guidelines to gradually achieve the Right to Adequate Food," adopted by the FAO Council in 2004 following several years of negotiations. These guidelines seek to provide practical tools to fulfill the right to food. However, as their name indicates, they are not legally binding.
At the WTO, the problems have to do with the objective sought and the means employed. At the same time, it is truly necessary to organize and negotiate rules for international agricultural trade.
2) What role should agriculture play in meeting the challenges of development?
Agriculture is a key sector for all regions of the world, both the richest and the least economically developed regions.
We must be aware that food insufficiency is the primary mortality risk factor worldwide. Almost all foodstuffs derive from agriculture: hunting, fishing and gathering play a very minor role in feeding humankind. Moreover, agriculture is the main source of income for over 40 percent of the world population. It is by far the most common economic activity in the world. Yet, 70 percent of the world's poor and malnourished live in rural areas; most of these people are small farmers.
So how is it conceivable that only a small portion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) goes to agriculture and food? For example, only 4% of France's ODA budget is allocated to agriculture and food security! The cost-benefit analyses behind certain, admittedly difficult, political decisions on the allocation of ODA funds, have so far done little for food security.
Agriculture must, once again, become a key element of developmental concerns. To this end, it is necessary to develop and maintain national and regional agricultural policies, shifting their primary objectives toward guaranteeing the right to food. At the same time, it is necessary to design regulations for global agricultural trade in order to protect small-scale subsistence farms from competition from the most competitive export farms.
3) With the upcoming establishment of a new international organization, the UNEO,4 do you think there is a place for a World Organization for Agriculture?
Economic development and the globalization of trade have created new transnational problems. Usually environmental problems are the first to come to mind. But in agriculture, a new international cooperation should also be established to respond to the imperfections and shortcomings of the market, while still recognizing that markets are essential.
A new World Organization for Agriculture could coordinate and harmonize agricultural policies, while respecting countries' food sovereignty as I described earlier.
The Organization could also regulate world trade – which is inextricably linked with agricultural policy issues – in order to ensure global food security; in other words, to ensure the universal right to food. It could enable the establishment of a system of fairer and more effective international agricultural trade among and within the large regional common agricultural markets, bringing together countries with similar levels of agricultural production.
We are in a phase of reorganizing power relations on the international scene and questioning the traditional operation of international organizations and financial institutions. Let us hope that this process strengthens the debate on global agricultural governance.