A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
It brings together, managers from the agricultural world and important people from external perspectives,
such as health, development, strategy and defense. Its objective is to promote regulation
of agricultural markets by creating new evaluation tools, such as economic models and indicators,
and by drawing up proposals for an agricultural and international food policy.

Nora McKeon
Personal account

Global Governance for World Food Security:
A Scorecard Four Years After the Eruption
of the “Food Crisis”

Nora McKeon,
Former Responsible for FAO-civil society relations

The food crisis of 2007-2008 led to a series of institutional initiatives to improve governance on this issue, such as the reform of the Committee on World Food Security, launched in April 2009. As the agricultural G20 has yet again underlined the need for strong global governance to improve food security, we recommend reading the article by Nora McKeon, Former Responsible for FAO-civil society relations and consultant for the NGO Terra Nuova, published last October by the Heinrich Böll Foundation1. Tracing the evolution of global food governance from the Second World War, she highlights the succession of policy choices, which, starting with the proposal for a World Food Board, a regulator proposed by the FAO at the end of the Second World War, has resulted in the market volatility that is currently fuelling the crisis. She stresses the need to reinforce the coherence and transparency of international governance.

momagri editorial board

1940s-50s: A new multilateral architecture and a bottomless faith in science/technology

From an institutional viewpoint, 1944 was a watershed, witnessing the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) within the emerging UN system. […] Of particular interest was the fate of the proposed World Food Board. This mechanism was championed by FAO’s first Director-General, Lord Boyd Orr, as a means to accomplish some of the governance functions that are recognised as crucial today: stabilising world agricultural prices, managing an international cereal reserve, and co-operating with the organisations responsible for agricultural development loans and international trade policy to ensure that the measures they took were coherent with food security. The World Food Board never got off the starting blocks as it was strongly opposed by the grain trade that had the backing of some powerful governments. […]

The challenge of fighting hunger in the post World War II period was framed essentially as one of growing more food by using more science and technology. […] As for the actors, they were essentially governments, with the North dominating since much of the South was still under colonial rule. The state’s role in stabilising prices and ensuring food supplies through such mechanisms as commodity boards was acknowledged. […]

1960s-70s: Food governance crumbles in the face of a global crisis

The balance of power within the UN was upset in the early 1960s by the independence of a host of former colonies. […] Developing countries attached considerable importance to the FAO as an instrument that could help them valorise their agricultural commodities and achieve food security.

Pulling in the opposite direction, the OECD countries reacted to a world food crisis in the mid-1970s by dismantling the various functions the FAO exercised as the UN’s “Ministry of Agriculture”. The establishment, in 1971, of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) headquartered at the World Bank had already excised science from the UN system. […] As for the financing of agriculture, it was hived off from the FAO and entrusted to the newly established International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Finally, the World Food Programme with its responsibilities for reacting to food emergencies […] was progressively separated from the FAO and established as an independent UN agency.

The optimistic post-war phase was shaken by the famines of the 1970s and the rise in the cost of oil. The growing body of neo-liberal advocates seized the occasion to argue that the world’s food system was overly dependent on subsidies and states and that market liberalisation was the way forward. […] At the national level, the state still played a considerable role in regulating and supporting agriculture through mechanisms such as food stocks, supply management, and subsidies[…].

1980s-2005: The triumph of globalisation and the free market...and the emergence of alternatives

In the period from the early 1980s on, international financial institutions have dominated the global governance of food. The structural adjustment regimes imposed onto debt-ridden developing countries by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund drastically curtailed the policy decision-making space of national governments, opened up the markets of developing countries, and cut back severely on state support to and regulation of agriculture. The creation of the WTO (1995) and the promulgation of global trade regulations did the rest. A corollary of these evolutions was the reduction of the “soft” policy space of the UN system, oriented more towards defending human rights and common goods than to finance and trade. The same period saw the multiplication of negotiation forums related to food security both within the UN family and outside. In this period, the G7/8 became a powerful and exclusive alternative forum for addressing world problems, one championed by its advocates as a more effective alternative to the cumbersome and argumentative UN. […]

At the same time, however, the sustainability of industrial agriculture was progressively called into question, and the negative consequences structural adjustment has on poverty and hunger became increasingly evident. Beginning in the mid-1990s numerous alternatives to the neoliberal, productionist paradigm arose. The right to food, food sovereignty, and agro-ecology were championed by civil society actors who entered the arena of global governance for the first time. The most politically significant among these were the rural social movements that mobilised in reaction to the devastating effects of neo-liberal policies on agricultural production and rural livelihoods. […]

If the rural movements bothered to congregate around the FAO, it was because they felt it could constitute a politically interesting intergovernmental policy forum, an alternative to the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO. There were several reasons for this: more democratic governance with universal membership and one county-one vote decisions; a specific focus on food and agriculture and a mission to eliminate hunger; a mandate that includes a strong normative role; and relative openness to engage with civil society and rural people’s organisations. […]

From 2005 on: Systemic failure exposed and the international community faces the food crisis

From 2005 on, three of the major agricultural institutions – IFAD, FAO, CGIAR – underwent external evaluations that exposed serious institutional failures. For its part, the World Bank, for the first time in 25 years, devoted its 2008 World Development Report to agriculture and development and thus admitted that it had made a strategic error in neglecting agriculture as a motor of growth. […]

In this atmosphere of institutional re-thinking, the eruption of the food crisis in late 2007-2008 unveiled a vacuum in global governance. […]. The food crisis sparked a range of international institutional initiatives, of which the most significant were the UN High Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis (HLTF), the Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security (GPAFS), and the reform of the Committee on World Food Security. […]

The food crisis and the concomitant focus on climate change has jolted dominant paradigms as well as the governance system. There is now widespread recognition that the world market has failed to ensure the food security of developing countries. […] Concepts that, over the past two decades, had been considered taboo or laughable are now being seriously considered: protection for the markets in developing countries; food reserves and supply management; agroecology as a climate-friendly approach to agricultural production.

Civil society and people’s movements promoting these alternatives have come into their own. Small food producer organisations’ networks are engaging governments and intergovernmental forums at national, regional, and global levels, and they are building alliances with other sectors of civil society. They have an impact on government policy, and they have gaining accreditation and credibility in global institutions like the FAO and the IFAD. […]

1 To read the full article on the Heinrich-Böll Foundation’s website : http://www.boell.de/downloads/Global-Governance-for-World-Food-Security.pdf

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Paris, 16 June 2019