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The World Summit on Food Security in Rome:
Grounds for hope and causes of disappointment
Executive Vice President, momagri
A challenging program, valid topics and attendance by the world’s political leaders––except those from G-8 countries––concerning an issue that is again in the news: hunger. Indeed, all conditions for success seemed to be met.
Yet, if certain principles of the final Declaration give some “grounds for hope” toward future strides, its general tone raises concerns.
First of all, we are struck by the repetition of catalog of commitments without details on the means to implement them. In his address, even Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, deplores that the final Declaration is totally silent on the “how to” issue.
Similarly, the same goals are being posted summit after summit, with no positive result ever announced:
• Realizing the target of the Millennium Development Goal by 2015, that is to say reduce the proportion and number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition by half. These figures have been relentlessly increasing since the 2000 commitment by the international community. Why are these commitments dead on arrival?
• Mobilizing all funding commitments, particularly the $20 billion over three years included in the “L’Aquila” Statement on Food Security in July 2009. The call to honor these commitments tends to prove that the releasing of funds does not follow pledges.
Because the “economic references” remain unchanged, in spite of the fact that soaring global poverty should have long shown their incapacity to guide political choices.
For example, the final Declaration certainly includes the goal “to mitigate the impact of price volatility… on the poor” and “encourage policies that promote well-functioning markets”, without concomitantly questioning the real consequences of the trade liberalization policies that have been implemented until now. And yet, reports and testimonies to the detrimental effects of such policies are multiplying.
Lastly, we will note that if the June 3, 2008 Summit had become alarmed at the challenges generated by soaring prices, silence prevailed regarding dumping prices on international markets, which cut prices on regional markets and lead a great number of farmers to poverty, thus breeding hunger concerns.
If the plans advocated by all heads of States do not give a strong priority to the means to fight agricultural price volatility, all other efforts (new investment, micro-credit, adaptation to climate change…) will be weakened by the destructive consequences of the phenomenon.
In conclusion, we will keep in mind that if this latest Summit generated hopes up to the tasks, its setback is an expression of “decision-making tetraplegia” that could be cured if only the accurate diagnoses were finally accepted.
Consequently, the only theoretical positions that can be credited to this Summit are those missing in international debates until now:
- The need to double our efforts regarding investment in agriculture,
- A call for better coordination of efforts between the various levels… “to improve governance… [and] identify response-gaps”,
- The affirmation of the “right to adequate food in the context of national food security”,
- The reform of the Committee on Food Security (CFS) “as a global and inter-governmental strategic framework for agriculture, food security and nutrition”,
- And, last but not least, the statements in support of an economic model for sustainable agriculture and of the awareness of “risks of predation and speculation [in agricultural matters]” (as per the Franco-Brazilian initiative).
The protagonists also highlighted the importance of giving agriculture and rural development a more significant share of national budgets and of public aid to development, thus officially disagreeing with all those assuming that poor countries could achieve economic growth “without agriculture as square one”.
momagri, for one, can only be delighted to see that some of the suggestions the organization has been making for nearly two years are now taken up, including:
• Examining in priority certain occurrences, among which:
o Agricultural price volatility and insecurity on international markets; • The urgent need to remedy “split governance” by “coordinating currently disparate positions” and “[fostering] common strategies for food security” (as per the Franco-Brazilian initiative).
o The possible links between speculation and agricultural price volatility as well as assessing a system of stockholding… to limit price instability.
Our think tank provides answers to these various issues. In our consultations throughout the European, North American and African continents, we are also observing that people are starting to grasp the scope of the rationale change that must be achieved to initiate true global agricultural and food governance.
Yet, in spite of this “intellectual quivering”, one cannot but notice that we rarely witnessed such a “piling up of good feelings” tied up with such a “lull of political inspiration”. And this explains the failure of the recent Summit.
As participant to the FAO High-Level Expert Forum of October 12 and 13, 2009 preparing for this Summit, we do understand why we are where we stand today: We are in fact paying for decades of “ideological” blindness and lack of political innovation.
Indeed, if heads of states and experts are now admitting their guilt in observing the extent of the disasters, the “political prescriptions” remain unchanged, such as the renewed call for a rapid conclusion of the Doha Round. “We restate our wish that the Doha Round talks for development rapidly come to an impressive result… a significant result to improve food security”. To paraphrase Robert Paarlberg, Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, how can we still try to convince governments of the validity of the Doha negotiations methods?
In spite of the experience of the financial crisis, the implementation of unfettered liberalism still widely prevails, regardless of the facts indicating more poverty, more starvation and additional agricultural crises.
For momagri, this Summit will not tone down the “cycle of turbulence” we have been experiencing for the past few years, whose epicenters are the issue of agriculture and the food collapse and whose destructive factors are barely starting to take effect in harmony with:
• The strong increase of population worldwide by 2050 (an additional 50 percent), In addition, unlike prophets for whom any regulation is illusive, we gathered several French and foreign leaders and experts in agricultural issues who believe that a new system to regulate agricultural markets is possible. We will, in 2010, provide political leaders throughout the world with the practical procedures to implement these proposals.
• The extremely inadequate investment in livelihood farming in poor nations,
• The massive land purchases by investment funds for export crops,
• The price hyper-volatility that threatens agricultural activities worldwide,
• The recurrent crises in certain sectors (grain, milk, meats…),
• The strategic breakdowns due to growing food insecurity…
Time is of the essence. This cycle of turbulences is gaining speed, while decision-makers’ positions remain basically incantatory.
How many starving people must we count, and how many farmers must we part with, before innovation and political courage become imperative needs for survival?