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G8 Food Security Initiative Falls Short – World Needs New Model

Global Women's Project | Fri, Jul 10, 2009

By Kristin Sampson

Globally there is enough food produced to feed the world. However, it is not produced and distributed in a way that guarantees livelihoods and access to safe and sufficient supplies for all people nor the long-term productive capacity of Earth’s resource base.

Yesterday, G8 leaders committed to mobilizing $20 billion over three years in a coordinated, comprehensive strategy focused on sustainable agriculture development. Unfortunately, the initiative only addresses part of the food security problem.

On the positive side, G8 leaders recognize “The combined effect of longstanding underinvestment in agriculture and food security, price trends and the economic crisis have led to increased hunger and poverty in developing countries, plunging more than a further 100 million people into extreme poverty…[with] the number of people suffering from hunger and poverty now exceed[ing] 1 billion. “

Many elements of the comprehensive approach for national agriculture development policies are in-line with COC recommendations on pro-poor agricultural development, formulated collaboratively with partners in Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and the Netherlands. These include:

increased agriculture productivity, stimulus to pre and post-harvest interventions, emphasis on… smallholders, women and families, preservation of the natural resource base, expansion of employment and decent work opportunities, knowledge and training,…and support for good governance and policy reform.

It is also laudable that G8 leaders recognize that “Effective food security actions must be coupled with adaptation and mitigation measures in relation to climate change, sustainable management of water, land, soil and other natural resources, including the protection of biodiversity.” This is absolutely true.

The call for increased information to further explore “The feasibility, effectiveness and administrative modalities of a system of stockholding in dealing with humanitarian food emergencies or as a means to limit price volatility” offers hope for effective mechanism to mitigate price volatility and improve farmer incomes.

Despite these positive elements, the food security initiative doesn’t go far enough to reform the global food and agriculture model, particularly by failing to commit to reform in developed countries.

The commitment to mobilize $20 billion is an improvement over the previous low-levels of official development assistance for agriculture. However, spread out over three years, it seems insufficient to address to food needs of 1 billion people.

Concomitant G8 pledges on climate change do not reflect the same urgency as those made on food security. Although agreeing to an 80% cut in emissions from their own countries by 2050, the G8 countries failed to reach agreement on a short-term 2020 target or on providing finance and technology to developing countries to support efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change or address their own emissions. In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the G8 commitments were “disappointing” and “not sufficient,” and their heads of state are in danger of having “squandered a unique historical opportunity that may not come again” to address the climate crisis.

Modern agricultural practice is rapidly exhausting the very resources it depends on for its long-term viability, and that human communities rely on to ensure their own food security. While shifts in growing conditions due to climate change have taken center stage, other crises loom in the background. Agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater usage, the majority of it drained from non-renewable sources, even as 1.2 billion people globally do not have access to enough water to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Soil health is being depleted through intensive chemical-based industrial agricultural practices, encroaching desertification and urban sprawl. Over 4000 plant and animal species are threatened by agricultural intensification, eroding genetic diversity and weakening resilience against pests, disease and disasters. According to a February 2009 report by the UN Environment Programme, the combination of water scarcity, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, land-use changes and evolving climate change could lead to a global food shortfall of up to 25% of demand by 2050. Developed countries must move from large-scale, resource and chemical intensive monocultivation to small- and medium size farm operations that embody multifunctional organic, sustainable and biodiverse agricultural practices.

While the Food Security Initiative calls for “National and regional strategies [to] promote the participation of farmers, especially smallholders and women, into community, domestic, regional and international markets” there is an equal call for “Markets [to] remain open, protectionism rejected and factors potentially affecting commodity price volatility, including speculation, monitored and analysed further.” A key challenge many developing country small-producers face is competing against imported subsidized agricultural goods produced by the agribusiness giants in developed countries. Developed countries must also reform unfair agriculture and trade practices in order for developing country farmers to compete in local, national and international markets. Ending trade-distorting and export subsidies are much-needed first steps.

Along with President Obama we hope, the global food security initiative will change the global donor community’s approach to agricultural development.

Unfortunately, achieving food security and decent livelihoods for all people and protecting our shared ecosystem will also require radical reform of U.S. and developed country agricultural and trade policies. This may prove to be a harder battle.

For more information on the food crisis and agriculture reform, see:

Seeding Justice: A New Value System for Food and Agriculture by Abiosseh Davis and Theresa Polk, Center of Concern, July 2009.