Sunday, June 22, 2008

Spiraling Food Crisis Highlights the Need for Reform

Source: CIDSE Advocacy Newsletter 39, June 2008

The WTO Doha Round of negotiations, initiated in 2001, was mandated with establishing fairer trade rules that would help poor countries to develop. Continued disagreement between developed and developing States, however, has seen the negotiations stall, become prolonged, and stall again, prompting a proliferation of bilateral trade negotiations between the big trading powers and many developing countries. The present food crisis proves once again that an unchecked liberal approach to trade is dangerous, as it directs food to where the market will pay the highest price, and not to where people are hungry.

Farmers in developing countries have been suffering from ‘dumping’ – the sale of cheap subsidised agricultural goods below the cost of production – from the US and the EU for decades. ‘Dumping’ destroys local markets and has forced millions to leave agriculture, exacerbating both rural poverty and rural-urban migration. The result is that many developing countries are now dependent on foreign imports for food; this means that with the current rise in global food prices, the poor, and in particular the urban poor, can no longer access basic food staples.

The rural poor in many developing countries have been suffering from hunger for many years. Now the urban poor – who are crucial for political stability – have been able to bring this injustice to the attention of the international community. Recent events emphasise once again the need to reflect on how our way of life impacts on the ability of the poor to feed themselves. The current level of energy consumption in the North, for example, is unsustainable. Efforts to develop new energy sources, using agricultural produce to meet our high demands, are creating competition in international markets between the production of food, and production of energy crops. Furthermore, an increasing global population, continued migration from rural areas to the cities and greater wealth in some developing countries are being accompanied by higher levels of meat consumption. This further threatens balanced agricultural production since animal farming requires significantly more land and feed resources.

Immediate action is necessary to provide food aid to those who are suffering. Beyond that, CIDSE, alongside many civil society actors, has been calling for a radical shift in agricultural policies in order to provide real mid to long term solutions. Sustainable small-scale farming must be at the heart of any agricultural and development policy, which should aim specifically to increase these farmers’ access to credit, agricultural and natural resources, and market information. This would not only improve food security but would also allow farmers in developing countries to expand and diversify where possible, providing rural communities and developing nations with the opportunity to benefit from higher global prices, rather than suffer the consequences of them. The final declaration of the June FAO Summit testifies to the efforts of civil society over the last few months, in which we see small-scale farming back at the centre of the debate.

See also Euforic's CIDSE newsfeed; also its newsfeed on food security