Sunday, October 05, 2008

Controversial proposal for an EU Food Facility

Source: EU News, nr. 6, September 2008

European Commission’s proposal to allocate 1 billion Euros from the margin of the EU budget’s Heading 2 dedicated to the Common Agricultural Policy and rural development to an International Food Facility continues to feed many debates both on the substance of the proposal and on its exceptional and unprecedented nature contrary to usual budgetary discipline.

Reactions inside the European Parliament and from certain member states let us think that the proposal was not sufficiently discussed and thought-through with other institutions before being tabled by the Commission.

The fact that the EU institutions recognise the urgent need to support agriculture in developing countries to help farmers feed themselves and their people is seen as a welcome move by European NGOs. The strong plea from the Development Committee of the Parliament in favour of additional funding to fulfil that objective is very important in a context of insufficient resources dedicated to external relations in EU budget. We welcome initiatives to generate fresh funds to contribute to food security, including the proposal of a ‘conversion’ of 1 billion Euros of unspent European farm subsidies. It is just and appropriate to use unspent subsidies to support the poor in developing countries who have been hit hard by the food price crisis.

APRODEV Trade and Food Security group however judges that the measures to be supported by the Food Facility, as proposed in the draft regulation tabled by the Commission, are not sustainable enough. It is the reason why APRODEV has worked together with members of the Development Committee of the Parliament to propose the following amendments relating to the fact that:
  • Measures must improve access of small-scale and women farmers to sustainable agricultural inputs
  • Negative impacts of agricultural inputs must be decreased and measures must respond to social and environmental concerns
  • Findings of the International Agricultural Assessment (IAASTD) show innovative ways for sustainable production for the coming 50 years
Main APRODEV concerns and arguments with regard to the EC proposal are:
  • The fact that the food facility measures would be restricted to providing inputs for the next cultural season (seeds and fertilisers) and to emergency safety net measures. Considering the structural nature of the present price crisis and the multiple factors that influence it, many fear that these simplistic and short-term responses will only have a limited impact.

    Supporting small-scale sustainable measures at community level, in the hands of farmers and consumers such as seeds banks and local food banks would bring a longer term perspective in the operation.

  • This highly visible one shot generous gesture from the European Union should in no way replace a more in-depth reflection and longer term strategy with regard to the responsibility of EU policies and living style in the present international food security crisis. In line with the International Agricultural Assessment (IAASTD) whose 22 Findings based on a world-wide assessment of both formal science and technology and local and traditional knowledge, addresses not only production and productivity but also the multifunctionality of agriculture and show the necessity for the transformation of agriculture if the world in the future is to have less hunger, increased equity and a more sustainable environment.

    The only way to reverse the situation in a sustainable way is through an in-depth review of the world food production and market where EU agriculture and trade policies play a prominent role. A new agriculture agenda should give priority to the local control of food provision that would realise the Right to Food, rather than using agriculture exclusively as an ‘engine of economic growth’.

  • The fact that the food facility will be exclusively delivered through big UN and other international organisations, all acting in concert in line with the needs assessment that will be produced by the High Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis (see their Comprehensive Framework for Action). Coordination and effort pooling by big international actors is certainly welcome but should not take place at the expense of flexibility, environmental and social sustainability and adaptation to the local context. In the area of safety nets and food security, civil society organisations and small farmers organisations in particular have an undeniable added value with regard to reaching the poor and marginalised and integrating the measures into a longer-term and sustainable perspective.

  • We would have liked to see EU response to the food security crisis debated in a broader context taking account of existing policies (such as the communication on Advancing Agriculture in Africa that is not mentioned in the Food facility regulation) and existing cooperation agreements (such as the Cotonou agreement or the EU Africa strategy) and aid instruments (DCI, EDF, Thematic programme on Food security, food aid). Such a broader debate would probably lead to a more nuanced and sophisticated response where an emergency food facility could perfectly find its place.

A main controversial issue discussed in the European Parliament and of a more legal nature is the fact that this unprecedented request from the EC infringes the inter-institutional agreement of the multi-annual financial framework by allocating appropriations dedicated to the internal Common Agricultural Policy to external actions. An advantage of the whole debate is that everybody, in the European Parliament at least, seems to agree on the fact that heading 4 is under-resourced and that its margin is far from being sufficient in face of the multiple challenges on the international scene. Catherine Guy-Quint (PES, France), from the budgetary committee, suggested at a hearing on the Food Facility that a European fund should be created in the future for world food aid in a new flexible form that would receive the surplus margins of the EU budget.

How the whole process will finish and what impact it will have on hungry people and small scale farmers in developing countries is difficult to judge at the present stage. After the vote in the Parliament the decisive step will be the conciliation meeting with the Council. Development ministers expressed their support for the initiative at their informal meeting in Bordeaux on 29 and 30 September. Their press release calls for a rapid conclusion of the decision process and states that they support an additional EU response of €1 billion while also calling for a long term concerted strategy to tackle the root causes of the crisis and relaunch sustainable food and small scale farming. (more)

See also Food for the Hungry, APRODEV discussion paper on rising food prices as well as CIDSE statement to the UN General Assembly: "Food Price Crisis Highlights the Need for Real Reform in Trade and Agricultural Policies"

Check Euforic's newsfeeds from CIDSE and APRODEV, and on food security,