Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Trade and food security

Source: Cidse Advocacy Newsletter, nr. 40, October 2008

The approach of World Food Day on October 16th is a stark reminder of the failure of current national and international policies to protect and promote access to this most basic of human rights. Although food prices have now begun to decline, the OECD-FAO agricultural outlooks predict greater price volatility and higher food prices over the next decade as compared to the 2000-2006 average. Clearly the food price crisis is not over and the international community must not become complacent. As the international community debates the way forward, CIDSE is pushing for a focus on long-term, sustainable solutions.

The importance of small scale agriculture

The FAO World Summit on World Food Security, Climate Change and Bioenergy in June of this year, recognised the importance of small-scale farming in ensuring food security. This was strongly endorsed by CIDSE and other civil society actors who emphasise that failure over recent decades to support small producers has contributed to the degeneration of agricultural communities and the collapse of local food systems in many countries. The publication this year of the results of the International Assessment of Agriculture, Science and Technology for Development research has added significant weight to the argument for focusing on small-scale sustainable agriculture1. The multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary and geographically representative nature of this research gives its conclusions considerable authority and it should rightly be expected that it forms an integral part of future policy planning.

International Responses

CIDSE welcomes the various initiatives to generate funds to respond to the food crisis, including the proposal for a significant financial transfer from the EU, and the attention many of these initiatives are giving to small-scale agriculture. CIDSE emphasises, however, that it will not be enough to provide farmers with agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, and to introduce safety nets in case of future crises. Support to small-scale farmers must address the variety of supply constraints they face – such as access to land, water, credit, and market information. Only a holistic approach aimed at equipping local communities with the capacity to secure local production will ensure food security in the long-term.

It is clear that beyond short-term injections of capital for food aid there is a need for massive structural investment into agricultural and rural development policies, involving billions of dollars a year for both on-farm and off-farm activities. In addition to improved agricultural policies, there is a need for effective coherence with other policy areas. This, however, is far from self-evident. Despite the consensus of the international community on the importance of small-scale farming at the World Food Summit in June, the Doha Round of international trade negotiations spectacularly collapsed in July as a result of developed countries’ opposition to inclusion of an effective Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) in the deal. The SSM is an established tool in international trade and is used primarily by developing countries to protect their farmers from surges in imports of subsidised goods from developed countries. This ‘dumping’ causes the collapse of many local markets, resulting in decreases in local production and threatening food security, and has been a contributing factor to the current crisis.

Concluding the Doha Round without provision for an effective SSM would seriously undermine the impact of increased international investment in agriculture in developing countries. As CIDSE works with partner organisations in rural and agricultural communities to find locally appropriate solutions to the impacts of the current crisis, we will also continue to push for the necessary political will and policy coherence to find effective and sustainable solutions to achieve global food security and full realisation of the right to food for all.

See also CIDSE’s statement “Food Price Crisis Highlights the Need for Real Reform in Trade and Agricultural Policies”.

For more information contact Cliona Sharkey

Rising food prices were also discussed at the 7th Brussels Briefing on 16 October 2008

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