Saturday, February 2, 2013

2012 - A Year of Food Crisis Solutions?

In their article "Resolving the food crisis: The need for decisive action", published on 30. January on Al Jazeera, Sophia Murphy (from the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy) and Timothy A. Wise (the Policy Research Director of Tuft University's Global Development and Environment Institute) evaluate what global leaders have done in 2012 to address the food crisis. Their verdict: too little. Having published a report in 2011 on the main issues to tackle, they go through them point by point and investigate what change has been achieved this year. A round-up: 
  • Donor funding for agricultural development: Instead of renewing the L'Aquila commitments of 2012 to invest more public funding in agricultural research, governments have chosen to pursue public-private partnerships (through the G8's 'New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition') that, in the words of Murphy and Wise, "revert[...] to donor-imposed conditionalities that give foreign firms greater access to Africa's markets." 
  • Reducing biofuels expansion: While both the US and the EU made progress in revising their policy targets regarding renewable fuels, the US's Renewable Fuel Standard remained in place and contributed to continued competition between food and fuel use of corn in the wake of the 2012 drought in the Midwest. 
File:Scorched corn fields, Castroville, TX, 2011 IMG 3231.JPG
Similar to these scorched corn fields in Texas in 2011, US farmers in the Midwest 
faced  huge challenges this year.  
Image By Billy Hathorn (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 
(], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Curbing financial speculation on agricultural commodities: Regulations were initiated on both sides of the Atlantic, but lobbying efforts lead to delays that push implementation back to at least June 2013 (US) and 2015 (EU) respectively. 
  • Building food reserves: Publicly held food stocks "remain at historically low levels", according to Murphy and Wise, which makes prices more dependent on the immediately preceding harvest season and more volatile overall. Improved information systems among the G-20 are helpful to prevent panic buying (such as was discussed in the NPR podcast), but the authors argue that this information should be expanded beyond the G-20 to make net food-importing countries less dependent on the big players. 
  • Halting land grabs: Murphy and Wise refer to the Land Matrix's analytical report that I also wrote about and its "worrying trends" regarding land acquisitions. They laud the speed with which Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure were devised by the UN Committee on World Food Security and adopted by member states (in May 2012), but point out that now domestic and international implementation and monitoring efforts are vital for the Guidelines' success.
  • Addressing climate change: As was criticized elsewhere, the authors point out the small progress and toothless commitments achieved at the Doha climate talks - but also highlight the silver lining of the possibility of addressing "loss and damage" resulting from climate change, which could be vital in the context of agriculture. 
  • Prospects for change in 2013: Ending this somewhat dissatisfied assessment with a look in the future, Murphy and Wise give us a great overview of what to focus on this year: 
    • Implementation of limits on financial speculation
    • Creation of stronger food reserves
    • New mandate and leadership of UNCTAD
    • March: Meeting of the G20 in Russia
    • June: G8 follow-up meeting to the "Hunger Summit" last year
    • October: UN Committee on World Food Security meeting
    • December: WTO meeting in Bali
I would definitely recommend reading the entire article and maybe also the report to get a better overview of the issues. Also, when reading this article one is reminded of how many avenues there are to address the issues that concern is today - national, international and otherwise - if the political will is present. We will see whether that will can be strengthened next year. 

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