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6.1 - A methodological framework for defining FSDS development policies for food security
6.2 - The need for clarity in government objectives
6.3 - A multi-disciplinary approach is needed to set up programmes and establish the food economy approach
6.4 - The need for food security surveillance and FSDS evaluation systems

6.1 - A methodological framework for defining FSDS development policies for food security

For this methodological framework we are deliberately considering a food security-based approach as an alternative to policies based on fundamental economic equilibria, in which food security is just one of the means of human development. In order to understand at what level this approach is being discussed, it is necessary to be clear about the notions of strategy, planning, policy and project:

If the national strategy consists of achieving urban food security, the constituent elements of food security must be reached: food must be available at all times and in all places, it must be accessible to all individuals, and vulnerability and risk must be reduced. The means used are a set of policies, programmes and projects.

There are four different stages in the construction of a food security strategy: diagnosis, forecast, choices, and programmes and projects.

In addition to this there is an ongoing background phase throughout, namely monitoring and evaluation. This enables the decision-makers to tailor the choices and to ensure that the programmes evolve.

Figure 3
Defining a policy in terms of strategic planning

(Source: Griffon, Henry & Lemelle, 1991)
a) Diagnosis

This is of decisive importance, because it is designed to highlight the largest possible number of problems affecting food supply and distribution, as well as the environment. In the specific framework of the urban environment, the following are the main ones (Azoulay & Dillon, 1993):

b) Forecasting

This must make it possible to look objectively at the immediate problems, identify the development of the locomotive variables, to envisage imbalances and potential break and hence be in a good position for long-term integration into decision-making. It clarifies the priorities and shows up the choices for the third phase. The forecasting analysis cannot be separated from the notion of security because its aim is to preempt risks and reduce uncertainty. It takes up the factors analysed in the diagnosis.

c) Choices

The approach will be pragmatic; for a whole set of measures, one examines the economic and social repercussions on all the parties involved, on the national accounts, and the different macroeconomic aggregates. In the particular case of urban food security, the consequences on the constituent elements of urban security for town dwellers are simulated, taking account of the macroeconomic, social and ecological effects, as well as the effects on the rural environment.

The practice followed by classical economists is to give pride of place to choices which have the most advantageous cost benefit or cost/efficiency ratio. With regard to food security, people lie at the centre of development and efficiency criteria have to be taken into consideration in addition to purely economic criteria. According to our analyses (Padilla, 1996), a policy can only be expected to have any results if it is economically efficient, if it is not unfavourable to the local agricultural sector, if it is part of the pursuit for equity and if it encourages food security.

This phase specifies all the possible solutions to be implemented in time, short-term regulation, medium-term programming and long-term structural actions. Then it will be necessary to select the technically and administratively feasible solutions, and choose the ones which offer the best comparative advantages which the budgetary constraints make affordable.

The construction of a strategy is not something fixed once and for all, and it becomes recurrent in terms of the results of the ongoing diagnosis. Politics are adjusted to the effects obtained by the initial decisions in order to achieve the final objective. Hence the fundamental importance of this monitoring and evaluation phase. And this is only possible where there is an enlarged food security information and management system.

6.2 - The need for clarity in government objectives

6.2.1 - Food security or economism?
6.2.2 - Control of the private sector v. total liberalization
6.2.3 - Market stabilization v. pricing freedom
6.2.4 - Immediate distribution and commercial effectiveness v. long-term market development

Before urban food distribution and supply systems can be developed, a number of fundamental dilemmas facing government must be resolved. For no strategy can be implemented unless there is a clear objective of society or consistent objectives. These dilemmas relate mainly to four points: food security and equity v. the drastic reduction in government expenditure; the control of the private sector v. total liberalization; market stabilization v. pricing freedom, and commercial and immediate distribution effectiveness v. long-term market development.

The choices which the government has to take must be clearly and publicly spelled out, because any uncertainty regarding government intention will limit acceptance of the measures by the parties involved in the food chain. A climate of suspicion and the fear of repression does not create the best conditions for a free market economy.

6.2.1 - Food security or economism?

Ten years of economic structural adjustment policies have brought out contradictions between the aim of establishing a balance and restructuring, and the aims of development and food security. Experience has shown that the instruments used for adjustment do not help to reduce poverty or to raise the living standards of the people or guarantee a more egalitarian distribution of incomes or protect the environment. The World Bank’s position, namely, that impoverishment and economic difficulties are only temporary, has been contradicted by experience. This being so the IBRD and the IMF have tried to sweeten the reforms by taking account of the social dimensions of adjustment (the launching of the 1988 and 1990 SDA programme, to which 27 African countries belonged). But this easing has not been translated into deeds, and even though food security is set out in the programmes it is in reality diluted because of the greater financial and economic concerns. How much longer can food security be put off, particularly in the towns where the poor are increasing in numbers and are becoming isolated, and where grassroots opposition is emerging, in the name of rebalancing the economies? Another path would reverse the preconditions and give priority to improving human resources as a condition for growth recovery in the framework of rigorous management of organizations and policies. But this requires a consensus and a general commitment to the objectives (Azoulay & Dillon, 1993).

If governments wish to foster food security they must accept that the agents in the food chain work according to profitability rules. Food security measures that have to do with social actions must be incorporated into the budget and managed in a way that does not discourage the private sector.

6.2.2 - Control of the private sector v. total liberalization

The liberalization of the FSDS plays a prominent part in recent reforms. Governments see the control of urban supplies as an essential factor of political stability and are often reluctant to give up these prerogatives. The linkage between the private sector and government conditions the chances of success of any privatization programme. The government lays down the rules, but if they are too restrictive or too changeable, the private sector will get round them and remain in the informal sector.

Although it is natural for governments to be kept informed about the operation and the flows taking place under FSDS, it is unlikely that overly repressive regulation will encourage their development. The role of government is to lay down a stable regulatory framework which clearly spells out the rights and obligations of the consumers, distributors and producers. But the regulations must be more incentivating and less repressive in order to motivate all the parties to comply.

6.2.3 - Market stabilization v. pricing freedom

The total liberalization of food pricing, following a long period of stringent controls and support policies, inevitably leads to a price explosion. In order to avoid restricting the purchasing power of the people too much, it is necessary to have a minimum degree of market stabilization. However, the level and the procedures for implementing stabilization measures affect the operation of the market.

Authorized price ranges give some margin of manoeuvre to the private sector. But they must be sufficiently open-ended to be able to take account of production and distribution cost variations during the course of the year. If the ceiling prices are such that commercial activities are no longer profitable, the commodities will be sold off on the parallel markets. The capacity of a country to stabilize food prices depends on changes in production, the effectiveness and the cost of the distribution systems, and on how much it is ready to pay for storage or for imports. If there is a poor appreciation of the price stabilization level, the government is likely to create uncertainty and discover private enterprise. A realistic stabilization policy can eventually lead to a reduction in food costs as the private sector extends its presence on the market (Thomson & Terpend, 1993).

6.2.4 - Immediate distribution and commercial effectiveness v. long-term market development

A free market-oriented government, which is still not over concerned about putting into place a new system for running the economy, relies on the “natural” organization of the parties acting on the market and on their ability to manage the flow of commodities and to distribute them in different districts in the town. It is true that in countries where informal commercial practices have been kept despite centralized planning of the systems, the trading spirit has remained and there has been a rapid adaptation to the disorganization of the systems, conversely to what has occurred where these practices have been completely forgotten.

Concern for short-term effectiveness in terms of the spatial and quantitative dissemination of foods in the towns, without considering prices, quality and product losses, would require the legal authorities to encourage this informal sector. However it is worthwhile examining the question of guaranteeing the development of SADAs over the long term, and it raises once again the whole issue of maintaining or dissolving the informal sector (see above).

6.3 - A multi-disciplinary approach is needed to set up programmes and establish the food economy approach

The whole issue of food is a complex phenomenon, and is a social fact, which can involve both material and non-material activities in any society. The need to view it in terms of earth sciences, life sciences, human and social sciences, as well as economics, justifies the adoption of a systemic and multi-disciplinary approach. The demographer, historian, anthropologist, sociologist, economist, jurist, and the marketing and communications specialist all have a place in the process of examining urban FSDS and how they relate to food security. It is obvious that the multi-disciplinary policy-making unit must necessarily be small, and should be run by generalists who are able to draw on specialists to deal with specific issues. Multi-disciplinary approaches are not easy. They require the persons representing different disciplines to work together on a strictly equal footing, and there should be no feeling of superiority by the so-called exact scientists over the practitioners of the human sciences (De Garine, 1991).

In the course of our investigations we have been able to see that situations and cultures vary extremely widely. It would appear to be impossible, in order to foster an improvement in fresh food distribution and supply systems to operate from too high a general level and to be content with national data which tone down the local features which are necessary specifically to design realistic action. Thorough analysis is necessary for any political measure. Admittedly the research required is amateurish, but it is less costly to devote a whole year to studies preliminary to policy and then to gather together all the elements which will make it possible to carry out a later evaluation than it is to become hastily involved into a poorly conceived programme, to simulate its effectiveness, when this fails to attract the parties concerned to join in it.

Any political decision or action needs an understanding the environment before being implemented in order to forecast the results of the decision and evaluate its impact at every level. Traditional microeconomic and macroeconomic approaches are quite inadequate to provide an understanding of the real situation. It is much more than a mere juxtaposition of isolated agents. Domination and complementarity exist and must be brought out. This same reality is difficult to describe in terms of trading accounts whose purpose is not to observe the behaviour of the agents involved. The agrifood approach (Malassis, 1992) which places the consumer and meeting the consumer’s needs at the heart of the problem and examines the relations that exist between all the elements in the food chain (a systemic approach) seems to us to be the most appropriate form of preliminary analysis before any policy decision is taken. Sound coordination of these elements and these joint actions both upstream and downstream is indispensable if the food system and food security are to be developed. Let us look at this approach a little more closely.

We use the term “food system” to refer to all the activities in a particular society which form part of the function of feeding that society. The activities which make it possible to take on this function are essentially the following: acquiring food raw materials by acquisition (food collection) or by production (agriculture), processing the food raw materials into foodstuffs (artisanally or industrially), distributing the food in space (transfer) and in time (storage), the culinary preparation of foodstuffs so that they can be consumed, and lastly consumption itself.

The activities of acquiring, processing, distributing, preparing and consuming may take place in a domestic unit or in a great many socio-economic units, as a result of the social division of labour. In the latter case, the operation of the system is regulated by a specific system.

The food system is therefore also the way in which men organize themselves to obtain and consume their food.

We use the term “food chain” to refer to the sequence of activities ranging from obtaining the raw material to the final act of consuming it. We use the term “food channel” to denote the sequence of operations relating to a particular commodity or to a category of specific commodities.

The system is characterized by the specific organization of the functions which it performs. It reflects the overall socio-economic system (an economically developed or less developed society, centrally planned, free market, or mixed economy, etc.).

He originality of the approach of agrifood economists lies in the fact that they base their analysis not on a sectoral but on a systemic approach. The application of a systemic analysis makes it possible to subsequently examine the purpose of the system, to identify this system within the global economy, to analyse its structure and if necessary to develop any sub-systems, sub-sectors and types of enterprises, and to establish the flows which are created between these sub-systems, sub-sectors and enterprises, and examine the regulatory mechanisms for these flows and evaluate the performance of the system.

Figure 4
The agrifood system and its operations

The “objective” of all food systems is to ensure that the target population is provided with all the daily food they need to meet their requirements. The optimum system should meet needs at the level and with nutritional balance that are defined by nutritionists, and must also satisfy them in terms of their cultural needs, at the lowest social cost.

The “structure of the system” consists of the agents or the elementary structures combined into sub-systems; the relations between them and between each one of them and the whole system is then studied. For each case, one identifies their activities and their function. If one is capable of doing so, it is necessary to classify the elements and the relations in the following manner:

One can then bring out four sub-systems:

The inter-branch, inter-sectoral and inter-unit “flows” relate to all the transfers which are established between all the sub-sets thus defined. These transfers may be of different kinds: transfers of commodities, securities, capital, intermediate consumption items, energy, information, etc.

The “regulation system” refers to the adjustment mechanisms which make the food system able to function, and in the best possible case, enabling it to reach its objectives. In order to understand the regulatory system it is necessary firstly to identify the command centres: these are the essential constraints which cannot be avoided. The approach consists of identifying these centres (they may differ depending upon the commodity), describe the mechanisms for transmitting the orders for each, and analysing the consequences on the whole system. It is then necessary to identify the cores of social, technical or economic constraints which appear at specific points in the food chain. Lastly, it is necessary to dwell on the regulation points and the feedback loops accompanying them. These are elements or mechanisms which make it possible for the system to operate and adapt. Government intervention is manifested in terms of regulations that define a system of constraints (organizing markets, prices, structures, regulatory or financial aspects, etc.) within which the system is regulated in order to survive or to produce surpluses.

The performance of a system may be evaluated by traditional market economy criteria (sectoral productivity, cost/benefits, etc.) or measured in terms of their ability to guarantee food security to the largest number of people in the population. The battery of relevant indicators which make it possible to carry out this evaluation on the basis of food security still needs to be created.

6.4 - The need for food security surveillance and FSDS evaluation systems

Putting in place an urban food security strategy forming part of a process for developing FSDS requires continual diagnostics. It must form part of a programme of political measures and investment. For what is the point of measures unless their impact can be evaluated and the development of the FSDS environment and their component parts can be monitored? How can one be sure that the policy being implemented is always the optimum one? It is true that these procedures are costly and that present and future budgetary restrictions thwart any hope of putting into place these indispensable tools. But is this not an opportunity for the developed countries to do something useful in their programmes for aiding African countries?

There are already a certain number of information systems that can be partially used, if they were made consistent with one another (international information systems, market information systems, information provided by NGOs, early warning systems, nutrition surveillance systems). The basic problem is that none of these systems has been designed in order to provide an understanding of food security within the urban environment. Most of the existing information systems are geared to observing agriculture and the nutritional problems found in the rural environment. The urban environment is still very rarely the subject of consumer behavioural studies, and the factors that explain their food security. Very often analyses of food flows stop at the town gates. The spatial distribution of commodities in the towns, the breakdowns in supplies, the conditions of access to foodstuffs and the quality of these commodities should be more systematically analysed.

Parallel to the urban food security food surveillance system, it is indispensable to put into place a system for evaluating the policies being implemented to improve the FSDS.

Let it not be forgotten that this system is supposed to measure the economic efficiency of policies, their impact on the levels of equity within the population, their repercussions on the effectiveness of agriculture and their impact on the food security of urban households.

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