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4. FAO Initiative for Regional Programmes for Food Security (RPFS)

4.1. Background

At the World Food Summit in Rome in November 1996, Heads of State and Government agreed that the problem of hunger and food insecurity might increase dramatically in some regions unless urgent, determined and concerted actions were taken. They also committed themselves to continuing efforts to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reduce the 1996 number of 800 million hungry people to half by 2010, if possible, and no later than 2015. The Summit recognized that follow-up would be required at national, inter-governmental, inter-agency and inter-regional level. The international community, the UN system, the regional cooperation organizations, as well as other agencies and bodies according to their mandates, all have been endeavouring to contribute to the implementation of the Plan of Action, which was adopted at the Summit.

FAO has developed its ideas in the context of the Regional Strategies for Food Security (RSFS) and the follow-up Regional Programs for Food Security (RPFS).Twelve Regional Economic Organizations (REOs) have prepared draft RPFS with FAO assistance.3 The Regional Strategies were based on the key policy recommendations of the "National Agricultural Development Strategies - Horizon 2010" prepared by individual countries, as a key follow-up recommendation of the WFS in 1996. These Strategies identify areas requiring investment and technical support for agricultural development and food security, including the national Special Program for Food Security (SPFS) in those countries where it is operative.

4.2. Components of the RPFS

The RPFS are designed to support or initiate national programmes for food security in order to improve agricultural productivity within the REOs on an economically and environmentally sustainable basis. They serve as an umbrella for a variety of information-collection and technical assistance activities, and they can be used as a model in designing regional programmes for the creation, for example, of a common market or a free trade area or to intensify agricultural and food policy cooperation.

A typical RPFS consists of three components:

  1. Trade facilitation
  2. Harmonization of national agricultural policies
  3. Support to national Special Programmes for Food Security (SPFS)

4.2.1. Trade Facilitation

This is an important component of the RPFS and could include capacity building, equipment, technical assistance and policy advice, as well as seminars and workshops. The trade facilitation component generally includes proposals to support modernizing food safety control systems and standards, standardizing phytosanitary and zoosanitary norms, promotion of intra-regional trade through identification of trade barriers, preparation of development programs for major export commodities, review of the impact of implementing the relevant WTO Agreements and assistance in participating in the current WTO negotiations.

Food Control Systems (standards)

Programmes and activities aimed at upgrading and modernizing food control in Developing countries will promote food trade within the region4. Strengthening the capacity of industry and national food control agencies will raise the safety and quality of locally produced food to internationally accepted levels. Improved national food control systems, covering food imports as well as locally produced food, will also provide increased consumer protection against food-borne hazards and fraudulent practices in food trade. Technical assistance projects to update food legislation and harmonize national food regulations in line with Codex Alimentarius and other international standards (in accordance with WTO SPS and TBT Agreements) will also facilitate international food trade.

Phytosanitary and Zoosanitary Control Systems (standards)

Harmonizing phytosanitary and zoosanitary standards will also facilitate trade within REO ember countries and between them and the rest of the world5. Strengthening phytosanitary controls and developing national and regional strategies for animal disease control will reduce barriers to trade while at the same time protecting those involved in plant production and animal husbandry. Programmes to modernize phytosanitary and animal health legislation and to harmonize national regulations according to the OIE, the IPPC and the WTO Agreements greatly assist in facilitating international trade.

Commodity Development Programmes

Programmes directed at commodity development would assist in identifying problems at the supply level that constrain export growth. This would require an in-depth analysis of constraints at each level of the product cycle from production through export. This supply-side study would be complemented by an analysis of the opportunities in import markets (regionally and globally), taking into account differing market access conditions. The overall result would be a development strategy for products that would take into account technical and investment needs.

4.2.2 Agricultural Policies

Agricultural policy assistance is envisaged both to strengthen each REO (specially its capacity to formulate a common agricultural policy for the region and to monitor and contribute to the investment strategy envisaged under the RPFS) as well as to support individual ministries, public institutions and those responsible in civil society for agricultural development

These activities of the RPFS focus on improvement of agricultural policies, in order to create an environment more conducive to the increase of agricultural production and revenues, and the preparation of investment plans to remove physical constraints and improve the infrastructure and feasibility studies of bankable projects to increase the added value of the rural sector.

Agricultural Policy Assistance

Agricultural policy assistance is aimed at strengthening the institutional capacity of ministries, other public institutions and other organizations and agencies responsible for agricultural development. In particular, policy assistance in the course of the formation of an African union could include assistance in the development of a common agricultural policy; in the appropriate implementation of national food security plans and activities; and in training for agricultural policy analysis.

Investment Projects

There will be a need for programmes to assist in the identification of appropriate agricultural and rural investment projects. This will first require a review of the rural and agricultural sectors with the view to identifying a prioritized investment programme of specific development projects and activities consistent with the concerned country's development policies and strategies. Thereafter, it will be necessary to prepare feasibility studies of bankable investment proposals and to prepare investment plans to remove physical constraints and improve the infrastructure of the agricultural sector. The FAO Investment Centre collaborates with external financing institutions interested in providing the required funds.

4.2.3 Support to National Special Programmes for Food Security (SPFS)

Launched in 1994, FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) is implemented at the national level and it aims at assisting Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) to improve their food security through rapid increases in productivity and food production, reducing year-to-year variability of production and improving access to food on an economically and environmentally sustainable basis. The application of a multi-disciplinary and participatory approach is intended to raise the net income of farmers, expand opportunities for rural employment, improve social equity and increase gender sensitivity.

The SPFS consists of two phases. Phase I is microeconomic, and is composed of four interrelated and complementary components: water control; intensification of sustainable plant production systems; diversification of production; and analysis of constraints to food security. Phase II includes the development of a food security and agricultural sector policy programme; the preparation of agricultural investment plans; and the development of feasibility studies of bankable projects. Every country that joins the SPFS commits itself to establishing a National Plan of Action to achieve national food security and a Plan of Operations to be implemented within the country. The Plan of Operations could naturally be enhanced to take account of market integration concerns.

4.3 RPFS in the Near East Region

Near East countries face major challenges in achieving the desired goals of sustainable agricultural development and food security in-spite of the serious and progressive national efforts. It is evident that trade barriers and lack of common programmes to eliminate the several institutional, political, economic and other constraints, are hindering the expansion of intra-regional trade among the countries of the region and even within the member countries of the existing REOs. Accordingly, there seem to be a need for Regional Programmes to supplement national programmes and to strengthen efforts in areas of common interest, and where collective planning and actions proves to be cost effective and economical.

In the Near East, preparations for the formulation of RPFS have been underway by two REOs, namely the Council of Arab Economic Unity (CAEU) and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO)6.

The Council of Arab Economic Unity (CAEU):

The main goal of CAEU is to enhance economic unity and integration among its members. Its mandate covers fiscal, monetary and trade policies in addition to topics like economic planning, statistical harmonization and trade legislation. The role of the CAEU is advocacy and coordination but not direct execution.

Ensuring national food security for a rapidly growing population is a common objective of member Governments of CAEU. In this regard the conservation of water and land resources remains the most important limiting factor for further expansion in food production in most CAEU countries. In addition to production constraints, marketing and trade issues constitute major constraints to agricultural development and food security. Within this context, the CAEU's mandate of promoting Arab economic integration fits squarely with the objectives of CAEU's member countries to enhance agricultural development, and national as well as regional food security, through the promotion of agricultural exports, particularly intra-regional trade in agricultural and food products.

CAEU has already developed and embarked on implementing a number of initiatives aimed at enhancing Arab economic integration. In addition to working closely with member governments, CAEU was able to develop critical relationships with a variety of Arab specialized independent industrial federations through which it implements its activities and its advocacy functions. Although coordination of agricultural policies among member countries is an integral part of CAEU's mandate, financial limitations have forced CAEU to focus on non-agricultural sectors. Nonetheless, CAEU continues to show interest in the agricultural sector primarily from the point of view of coordination of agricultural policies among member countries within the overall objective of Arab economic integration. This includes also the harmonization of quality standards and specifications which are crucial for enhancing agricultural exports to the European Union and other lucrative export markets.

In addition to coordination of agricultural policies among its member countries, CAEU could play a crucial role in policy coordination between the CAEU countries and other Arab economic groupings, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). It is quite conceivable that the recently established Arab Common Market (ACM, made up by seven out of ten CAEU member countries) could constitute a cornerstone for further Arab economic integration if it can establish closer coordination with the AMU and the GCC.

Although, as previously mentioned, seven CAEU member countries have recently launched the Arab Common Market; the official agreement in itself cannot guarantee a free and unfettered flow of goods and services between member countries. This requires, as a first step, harmonization of the national policies and eventually the formulation of a strategic framework for a common agricultural policy. At present CAEU has not been able to develop adequate mechanism for the co-ordination and harmonization of agricultural policies in general, and particularly those pertaining to the successful implementation of the Arab Common Market. Furthermore, there is no adequate in-house capacity to develop and operationalize such a mechanism. External financial and technical assistance is, therefore, indispensable.

The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO):

The main objectives of ECO are: sustainable economic development of Member States; progressive removal of trade barriers and promotion of intra-regional trade; greater role of ECO region in the growth of world trade; gradual integration of the economies of the Member States with the world economy; development of transport and communications infrastructure linking the Member States with each other and with the outside world; economic liberalization and privatization; mobilization and utilization of ECO region's material resources; effective utilization of the agricultural and industrial potentials of ECO region; regional cooperation for drug abuse control, ecological and environmental protection and strengthening of historical and cultural ties among the peoples of the ECO region; and mutually beneficial cooperation with regional and international organizations.

Food security has been a long-standing and major goal of the ECO countries since the beginning of world food crisis in the mid 1970s and the World Food Summit-1996. Since that time sustainable agricultural development and enhanced self-sufficiency constitute an ultimate national objective in the ECO States. However, the achievement of this is challenged by the need for an overall strategic framework for agricultural development; the problem of over-lapping and contradictions in the management of the agricultural sector; inadequate policies and programmes for achieving sustainable food security and poverty eradication; inefficient water resources management; pollution and environmental issues; dominance of cotton/grain production in the cropping pattern; livestock development; land distribution and property rights; market distortions; inadequate marketing facilities and rural finance; under-utilized agro-biodiversity; and insufficient assessment of the implications of the accession to WTO.

Many of the above mentioned obstacles could be undertaken within the framework of a "Regional Programme for Food Security in the member countries of the ECO". However, the formulation of an agricultural development programme for the ECO Countries should take into consideration the country's technological and socio-economic conditions and its surrounding environment. For example, the Central Asian Countries are currently pursuing macro-economic and sector reform measures. Most of these countries are pursuing long term strategic planning for economic and sector development. Harmonization of the strategic planning techniques, methodology, data base and indicators are important for future cooperation and possible economic integration among the countries of the sub-region.

FAO has prepared a Regional Program for Food Security (RPFS) for ECO countries. The Phase-I of RPFS composed of four components, namely; water control, intensification of sustainable plant production systems, diversification of production, and analysis of constraints to food security. Phase II, on the other hand, aims at replicating at larger scale new approaches implemented during Phase I with the inclusion of three components, namely a food security and agricultural sector policy program, an agricultural investment component of three years, and the preparation of feasibility studies of bankable projects7. While the micro-economic phase of the cooperation within the RPFS framework is modeled around south-to-south cooperation, the macro-economic phase of the RPFS (to be provided by Policy Assistance Division of the FAO Regional Office for the Near East) is tailored to improve agricultural policies conducive to the increase of agricultural production and the revenue in the region.

In the context of the RPFS, FAO has also proposed several programs for trade facilitation including standardization of food quality and safety standards by updating food legislation in the ECO countries and harmonizing national food regulations and standards in line with those of Codex Alimentarius. Similarly proposals are put forward for the drafting of new legislation or amending existing legislation for harmonized phytosanitary/regulatory action in consistent with WTO SPS agreement and the International Plant Protection Convention. There are also proposals for regional cooperation on animal disease control, promotion of intra-regional trade in agriculture, commodity development programs, provision of transitory measures in response to the on-going trade liberalization.


4 FAO's Food and Nutrition Division and the Legal Office carry out technical assistance projects in this connection.

5 FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division and the Animal Production and Health Division collaborate with the Legal Office in assisting governments with the revision of legislation and the development of internationally harmonized plant protection and animal health standards.

6 Preparations have been recently initiated for the possible formulation of an RPFS for the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU).

7 Though the RPFS is designed for the ECO region, to be executed by FAO, there is, however, little role in the proposal to be played by the ECO Secretariat, possibly due to limited capacity of the Secretariat.

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