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20.04.2011 - 14.05.2011

Global Governance for Food Security: are the current arrangements fit for the Job?

The Home Page of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development has an entry that reads as follows:

Urgent reform of global governance. The existing global governance available for agriculture and food systems is in disarray and unable to effectively respond to the changed context and new challenges. http://www.donorplatform.org/activities/food-security (click challenges).

This is a very blunt statement, but one that invites discussion.
One of the consequences of the 2007/08 food price crisis was the emergence of a number of new institutions and initiatives that were intended to strengthen global capacities to respond to such situations. The implication was that the existing international institutions (FAO, WFP, IFAD and many others) lacked the power, capacities and resources to respond to such crises.

These new institutions and initiatives include:

In addition, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has been reformed and is now constituted as "the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform to work towards the elimination of hunger" http://www.fao.org/cfs/cfs-home/en/

The CFS, along with its High Level Panel of Experts, has also been described as "a central component of the evolving GPAFS" providing the political and scientific arms of the Partnership, while the GAFSP provides its financial arm. The reformed Committee has begun work on several important topics including food price volatility and voluntary guidelines on land tenure. It is also in the process of preparing a Global Strategic Framework which will "visualize its future responsibilities and actions". This Framework is planned for completion in 2012.
A fuller description of these entities is provided in the Updated Comprehensive Framework for Agriculture (UCFA), prepared by the HLTF in September 2010.

Last year in issue No.5/2010 of Rural 21, we jointly wrote an article, entitled "Towards global governance of food security". We briefly reviewed the global institutional scene, and suggested three simple criteria against which its effectiveness could be assessed:

"Can they:

  1. Prevent future food crises and cushion their impact on food consumption of the poor?
  2. Assure that all countries deliver on their repeated commitments to halve hunger by 2015?
  3. Offer dynamic leadership towards the lasting eradication of hunger, respecting the human right to adequate food?"

Our own assessment was that both singly and collectively, the new structures risk performing below expectations on all three counts. An important reason is that none has been endowed with the authority to act effectively on any of the above issues in spite of their undeniable importance to humanity.
This may seem a harsh assessment of the current global governance system. It may also be seen as premature as the new and reformed institutions need more time to become effective. Nevertheless, we felt it might be useful and timely to kick off a discussion amongst FSN members about the kind of global institutions needed if we are to be able to respond positively to these 3 questions.
Our interest is not academic but very practical given that people's lives are at stake.
We posed our first question because we believe that there is quite a high probability that a much more serious food crisis than the present one will occur, and that the world should be properly prepared to confront it, ensuring that we do not have a situation of mass famine in poor countries and continued over-consumption of food in the rich countries.
Our second question has been prompted by the fact that, even when food prices have been falling and there has been ample food availability in the world, the number of chronically hungry people has remained vast.
On our third question we contend that, in the absence of a dynamic leadership and effective international mechanisms, global food security and the lives of millions of people are at serious risk. Against this background, we propose opening a 3-part dialogue over the coming weeks, with the following framework.

Week 1 What are the main services that need to be provided by an adequate global food goverance system?

Week 2 To what extent and how effectively are these now provided for by existing institutions? Are there overlaps? Where are the big gaps?

Week 3 What should a global governance system that is able to ensure an adequate and safe food supply for all humans at all times look like? What are the major issues that have to be addressed to put an adequate system in place? Through what processes could the necessary system emerge?

Please do not feel too constrained by the proposed framework, if you prefer to address issues in a different sequence. Please also give suggestions for additional links or other sources of relevant ideas. And please invite people who are not part of the FSN Forum group to join in.
Andrew will moderate the discussion and, at the end of each week, make a summary of the main points. He may also throw in some of his own ideas from time to time as contributions to the debate. Hartwig will summarise the main outcomes as a set of "Reflections" at the conclusion of the discussion. We hope that these will serve as a useful informal contribution to the strategic thinking exercise in which the CFS will become increasingly engaged in the coming months.

Neither of us is now working for FAO – so please blame us rather than the organizers of this discussion for raising a subject that we know is very sensitive, but one that we feel warrants open debate!

We look forward to a frank and constructive exchange of views.

Andrew MacMillan and Hartwig de Haen

This discussion is now closed. Please contact fsn-moderator@fao.org for any further information.