FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices

ISFP and the UN High-level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis

FAO takes the early initiative

FAO launched its Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP) in December 2007 to respond to the urgent needs of the most vulnerable people confronted with skyrocketing prices and difficult choices. The ISFP was meant to sound the alarm to the world's decision-makers that a crisis was at hand. FAO had issued warnings as early as July the same year.

The ISFP quickly joined forces with the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, to create a robust strategy for African countries to respond to the crisis of soaring food prices.

The World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Programme all committed to a coordinated response. And in March 2008, the first interagency assessment mission was undertaken in Burkina Faso, the first of more than two dozen assessment missions in the months since.

The same approach has been replicated in the Latin America, Caribbean and Asia region, involving their respective regional institutions and stakeholders in the ISFP. 

The UN High-Level Task Force and the Comprehensive Framework for Action 

In April 2008, the Chief Executives Board of the United Nations established the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis. The HLTF is led by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon and FAO's Director-General, Jacques Diouf, is its Vice-Chair. 

The High-Level Task Force proposes a unified response to the food price crisis and a global strategy and action plan, the so-called Comprehensive Framework for Action, or CFA.

The CFA serves as a guideline for synergized, effective action at country level among all partners. This action is to be led by national governments, gauging for themselves what are the main priorities and possibilities within their national and regional contexts. 

The CFA is rooted in a two-track approach, aimed at both easing the immediate plight of vulnerable consumers and producers of food, and building longer-term resilience to similar price shocks in the future. To the best extent possible, this is to be done by leveraging the undertapped networks and regional systems that are already in place. 

To help those people faced with hunger now, the CFA recommends four priority goals: 

  • emergency food assistance, nutrition interventions and safety nets to be enhanced and made more accessible.
  • smallholder farmer food production to be boosted, not only by increasing access to costly agricultural inputs, such as seed, fertilizer and animal feed, but also by rapid improvement of  agricultural infrastructure, such as irrigation schemes, transport to market and post-harvest storage and processing.
  • trade and tax policies to be adjusted as appropriate.
  • macro-economic implications to be managed.

To build longer-term resilience, the CFA recommends these simultaneous objectives be achieved: 

  • social protection systems to be expanded , while making them more effective and efficient.
  • smallholder farmer-led food availability growth to be sustained.
  • international food markets to be improved.
  • international biofuel  consensus to be developed. 

FAO has a leading role in both the short and longer term CFA goals related to increasing smallholder farmers' food production in a sustainable way, and is contributing to the deliberations on policy adjustment and biofuels.

FAO also plays a key role in one of the CFA objectives that ties into all the short- and long- term aims: the strengthening of global information and monitoring systems. This applies especially to local prices and markets, and how these inter-link with larger international systems.

The CFA's overarching goal is to ensure that the UN Millennium Development Goal number 1 of eradicating humanity's plight of hunger and poverty will still be achieved despite the threat of soaring food prices.

The UN HLTF is composed of the heads of the relevant UN specialized agencies, funds and programmes, the heads of the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – and relevant parts of the UN Secretariat. International experts, non-governmental organizations and the Red Cross/Red Crescent have also been widely consulted in laying out the global coordinated strategy to confront high prices.
The food and agricultural expertise of the Rome-based UN agencies, the World Food Programme, International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Food and Agriculture Organization, forms the core foundation of the UN response to the food price crisis. This applies for both the current emergency phase and the longer-term interventions necessary to reverse three decades of under-investment in agriculture.