Resolving the Food Crisis
Assessing Global Policy Reforms Since 2007
The recent spikes in global food prices in 2007–08 served as a wake-up call to the global community on the inadequacies of our global food system. Commodity prices doubled, the estimated number of hungry people topped one billion and food riots spread through the developing world. A second price spike in 2010–11, which is expected to drive the global food import bill for 2011 to an astonishing $1.3 trillion, only deepened the sense that the policies and principles guiding agricultural development and food security were deeply flawed. There is now widespread agreement that international agricultural prices will remain significantly higher than pre-crisis levels for at least the next decade, with many warning that demand will outstrip supply by 2050 unless concerted action is taken to address the underlying problems with our food system.
The crisis certainly awakened the global community. Since 2007, governments and international agencies have made food security a priority issue, and with a decidedly different tone. They stress the importance of agricultural development and food production in developing countries, the key role of small-scale farmers and women, the challenge of limited resources in a climate-constrained world, the important role of the state in "country-led" agricultural development programs, the critical role of public investment. For many, these priorities represent a sea change from policies that sought to free markets from government policies seen as hampering efficient resource allocation. Now that those policies and markets have failed to deliver food security, the debates over how countries and international institutions should manage our food system are more open than they have been in decades.
The purpose of this report is to look beyond the proclamations and communiqués to assess what has really changed since the crisis erupted. While not exhaustive, the report looks at: Overseas Development Assistance, both in terms of how much and what is funded; Multilateral Development Banks' policies and programs; selected U.N. agencies and initiatives, notably the Committee on Food Security (CFS); the G-20 group of economically powerful governments; and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, who has injected a resonant "right to food" approach to the issue.
We seek to identify substantive changes from prevailing practices. In particular, we look for changes that challenge the following trends:
- low levels of investment in developing-country agriculture in general and small-scale agriculture in particular;
- reduced support for publicly funded research and development and increased reliance on private research and extension;
- a reliance on international trade to meet domestic food needs in poor countries that can ill afford the import dependence and declining local production;
- a bias toward cash crops for export over food production for domestic markets;
- increasing land use for non-food agricultural crops such as biofuels for industrial uses;
- support for high-input agricultural methods over more environmentally sustainable low-input systems;
- inadequate attention to the linkages between climate change and food security;
- deregulation of commodity markets and increasing financial speculation in agricultural commodities, including staple food crops as well as land.