Every year, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) presents a report on what happened in the previous 12 months in the global food policy arena. Of course, it is nearly impossible to shed light on every development, but the full report, spanning more than 120 pages, does a great job at attempting it! You can download it for free here if you are interested.
If, however, you don’t have the luxury of a free weekend or two at your disposal to catch up on everything that happened in 2013, the first chapter of the report (available here) gives a pretty comprehensive global overview, focusing both on regional policy issues as well as the overarching theme of nutrition security making a come-back on the political world stage. And if you just want the quick and dirty facts, look no further – I read through the chapter for explicitly that purpose and am here to give you a quick and dirty summary!
- First off, IFPRI notes that in contrast to previous years, food prices were relatively stable in 2013, with the average annual food price index at its lowest in a 3-year period. However, this is no reason for complacency, as i) the underlying preconditions for the previous price spikes (strong demand for biofuels, extreme weather events, and panicky trade behaviors) are still present; and ii) such global data can hide regional differences, such as the high prices for fruits and vegetables in China and India.
- As we are reaching the end of the completion period of the Millennium Development Goals, a big focus is on the post-2015 agenda of the United Nations. These should take into consideration the shortcomings of the MDGs as such, including the fact that “progress has stalled or is lacking with regard to addressing hunger; child mortality; and access to primary education, reproductive healthcare, and sanitation“, and that “an important criticism has been their lack of mechanisms for tracking inputs and ensuring accountability, as well as the lack of a theory of change linking drivers with outcomes“. IFPRI points to the new Sustainable Development Goals, which try to incorporate environmental concerns into the development framework, and as a part of them sustainable agricultural intensification, as a way forward.
- One example of a recent flurry of high-level meetings addressing this topic was the High Level Consultation on Hunger, Food Security, and Nutrition, which “presented food and nutrition security as a basic human right that can be achieved within a generation. Participants emphasized the need for development efforts that focus on sustainable and resilient food production and consumption patterns, reduced postharvest losses and food waste, and improved agricultural productivity among smallholders, especially women farmers.“
- 2013 also marked the year that politicians are taking undernutrition serious as a major development goal. In June, the high-level Nutrition for Growth summit brought together representatives from developed and developing countries, the private sector, civil society, and scientific organizations in the lead up to the Group of Eight (G8) Summit in Northern Ireland. As a result, the “Global Nutrition for Growth Compact made new commitments of US$4.15 billion to tackle global undernutrition and promote nutrition- sensitive investments between now and 2020.“
- The Bali trade talks at WTO level almost came to an impasse when India insisted that its food security policies of buying and stockpiling crops from farmers to distribute at discounted prices to the food insecure was not, indeed, trade-distorting and should be allowed in a free trade framework. In the end, WTO members agreed to give developing countries a temporary exemption on total subsidy limits, effectively allowing them to pursue schemes such as India’s until the question will be solved in future negotiations.
National and Regional Developments
- India signed its Food Security Act into law, which IFPRI called a potential “game changer for national food security if the resulting large-scale program is effectively designed, targeted, and implemented“. However, a slew of questions remain, including: “How can India sustainably develop the program to guarantee access to cheap nutritious food to the poor without overwhelming its already strained national funding and food-procurement channels? How will it overcome the diversion and mistargeting that afflicted India’s earlier subsi- dized food programs? How will this ambitious food scheme affect—and potentially distort—national grain markets and, during times of drought or flood, international grain markets? What effect will it have on maternal and child nutrition and the livelihood opportunities of smallholder farmers in India? “
- China faces challenges related to reoccurring food safety scares, which caused it to centralize the related regulatory system by giving the General Food and Drug Administration the authority to set standards and monitor production, distribution, and consumption. Furthermore, the third plenary meeting of the Central Committee decided to set policies designed to increase consumption and to integrate urban and rural areas. According to IFPRI, “this urbanization-focused strategy and its associated investments could lead to higher agricultural productivity through land consolidation, but they could also have an impact on national and global food demand and supply, both by raising demand for high-value foods and by threatening food supplies through population and environmental pressures on natural resources. “
- In Africa, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme and the Maputo Declaration had its 10-year anniversary. Though the programme had success in guiding national and regional actions, there are still significant gaps in the implementation of the target (which was to raise annual agricultural growth by at least 6 percent and to commit at least 10 percent of national budgets to agricultural development). Some countries, such as Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, had great success in increasing the public spending on agricultural R&D; others, specifically smaller and donor-dependent countries, continued to lag behind.
- Russia and Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan placed a strong emphasis on food security in 2013 according to IFPRI, though – as I discovered while writing my Bachelor’s thesis – in Russia, the term ‘food security’ is often conflated with ‘food independence’ from abroad. Thus, their main strategy is to expand agriculture’s share of the economy, including through massive subsidization of agriculture. I particularly liked the matter-of-fact analysis of this strategy: “Although heavy subsidies for agriculture are generally not a sustainable or efficient way to bring about long- term agricultural growth, fiscal constraints are less serious in resource-rich Kazakhstan and Russia than they might be in other countries.” Basically, ‘honeybadger don’t care’ policy-making.
- Latin America and the Caribbean are quickly establishing their role as a major player in the worldwide provision of food. These stats are astounding: “This region remains the world’s main net exporter of agricultural products and is responsible for a large share of global exports of sugar, oilseed meal cakes, coffee, corn, poultry, and bovine meat. Because LAC supplies 18–20 percent of calories imported by Africa and Asia, production changes in the region can have implications for global food availability and prices. In 2012–2013, Brazil sur- passed the United States to become the world’s largest exporter of soybeans, which are mostly genetically engineered and produced for export (in particular to China and Europe), with Argen- tina a distant third and Paraguay taking fourth place. During the same period, poor weather in the United States pushed Brazil and Argentina to become the two largest exporters of coarse grains. Brazil continues to be the second largest beef and veal producer (after the United States). “
This is what IFPRI has to say about the direction things should be progressing in 2014:
The post-2015 development agenda should not pursue the achievement of environmental sustainability goals at the expense of food and nutrition security and the well-being of poor and hungry people. To the contrary, discussions in the coming year should focus on developing sustainable people-focused goals with clear targets and timelines for ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025. There is still much ground to cover before we reach a coherent and holistic post-2015 framework that adequately incorporates the goal of eliminating hunger and undernutrition.
Traditional investments in increasing food production are important but not enough. Efforts should focus on a comprehensive, long-term approach that promotes increased agricultural productivity for all farmers, effectively links viable smallholder farmers’ production to markets (and includes steps to reduce food waste), and ensures that their products are safe and nutritious.
Overall, it is really interesting to read such a review to see what you missed (which is what I focused on here mainly), but also what you focused on (particularly EU–CAP and US Farm Bill reforms, GMO debates, and the like.) I guess my focus on this blog is particularly EU and North American policies, but I’d like to set the goal to be a little more inclusive this year and look beyond the horizon, which might also mean that I should diversify my news sources – any suggestions on good regional (non-EU/US) overviews of policy developments for your area?