Today the House of Commons’ International Development Committee released a report titled “Global Food Security”. You can read it here: Global Food Security
The International Development Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Office of the Secretary of State for International Development.
Their report outlines long-term factors affecting demand for and supply of food. It then considers how these factors, together with more short-term policy decisions such as export bans, have contributed to recent food price “shocks” or “spikes”, and how to reduce the magnitude of these shocks. They then consider how best to protect the most vulnerable when shocks occur.
The report is timely as the G8 presidency is currently held by the UK and they are focused on food security and nutrition. They are hosting the G8 summit on June 17-18 where food security is sure to be on the agenda and they will also be co-hosting an event with Brazil on June 8th called “Nutrition for Growth: Beating hunger through nutrition and science”.
I have tried to provide a short overview of the report including some key recommendations and to some points that I found interesting.
The report uses the price spikes in 2008 and 2011 to illustrate the severity of the food problem and to then frame the problem as an issue of supply and demand. Their starting point is that demand is increasing. They go on to list a few key factors for increased demand and provide quite sound recommendations.
1) Biofuels: UK law requires 5% of total road transport fuel to be derived from biofuels, as well as EU targets requiring 10% of transport energy to be drawn from renewable sources by 2020.
- The Committee recommended that the Government revise the 5% target to exclude agriculturally produced biofuels, and that it push for reform of the EU target
2) Growing demand for meat, resulting in increased demand for grain to feed livestock
- The Committee recommends a focus on sustainable systems such as pasture-fed cattle rather than on grain-fed livestock.
3) Food waste: as much as 30% of food is wasted by consumers and the food industry
- The Committee recommends that the Government set targets for food waste reduction for producers and retailers and introduce sanctions for failure to meet the targets.
4) Rising global population
- The Committee made reference to the need for contraception and highlighted DFID’s efforts to address women’s reproductive rights
The recommendations are good ones and address key challenges facing the food system. However, they also set up the problem as one of supply versus demand and consequently create a productionist frame within which to develop solutions.
It is thus not surprising that very quickly the report shifts to a discussion on the need to increase supply, calling on increasing funding for agriculture while noting the key role smallholders have to play. Importantly, they encourage DFID to support agricultural extension services but do not specify the type of extension services that could benefit smallholders. There is recognition of the need to support cooperative and other farmer organizations.
For those following the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and the UN Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, the report does acknowledge that land that was farmed by smallholders is being purchased by large corporations and that this is “allegedly” done “sometimes” without informed consent. They recommend the implementations of the Guidelines and for DFID to support land registers.
The reports notes the need for infrastructure, as well as improved efforts to tackle climate change. There is support for the Agricultural Market Information System launched in 2011 on the G20’s initiative.
Also following up from a key theme at last year’s CFS, the report encourages DFID to reflect on why it does not support social protection in 14 of the 20 countries in which it has bilateral programmes. DFID was also encouraged to address undernutrition by launching additional bilateral nutrition programmes. Interestingly, no mention is made to the Scaling Up Nutrition initiative.
Other points worth mentioning
Point 4 notes the decline in yield growth rates of rice, wheat, maize and soy beans but then does not, at least in that paragraph make the link to the need to diversify away from these main crops for nutritional and ecological reasons, as well as to promote existing smallholder production.
Overall, it seems that the Committee lost a rather important opportunity. By focussing on the symptoms of a broken food system (that is, extreme food price volatility), they failed to focus on the admittedly more challenging and political sensitive fundamental causes of the problem. Perhaps this is not surprising given that the G8, under the UK Presidency, is gearing up to “unleash the power of the private sector” and “beat hunger with nutrition and science”.
Let’s be frank: Right now, more science and nutrition is not needed. Instead, as the Committee rightly states, policies that support small-holders, focus on stable and appropriate markets, strengthened infrastructure and extension services, increased social protection, gender sensitive policies, and ecological principles and critical review of consumption patterns are needed. There is a general consensus now on why we are facing increased food price volatility. We need strong political will and political leadership and a new vision of food policy that is grounded in ecological principles and a commitment to achieving the human right to adequate food.