What is OK for the G20 is not OK for the CFS….

I am sitting in the Policy Roundtable on Food Security and Climate Change at the 39th Session of the Committee on World Food Security. It’s a bit of a slog, I’ll be honest.
The main issue raised in this post is that while it is OK for the G20 to go well beyond the scope of its authority and legitimacy, by tasking and issuing policy mandates to other bodies, it is apparently not ok for the CFS, with a mandate of policy cohesion,  to do the same.

The discussion is informed by the Committee’s independent High Level Panel of Expert’s report on the same theme. The experts have presented a set of recommendations for the the Committee which can be read in detail in the study.
Many of the delegations that have taken the floor in this Roundtable are expressing concern over some of the recommendations, especially ones that involve the CFS in relation to other multilateral spaces.
Countries are particularly concerned with recommendations:

  • 6b which encourages “more explicit recognition of foods security in UNFCCC activities”
  • 6c  which recommends that “the CFS support inclusion of negotiating outcomes in the related to  that recognise” the role of trade flows to partially compensate for climate-related shocks in agriculture.

I will remind people that the vision of the reformed CFS is to be the most inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together in a coordinated way to ensure food security and nutrition for all.
It is a coordination and policy cohesion body for a cross-cutting issue: FOOD SECURITY. It is thus important that the CFS be able interact with other multilateral spaces (like the UNFCCC and WTO) that address issues that impact food security. This in itself should be rationale enough to accept the panel’s recommendations (or at least consider them).
But, the major problem I see is one of hypocrisy.
Consider this: in June 2011, the G20 held its first meeting of agriculture ministers. The meeting was informed by background papers on responsible agricultural investment, nutrition and humanitarian supplies. Interagency reports forced to grapple with the challenges of institutional constraints and inter-agency compromise provided everything from ambitious plans to a lack of ambition, depending on the topic, and all failed to secure G20 approval (Wise and Murphy 2012:24). The most controversial issues of commodity markets were deferred from the meeting of agriculture ministers to the meeting of finance ministers to be held in November of that year.
The recommendations from the Ministers of Agriculture were disappointing, although they did reference the reformed CFS as the institution to coordinate policy on food security at the global level. The included a proposal for AMIS, support for CGIAR to research seed improvement and the need for promotion of market-based risk management tools for vulnerable populations, and a pilot project to establish an emergency regional humanitarian food reserve under the guidance of the WFP.
What is interesting in terms of the emerging architecture of global governance, and the ongoing struggle for leadership, is that the G20 has effectively “declared itself the de facto coordinator of international development finance” (Wise and Murphy 2012:25). Going well beyond the scope of its authority and legitimacy, the G20 has started to task and issue policy mandates to other bodies. Arguably stepping away from commitments to coherence, the actors being issued these tasks are often not those who hold the international legitimacy or capacity to undertake the prescribed work. For example, in advance of the Mexico Summit in June 2012, the G20 has tasked the multilateral development banks with the preparation of a joint-action plan on food and water, and not the FAO or the CFS.
Of importance here is that as an extension of the G8, the G20 has no formal institutional structure and lacks the transparency and accountability of the G8, and other international institutions which have been implementing important democratic reforms. The bulk of the G20’s work is undertaken without transparency and the G20’s assertion of leadership in the area of development finance, including their response to the food security crisis, effectively “undermines accountability in the international system, and weakens the efforts of the international organizations and inter-agency processes that should be solving the problem” (Wise and Murphy 2012:25). At the same time, the majority of donor support for agriculture and food security comes from G20 countries, although despite their claims of support for the GAFSP, the bulk of funds are dispensed through bilateral overseas development assistance, heavily influenced by private sector interests (Wise and Murphy 2012:25). The power derived from this suggest that the G20 will emerge as a key actor in the reshaping of the global architecture of global food security governance, providing challenges for the development of new, progressive food security policy while advancing a symbiotic relationship of mutual reinforcement with the World Bank.

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  • Magdalena
    Posted at 18:33h, 15 October Reply

    I think we have already witnessed attempts to assure that the CFS voice on the issue of food price volatility is closely aligned with anything that the G20 can say. I am still impressed with your analysis during the first day of the CFS. Yet is it about policy coherence or is it about the invert relationship between participatory governance structure and power of influence?

    • Renato
      Posted at 02:18h, 16 October Reply

      Impressive indeed. Actually the two topics mentioned (trade and climate change) would probably be considered off in any forum, including the G20, because of their locked state in their respective negotiation arenas. But your point is nonetheless quite right: there’s a lot that was considered Ok for the G20 to do that, hypocritically, is considered off limits for the CFS by some. This is part of the broader fight for the shaping of global governance, and not only food security global governance. Will the future be led by multilateral institutions or by groups such as the G20? Is full multilateralism failing?

  • Magdalena
    Posted at 20:10h, 16 October Reply

    Well,I have just walked off from the first day at Brussels Development Days where I was giving a presentation on the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Land Tenure, Fishries and Forest. My entry point was the need to bridge the gap between environmenatl and human rights lawy and how the VGs are the first soft law instrument to just do that. The questions raised in the debate reminded me of how little people who are engaged in food security work actually know about the CFS and the main question was “who has the ownership of the Voluntary Guidelines, which institution?”…The G8 has referred to the Voluntary Guidelines but as long as issues within the UNFCCC are off the limits, where is policy coherence? The questions we all should debate over a good glass of wine in Rome now. Thank you for keeping this post.

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