Committee on World Food Security shows progress in spite of short-sighted approach by a number of governments

“The unwillingness of key G20 countries to tackle big drivers of food price volatility such as biofuels undermines this week’s efforts.”
Thierry Kesteloot
Oxfam Policy Advisor
Published: 22 October 2011

The UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) today concluding their week-long annual meeting in Rome showed that it is up to its role as the central body of the global governance on food security, agriculture and nutrition. However a number of governments, notably G20 food exporters’ countries, showed that they are not yet ready to address the structural causes of the broken food system and recognize the inconvenient truths that expose their flawed policies.

The increased importance of the CFS is proved by strong participation of members and major progress on delivering robust guidelines on land tenure. Civil society organizations made the difference at the CFS by reminding governments of their responsibilities. The High Level Panel of Expert (HLPE), the independent scientific body of the CFS, demonstrated that it is a key element by putting forward specific evidence-based proposals. There is broad agreement on what needs to be done to ensure that everyone has enough to eat today and in the future.

“In spite of the vigorous and constructive debate, a number of governments played wise monkeys and kept a ‘hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing’ approach. They stubbornly refused to take up the recommendations made by experts and civil society and go beyond their short term interests. Some powerful governments did not approach the talks with the aim of bringing almost one billion people out of hunger but as if it was a zero-sum game trade negotiation”, said Luca Chinotti, Oxfam Policy Advisor.

After its reform, for the first time the CFS focused exclusively on its role to improve policy coherence and coordination by addressing four crucial issues: food price volatility, land grabbing, gender and investment in smallholders.

The CFS is due to finalize the Guidelines on Land Tenure, the first international instrument on land which can become a powerful tool to help stop land grabbing as soon as possible. “The CFS should urgently agree on a date in the next weeks to finalize the guidelines on land. People hit by land grabbing cannot wait”, said Chinotti.

Countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe also recognized that giving women support and equal rights to land is central to achieving global food security. “We now hope to see governments walk the talk, by taking affirmative action to advance women’s right to food and level the playing field for women smallholder farmers”, said Lauren Ravon, Oxfam Gender Policy Advisor. Investing in women food producers could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, feeding up to 150 million additional people.

All governments acknowledged that smallholders are crucial in tackling hunger, need support and must have their say in all the decisions about food and agriculture. “We still don’t know how this will be turned into reality. Over the years we have heard many unfulfilled promises. Now is the time to provide a clear road map to assist the most vulnerable people in the world”, said Ziaul Hoque Mukta, Oxfam Policy Advisor.

Governments also recognized the importance of curbing excessive speculation to reduce food price volatility, but they failed to scrap biofuels mandates, subsidies and tariffs. “The CFS ensured that food price volatility was on the agenda. However, the unwillingness of key G20 countries to tackle big drivers of food price volatility such as biofuels undermines this week’s efforts. Some governments seem to place their blind short-term economic interests above the right to food for all. It’s frustrating to see that governments know very well that something must be done on biofuels and reserves, but chose to stick to delaying tactics”, said Thierry Kesteloot, Oxfam Policy Advisor.

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