Countries from both the rich and the developing worlds must stop their recriminations and scepticism from derailing vital UN talks, beginning today, to find ways of helping feed the world's 925 million hungry people.
The talks between the 192-country members of the Committee for World Food Security (CFS) end Saturday (16th). International agency Oxfam says that countries including the UK, US, Canada, India, Ethiopia and Egypt must work together and give the CFS the political power it needs to do the job.
The CFS will discuss four key issues including designing a "strategic framework" to link the food-related policies of all countries, resolving land-grabbing and food price volatility, and evaluating agricultural aid and investment flows.
"The Committee for World Food Security could become the world's foremost political forum to achieve global food security but only if countries work together to change the status quo and support it. If they meet just to squabble and blame one another, the CFS will fail - at great human cost," said Oxfam spokesperson Chris Leather.
Oxfam says that some rich countries such as the UK, US, Netherlands and Canada are not engaging enough with the CFS. "If they fear that it is too cumbersome to reach decisions then the answer is to get involved and make it work," Leather said.
On the other hand, the European Union and countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Brazil and many from Latin America and the Caribbean are champions of the CFS. "They seem genuinely keen to change the dominant policies of the last 30 years. They want more ambitious agreements to tackle hunger through a genuine multilateral approach," Leather said.
Some countries such as Indonesia, Niger, India, Cambodia and China have not been very active at the CFS because they lack either resources or political commitment. However, Leather said it was encouraging that Bangladesh, Mozambique, Angola and Malawi were sending ministers to the CFS. "African and Asian countries are a powerful bloc that could push the CFS to realize its full potential. We need their strong and constructive participation."
Each of the main four issues that the CFS will discuss is contentious because some countries are bringing often competing points-of-view to the negotiating table:
- Global Strategic Framework: The CFS will start talks about exactly how governments and institutions should work together to support national plans of action, coordinate aid and investments, and to ensure that domestic policies do not undermine food security in other countries. It wants this plan finished by October 2012.
"Brazil and France are pushing for an ambitious framework but others including the US are worried that thorny issues such as those around different models of agricultural production could eat up too much time and energy. African and Asian country engagement could be vital here," Leather said.
- Land tenure and agriculture investment: The CFS meeting will be the first chance for the international community to respond to the rise in land-grabbing. Last year around 45m hectares of land - about the size of the entire country of Sweden - was sold to private investors, often at huge cost to particularly poor farmers; this represents a ten-fold increase from previous years.
"Land-grabbing is highly contentious and we're worried that very few countries seem to be willing to support tough measures at the CFS such as binding regulations," Leather said. "The risk is that this phenomenon of land-grabbing will continue unchecked because governments fail to take responsibility."
- Food price volatility: The CFS will discuss food price volatility but is unlikely to make any policy decisions. Instead, a high-level panel of experts will be asked to explore and report back. Price volatility is one of the most important causes-and-effects of recent global food crises.
"Countries have different views depending whether they are net food-importers or exporters for instance. Oxfam believes the CFS needs to consider issues such as speculation, food reserves and adaptation to climate change. Governments must develop coherent policies to stop price volatility from damaging poor farmers," Leather said.
- Mapping resources: The CFS will discuss the development of a tool to map the flow of agriculture and food investments in developing countries, and how they are spent against the country's food security strategy.
"Brazil, the US, and the EU support the mapping initiative. However, some developing countries may see it as a ploy to shift responsibility for food security away from donors and onto developing country governments instead. Oxfam believes that CFS has a key role to play in mapping domestic policies, plans and investments in poor countries and ensuring that international assistance, supports rather than undermines them," Leather said.
Notes to editors
Oxfam spokespersons will be available in Rome for interviews in Italian, Spanish, English, German, Dutch and French.
Oxfam launched in September the report "Halving World Hunger: Still Possible?" showing that halving world hunger by 2015 is still possible.
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