Lackluster food summit offers crumbs

Published: 18th November 2009

Oxfam ranks leaders’ performance a paltry 2 out of ten; much more work needed

International agency Oxfam gave the 2009 UN World Food Summit a 20% overall rating as delegates left Rome today without tackling many of the biggest challenges of food security and agriculture.
The one kernel of optimism was that all countries had at least sanctioned a process to reform global food governance.
“A single meeting can't solve world hunger but we certainly expected far more than this,” said Oxfam spokesperson Gawain Kripke. “The result is not commensurate with the problem which is historically huge – a billion people now facing hunger and looming climate change. The near total absence of rich country leaders sent a poor message from the beginning. The summit offered few solid accomplishments.”
Oxfam has ranked the Summit against five key criteria and found that not one was fully achieved, and all being vague or conditional or lacking in ambition. However, Oxfam says that sanctioning the reform of the UN’s Committee for World Food Security (CFS) could be an important victory over the course of time, even if much more needs to be done.

1. Reform of food governance

One of the most important issues was to bring all the fragmented international efforts to fight global hunger under the single UN roof. This was a heavily qualified success. The Summit said that the CFS should be reformed to play a greater coordination role but stopped short of giving it any way to hold countries to account or to track all the money. Until that happens, Oxfam says the CFS would remain relatively weak. “A reformed CFS is the place where all governments, NGOs and institutions can be heard, so giving it power is worth fighting for,” Kripke said. “Creating a platform for coordination, accountability and transparency would be a big win for better global food governance – but there is a lot to work to do for that to happen.”

(with possibly more to come)

2. Specific and properly budgeted plans to halve hunger

Countries needed to make specific and properly budgeted plans to halve hunger by 2015. But they stopped a long way short of insisting on this at the Summit, making instead only a vague statement to “take action … at the earliest possible date”. This is the kind of language that substitutes for real action. On the positive side, the Summit specified that money must be channelled through country-owned plans and recognized the need for better coordination. The declaration also set out the goal for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food and it committed countries to work “for a world free from hunger”. In Oxfam’s experience, this kind of woolly commitment rarely translates into real action.

3. Ambitious language

Oxfam reviewed the Summit’s language around climate change and found it lacked ambition. Governments should have declared in Rome than any agreement on a global deal in Copenhagen next month must commit sufficient resources – over and above existing aid budgets – to specifically help small-holder farmers to adapt to harmful climate change. “The Summit simply called for small-holders to be taken into account, which is wishy-washy at best,” Kripke said.

4. New investment in food and agriculture

This Summit could have declared a rescue package for the Millennium Development Goal to halve hunger by finding sufficient money – eventually up to $40 billion a year – with half of it going to the farming, transport and market systems that support small-holder farmers, and half to a reformed food aid. However, it brought little new to the table other than to declare “to be ready to increase the percentage of ODA to go to agriculture” if countries wanted that. “We heard the platitudes but nothing new was offered to reverse the decline of agricultural support,” Kripke said. “Investing in agriculture is a critical mechanism to reduce hunger and poverty.”

5. Support for sustainable farming

“This meeting had to increase support to the kind of sustainable farming methods that would help poor farmers to feed their families and increase their income. That this did not happen taints the 2009 Summit with arguably its worst failure,” Kripke said. The Summit’s language on trade is inconsistent with guaranteeing that all countries have the right to food security. Meanwhile, the Summit gave a lot of importance to the role of biotechnology and “new technologies” in increasing agricultural productivity. “Oxfam believes that technology does have a role to play in overall global food production – however, there are more effective ways to help the poorest farmers in the world to feed their families in a sustainable way,” Kripke said. “Low external input, agro-ecological farming methods not only improve productivity on marginal and degraded land, but also help to cut carbon emissions.” Despite the Summit claiming to have put small-holder farmers at the centre of its mission, Oxfam says that it failed to specify the policies to help the poorest countries to reduce hunger and poverty.

Read more

Read the blog: Declaring a vision for world hunger
Learn more about Oxfam's Agriculture campaign

We heard the platitudes but nothing new was offered to reverse the decline of agricultural support.
Gawain Kripke
Oxfam spokesperson