Global leaders recommit to achieving food security

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New York - Representatives from over 100 countries gathered at the United Nations (UN) on Saturday to voice their support for a newly unveiled plan to fight famine in the world.

For more than one year, a high-level UN task force and key players from the international community have been busy developing a plan that links development, trade and humanitarian action to fight global hunger and malnutrition.

"Our goal is to create a new era of for agricultural development," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "a revolutionary approach that will support smallholder farmers, especially women, a transformation of markets and trading systems so they work better for the poor."

Gathered in the Trusteeship Council, government leaders, business representatives and civil society reaffirmed their commitment to achieving food security - a fundamental problem concerning who produces food and who can access it.

Leading the United States (US) delegation, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the international approach a bid for "sustainable, systemic change." She outlined five key pillars to the plan:

* Invest in research to develop agricultural tools and in innovative insurance programs to fund smallholder farmers;

* Put women at the heart of efforts as they are a majority of the world's farmers;

* Improve coordination at the country, regional, and global level;

* Leverage the benefits of multilateral institutions to coordinate funding;

* Ensure a long-term commitment and accountability to the goals.

Countries in Africa are already championing this type of approach, said Ban, pointing to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, which has allowed Rwanda to increase its investment in agriculture by fivefold and double its agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) to 11 percent of the total GDP.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the private and public sectors in his country have been engaging farmers to incorporate them into a plan that has paid off dividends.

"There is now a food surplus," he said, noting a 30 percent increase in the export of beans and potatoes.

At the Group of Eight meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, leaders pledged 20 billion US dollars in funding over the next three years to tackle increasing levels of food insecurity and malnutrition exacerbated by the economic contraction.

British Minister of State for foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Ivan Lewis said donors can effectively support country-led plans by investing wisely and investing in women.

Highlighting that the European Union has pledged 20 percent of the 20-billion-dollars commitment made in Italy, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Karel de Gucht said the money must be used for needs identified by individual countries and must not be diverted to new and wasteful instruments of implementation.

Irish Minister of State for Overseas Development Peter Power reminded the conference of the stakes involved and stressed the need for multilateral action.

"Hunger is a result of a collective failure of mankind and it deserves a collective, comprehensive response," he said. "We know what we have to do. We just have to start doing it."

Food security is not just about food; it's about also about security - economic security, environmental security, and national security.

In early 2008, food prices rose dramatically, creating a global crisis and causing political and economical instability and social unrest in both poor and developed nations.

While long-term causes for food insecurity remain a topic of debate, initial reasons for the 2008 crisis included unseasonable droughts in grain-producing nations and a spike in oil prices, which heightened the costs of fertilizers, food transport, and industrial agriculture.

Today's added challenge is the increasing use of bio-fuels in developed countries, especially as governments subsidize grain products, like corn, to produce ethanol instead of to feed livestock and people.

At the conference, leaders emphasised a variety of key challenges that remain.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stressed that a plan to end hunger must address climate change. Her country faces cyclones, drought and flooding, which is affecting sustained agricultural production and food security, she said.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith noted the vital role multilateral institutions play, noting that they can build links between key players, have at their disposal the best expertise the world has to offer and establish international norms.

However, he also said international organizations must do a better job scaling-up and working with each other. He stressed the need for fundamental reforms like the one the Food Assistance Organization underwent in 2007.

To implement more effective action, Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson said the world could ensure coordination by emphasizing country ownership based on democratic principles, prioritize program-based approaches, and create incentives for better financial management.

Ban said he hoped the weight of thrown behind the world's renewed focus on food security would carry forward during the Rome Summit in November.

"Now is the time to demonstrate to food-insecure nations and communities that we want to build on these principles, develop a roadmap for action and secure tangible results," he said.