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Food Security: What Did Experts Consider at Rome Meeting?

The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has concluded its five-day meeting in Rome on volatile food prices, growing hunger and climate change.

It was the first meeting of the inter-governmental panel after the committee underwent reforms to establish its role as the “cornerstone of global governance of agriculture and food security.”

Signs of hope

Chris Leather of OXFAM is a member of the committee’s Advisory Group. He says, “There were signs of hope that governments are willing to work together in the interests of the world’s poorest in reducing the number of hungry people in the world.”

This includes greater investment in small-scale food production.

“We are cautiously optimistic, but clearly with the number of hungry people in the world – that’s almost one billion – more needs to be done sooner. And we need to see ongoing political commitments and action that can promote food security and reduce the number of hungry people.”

Land grab

Civil society organizations, he says, had an “equal footing” at the CFS meeting with governments and stakeholders.

“There were a number of key issues, which OXFAM suggested needed to be addressed quite urgently. One of those is the increasing trend for governments from rich and emerging economies and international companies buying up or leasing large amounts of land in developing countries,” he says.

OXFAM says the land acquisitions displace poor farmers and disrupt their livelihoods.

“Last year, we saw 45 million hectares of land bought up by private investors in developing countries. That’s an area almost the size of Sweden,” he says.

OXFAM is calling for laws and policies to regulate land acquisition in developing countries to protect the poor and the environment.

Food prices

During the 2007 / 2008 food crisis, prices soared in many developing countries, many of whom are still feeling its effects. The CFS looked at proposals to help keep food prices in check.

“There are solutions that have been shown to work,” Leather says. “Some countries during the last food price spike…who had invested in domestic food production – and particularly supported small-scale farmers to increase their production – were better able to withstand the big increase in food prices on global markets.”

Malawi is one example of successful investment in smallholder farmers, helping them gain access to seeds and fertilizers. Other countries invested in “safety nets” to ensure the poor were able to purchase food.

The Committee on World Food Security has agreed that an independent, high-level panel of experts would study proposed solutions to high prices in the coming months.

Climate change

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says the committee “has agreed to review existing assessments and initiatives on the effects of climate change on food security and nutrition.”

But is that a step forward or merely a rehash of past studies?

“It’s a step forward if by looking at previous studies it helps to inform better policies and better decision making in the near future,” says Leather. “It’s one aspect of what needs to be done.”

But he adds, “Clearly, the world’s hungry people cannot wait only for studies to take place. They need action as soon as possible. So OXFAM is advocating that donor countries in particular should make money available that can be used in developing countries to help the poorest people, poor farmers, adapt to the impact of climate change.”

The Committee on World Food Security also studied ways to help countries facing chronic food security problems. This includes integrating emergency responses with long-term assistance.