Let's Talk About Global Food Governance

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/02/2010 12:28:00 AM
Conflicts over resources are the stuff of history. In the previous century, petroleum was considered The Prize in the words of a Pulitzer Prize winning book by Daniel Yergin. In this day and age, new resource issues have emerged that attract interest from international relations / international political economy scholars in search of new areas of investigation over who gets what where and when. One is the struggle for water resources, especially in arid regions where growing nations compete for this increasingly scarce commodity. Another is that for food which tends to cut across the globe's (poorer) regions.

Like my particular area of research, migration, food security is an issue area whose global governance is overlapping yet tenuous. Alike for migration, food is a domain covered by a multiplicity of regional and international organizations that do not necessarily operate in a coordinated fashion. In plain English, there's a whole bunch of people who don't seem to bother checking how their efforts fit together with those of others. Heck, the United Nations contains a number of bodies alike the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) that not only fail to work together but also engage in turf wars over matters such as obtaining UN funding.

Overall, global food governance is something of a mess. Given increasing incidences of hunger that occurred in the wake of the global financial crisis, these concerns are not trivial ones. Yet, the existing infrastructure of international organizations has not acquitted itself well in recent times. While browsing Nature, I came across this interesting piece by Joachim von Braun who suggests what we can do to improve matters. The prescribed solutions deal more with organizational matters than with food production per se. What follows in his conclusion, though the rest of the article is well worth reading. In particular, he highlights the role that can be played by reform in making the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) act as the "quarterback." Adding to the complexity, however, the CFS itself is under the FAO. It is, in a word, complicated:
The establishment of global governance is a complex and sensitive political matter, so it is pragmatic to build on existing elements. The CFS was established in 1974 as a result of the food crisis of the 1970s. Long criticized as a talking shop, it has the potential to be much more. It is an ideal candidate for the overarching strategic body that is needed to synchronize action in the world food system.

The 2009 reform plan for the CFS aims to give the committee strong coordination roles at the global level. It pictures a group with wider membership, including representatives of all UN member governments, the UN organizations, international finance organizations, industry, foundations and non-governmental organizations. The committee would have a flat, non-bureaucratic structure and access to sound expert advice, enabling it to take quick, informed action.

Nothing currently stands in the way of government-to-government networks in food, nutrition and agriculture. They are simply not being created. A reformed CFS could identify people with an interest in such networking, connect them and give them access to science and policy expertise, and provide a forum in which they can meet.

The CFS reform plan, however, is not sufficient. The body remains under the control of UN organizations rather than being independent of them, and depends for funding on the very organizations it is supposed guide. It must be independent to provide sound global governance covering all aspects of food, agriculture and nutrition.

A system is only as strong as its weakest parts. Even with a robust and independent CFS, existing global bodies would need to respond to the criticisms of their independent reviews much more quickly than they are doing.

Governments must grant the CFS the authority it needs for these roles. A good place to start would be an agreement between the leaders of the G20 to establish the CFS as an independent intergovernmental body, endowed with the resources to operate effectively. There is already strong political momentum for this issue. The G8 and G20 discussed food security extensively at their 2008 and 2009 meetings, for example, and the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this January had a greater focus on food issues than ever.

The G20 meeting on 26 and 27 June in Canada has food on its agenda, and the G20 chaired by South Korea later in the year could close the deal. Such a change in global food governance is sorely needed to help avert another food crisis.
Certainly, there is better time to get going as the present.