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Analysis: G-20 Agriculture summit

On June 22nd and 23rd, agricultural ministers from the top 20 economies in the world met in Paris under the auspices of the G20, to address problems in the world’s increasingly connected food production and distribution system.

The G20 meeting was spearheaded by France, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the G20.  In his opening address to the G20 meeting, French President Nicolas Sarkozy described the pressing nature of the issue:

“For too long now we have been content to say that agriculture is one parameter of global growth among others. When agricultural crises occurred, due to lack of consensus, to lack of courage, lack of courage as well, reports were written, the necessity was expressed of reflection on the issues — later, invariably later. In actual fact, never. Today it is time to act. Agriculture must be restored to its rightful place in a world economy which is meaningful once again, a world economy that creates value for all and shares it, an economy that respects the work of small farmers and drives sustainable growth.

The lives of billions of people around the world are at stake; the balance of your societies is at stake; the preservation of our natural resources is at stake.”

France’s agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire planned to use the forum to challenge what he views as dangerous speculation in commodities markets.  Adding to earlier attention paid to food security by the G-20, Le Maire explained his concerns in an article in Foreign Policy magazine:

France has assumed this responsibility by including agricultural price volatility on the agenda of its G-20 presidency. We realized that agriculture was a strategic issue. We realized that we couldn’t feed the world by allowing the continuance of a system in which price variations can reach 50 to 60 percent in a few months. Whether the trend is upward or downward, the increasing volatility of commodity prices is intolerable for producers everywhere in the world because they don’t have any visibility regarding their investments.

While the summit produced some landmark agreements, it also fell short of the French government’s original vision.  Discussions meant to address the factors taxing global food supply were left for future talks (e.g. speculation in commodities markets) or additional study (biofuels).  The  significant items that were agreed to were:

  • The creation of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), a database which will be share information between government agencies, food security organizations and the private sector to monitor the status of global crop production and food stocks in an effort to predict problems in food markets.
  • A new mechanism was adopted to remove trade barriers from food destined for humanitarian aid, a move welcomed by the World Food Programme and other food aid organizations, .
  • The development of regional food reserves that could be drawn upon in times of crisis.  All regions will not be covered initially, but the regions that get the first priority will be those where the least developed countries reside.

Although the Action Plan did not address all structural concerns, those involved expressed satisfaction over the progress made,  with some pointing out how important it was for a high-level group like the G20 to address food security in the first place:

“This is where the G-20 can work, as long as they don’t feel ordered around by the bigger countries,” [World Bank president Robert Zoellick] said, citing the agreement by Beijing and New Delhi on food stocks. “They know it’s in their interest to do it.”

Some critics, like the UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter said , “The G20 action plan is a step in the right direction. But the current situation called for an ambitious jump forward.”  He pointed to “particularly disappointing” results of the biofuels issue,  the lack of detail on how the food reserve system would work, and the delay on discussions about financial instruments to secure the food system.

While it was not finalized during this meeting, the discussions on market regulation may also be taken up by the G20 at a future meeting when finance ministers meet.  At that time, more complete progress in global food security may be reached as G20 governments will be committing to finding solutions that address structural issues, not only improved management of food crises.

Posted by Michael Lucivero.

Photo Credit: Ian Langsdon/EPA, from The Guardian