Global leadership to end hunger: the role of the Committee on World Food Security

Global leadership to end hunger: the role of the Committee on World Food Security
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The world is failing to reduce world hunger

There are now approximately 1 billion hungry people - an increase of 150 million during the last 2 years. Many developing countries are failing to develop effective policies and plans and to increase investments, which promote the right to food for their citizens. Many rich countries have agriculture and trade policies which impact negatively on food security in developing countries and are failing to honour their commitments to increase aid to promote agriculture and food security. Climate change and global food price volatility threaten to further increase the number of hungry people.

The world is divided

The international political context is characterised by a “blame game” between rich and poor countries. Donor countries, particularly at a time of financial austerity, are increasingly placing emphasis on the failure of many developing country governments to increase action and investment. Poor countries lay the blame for increasing hunger on the policies and practices of rich countries and their failure to increase aid.
During the global food price crisis of 2007/2008, many governments called for a “global partnership for agriculture, food security and nutrition” in order to promote better coordinated and coherent global action. However, the world is divided on what a global partnership should look like. Many donor countries are focusing on the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative (AFSI), which aims to channel the $22bn pledged at the L’Aquila G8 in 2009, in support of country investment plans, a small part through the new Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP) Trust Fund hosted by the World Bank. Many poor country governments and civil society actors criticise the AFSI for being driven by donor countries and promoting policies that are of greater benefit to their own domestic consumers and businesses than to hungry people. Instead, they are promoting a reformed Committee on World Food Security as the foremost international political forum for food security and nutrition, because it guarantees the equal participation of developing country governments, as well as the full range of other stakeholders, including UN agencies, IFIs, civil society and private sector.

Global political leadership urgently needed

High-level political leadership is needed immediately to promote urgent and coordinated global action to achieve the MDG hunger target of reducing by half the proportion of hungry people in the world.
National governments are the primary duty bearers for ensuring the right to food for their citizens. Some developing country governments have been able to make progress in promoting food security and increasing the resilience through comprehensive, pro-poor policies including investment in small-scale food production, social protection and trade measures which promote local production and trade.
However, many developing country governments require support from the international community, which should provide an enabling international environment for the promotion and protection of the right to adequate food by performing the following functions

  • Develop effective and coherent global policies and regulations to address the trans-boundary causes of food insecurity (e.g. climate change, international investment in land, water and other natural resources, speculation and price volatility, market concentration, trade in food, agricultural subsidies, and management of food stocks);
  • Ensure the provision of co-ordinated policy, technical, and financial assistance in support of regional and country-led processes.

However, in the last few years, it has become increasingly apparent that global institutions and forums are failing to perform these roles of global governance. In short, there are two major problems. Firstly, many rich country governments are unwilling to agree on international policies and regulations, which do not favour their own domestic consumers and businesses. Secondly, there is a lack of coherence and coordination between the global institutions with a role to play in providing policy, technical and financial assistance.
There is a need for radical reform, especially if the world is to meet a near doubling in demand for food by 2050, in the face of added risks from climate change. Fundamentally this reform requires a shift in the power balance to enable governments, civil society organisations and other actors from developing countries to have a greater influence in political institutions and processes at the international level.
There is a need for one international, inter-governmental body as the apex of the system of food and agriculture governance. Its role should be to ensure that governments and global institutions work together to tackle global threats to food security and that international assistance is aligned with regional and country led processes.
Such a body should meet some key criteria that will ensure its effectiveness:

  • Rights-based: the ultimate political objective should be to ensure that all people are able to realise their right to adequate food;
  • Inclusive: it should ensure that the governments and organisations of the people most affected by hunger and food insecurity have an influential voice in decision making;
  • Legitimate: decisions should only be made by political representatives of nation states;
  • Decentralised: the international body should only address issues which cannot be adequately addressed at national and regional levels;
  • Evidence based: political decisions should be informed by objective evaluation of policies and programmes in order to identify good practice;
  • Transparent: discussions and decision making should be open for public evaluation;
  • Efficient: decisions and actions should take place within a timeframe which is consistent with the international commitment to reduce hunger by half by 2015.

The CFS: the international forum for high-level political leadership to end hunger

Following the CFS reform of 2009, the CFS is transitioning into a UN system wide body responsible for developing international policies, regulations and guidance and facilitating the provision of coherent and coordinated policy, technical and financial assistance1. The reform was initiated in recognition of the fragmentation of the international system and the need to strengthen the CFS into the overarching inter-governmental body which could promote international coordination and coherence in alignment with regional and national policies and plans. The CFS involves all governments in the Plenary, has a 13 member government Bureau as its executive arm which is now more empowered to take on-going decisions. Since the reform, the full range of stakeholders are involved through the CFS Advisory Group and the annual Plenary sessions and efforts are being made to promote linkages with regional and national levels.
The CFS has the potential to meet the criteria referred to above and should therefore be actively supported to become the central political pillar of the Global Partnership. However, it also has limitations, which need to be overcome if it is to become both the effective and efficient centre of global food and agriculture governance. The CFS requires the active participation of all stakeholders, particularly from civil society, to ensure that decisions are not politicised, they are informed by evidence and always have hunger reduction and the right to food as their ultimate objective.

A CFS global plan to end world hunger

World leaders should support the CFS as the central political pillar of the Global Partnership on Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition and empower it to provide the high level political leadership needed to achieve the MDG hunger target. They should ensure that government ministers in charge of food security, agriculture and nutrition attend the annual plenary sessions and are holding their Rome based representatives to account for their actions in implementing the on-going work programme of the CFS.
The CFS should develop a Global Plan to support national governments and regional intergovernmental entities to reduce hunger by half by 2015 and promote the right to food for all. The Plan should include the following commitments:

  • Governments and regional entities submit plans of action describing how the MDG hunger target by 2015 will be achieved and the right to food promoted, to the CFS Secretariat by end July 2011.
  • A global framework outlining the policies needed to address critical global threats to food security and nutrition - including the recent dramatic increase in large scale land investments, climate change and its impacts on food production, and food price volatility - as well as to develop effective and fair social protection mechanisms aided by a reformed Food Aid Convention.
  • Country specific, long-term commitments by all governments (from developing and donor countries) to provide their fair share of the resources needed to implement national and regional plans.
  • The mapping of actions and resource flows at country to learn lessons, share experiences and coordinate investments aligned with national and regional plans.

Bridging the Divide

No global political forum or institution can substitute for individual national governments upholding their responsibility to ensure the right to food for their citizens and those of other countries. However, some causes of hunger require coordinated and coherent actions between governments. There must be an end to the blame game between countries for failures to reduce hunger. A genuine global partnership must be formed which bridges the divide between nations and ensures that all countries are working together to achieve the MDG hunger target. The CFS provides the political space where this can be achieved. All governments and all global institutions must make use of it. Civil society has a critical role to play in ensuring that they do2

  • 1. For more information about the CFS and the reform process, see [link].
  • 2. For more information on the role that civil society organisations and networks are playing in the CFS, see [link] and [link].