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Daring in Order to Act
Expert of momagri
"Understand in order to act": this was the objective of the conference entitled "Who will feed the world? Towards diverse, sustainable forms of agriculture as drivers of development," held July 3, 2008 at the European Parliament in Brussels, on the initiative of French Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Michel Barnier.
This event, which had the merit of reaffirming agriculture's strategic role at the heart of development, also underlined the policy errors that have been made over the last decades. Beyond reaching a consensus on the current situation, the day did not, unfortunately, result in proposals for action. We do not need merely to "understand in order to act," but also to dare to open new paths of action.
1. The lessons from the day: Forgotten truths were evoked and some misguided assumptions admitted to.
We can no longer say that we didn't know that the policies implemented over the past few decades have "fueled" poverty by destroying agriculture, which is so critical to development. This was the first lesson of the day. All of the political and institutional leaders agreed on the urgency of the situation and the need to advance a comprehensive response to this issue so crucial for the future of the world. This in and of itself represents major progress!
Indeed, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel stated that agriculture must receive special treatment in light of its strategic character and the many important issues it entails for development and the environment. Today, the world's top leaders are becoming increasingly aware of this truth, which now must be applied in earnest, particularly to global trade negotiations.
Josep Borrell Fontelles, Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Development, for his part stressed that there would be no farmers left in Europe if we hadn't had a price policy, a very timely remark in the current context of the CAP reform. This second truth is key in terms of developing agriculture in the poorest countries. That is why farmer prices and income must be placed at the core of future policies, as noted by François Traoré, President of the African Cotton Producers Association (AProCA).
Laurent Pellerin, President of AgriCord, a non-governmental organization bringing together farmers from different countries, indicated that farmers throughout the world have a pronounced aversion to risk. This means that their planting decisions follow the same logic, regardless of the level of mechanization. This third truth is one explanation behind the entirely atypical operation of agricultural markets, granting farmer forecasts a decisive role.
Among the assumptions today cast into doubt, we would like to highlight, as stated in the July 1 UN report, that "we can no longer rely on market mechanisms alone to provide a satisfactory level of economic security." In this sense, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier often repeats, "If market forces alone were enough to solve the problems of hunger and poverty, we would know." That is also why we must now admit that not all government regulatory policies are synonymous with protectionism.
Still, the discussion on the link between speculation and hunger riots, and on the measures to be considered to solve these problems, was, unfortunately, relatively insubstantial. This subject should, however, be examined more closely, particularly to determine whether speculation is the cause or result of the current situation. On this question, momagri differentiates itself from think tanks such as IFPRI, which considers that speculation is primarily a consequence of the food crisis. According to IFPRI Director General Joachim von Braun, the food crisis was responsible for high nervousness among the various key players, which then led to speculation. For momagri, speculation is one of the four characteristics of agricultural markets that are responsible for price volatility. Moreover, speculation has been integrated into our economic model, enabling price change simulations to reflect the impact of speculation, unlike in the models traditionally used by international organizations.
2. How can we go beyond statements? Dare to act!
After mentioning the various causes of the hunger riots and the risks that threaten the future of the poorest populations, many political leaders, including Michel Barnier, advanced the idea of regional regulation and cooperation on agriculture by "pooling resources" to confront common challenges such as climate change, desertification and health crises.
Governance, regulation, organization... The words have been uttered; now it is time to translate the words into actions, as soon as possible.
While we understand the cautious approach of political leaders who prefer to "test out" a regulatory model in one geographic region, for example West Africa, a comprehensive approach to this issue is nonetheless essential. Indeed, it is a combination of global agricultural governance and regional regulatory policies that will make it possible to guarantee stability and prosperity.
That is why we would like to applaud Jean-Michel Lemetayer, President of the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organizations in the European Union (COPA) and the FNSEA [France's National Federation of Farming Unions], for daring to call for the creation of a World Agriculture Organization.
This is once again evidence of growing support for the idea that bona fide regulation of agricultural markets must be arranged at the global level. It is in this sense that on July 2, momagri presented 10 concrete proposals that would make establishing such governance possible.
To all those who believe, pointing to the collapse of the WTO negotiations, that international regulation is too ambitious because it would be impossible to implement, we respond that different mechanisms for international cooperation must be invented (see momagri’s proposals). This is one of the priorities of momagri’s work.
If no form of cooperation is implemented in the future, the situation will deteriorate (hunger riots, increased poverty, border closings to protect domestic markets) to such a point that we will see extreme tensions that leave political leaders with no more room for maneuver.
Some believe that it would certainly be easier to apply the "old recipes" (elimination of tariff barriers) along with massive financial transfers to development assistance programs. Of course, there is a significant need for investment in agriculture and infrastructure, but such investment will only be effective if we do not place different agricultures into "impossible competition" (Henri Rouillé d’Orfeuil, President of Coordination Sud).
We regret that this event did not provide the opportunity for debate on "how to operate" or "how to bring about" global governance, and we hope that the subject will be addressed soon.
It is high time to dare to look into the subject. Our meetings with small farmers' associations, economists and foreign think tanks have all pointed to this same conclusion.
A political leader recently asked us "who is ready to support" such a project for global governance. "Yesterday, very few leaders; today, many more because of the food crisis; and tomorrow, even more, if nothing is done."
We must always keep in mind that:
> Forty-three percent of the world’s population directly or indirectly lives off agriculture; and
> One hundred percent of the world’s population depends on agriculture for its survival and good health.
Aren't these two points enough to understand that bona fide global governance must be established for the general good of the population?
To quote the now-famous motto of Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, "It is not the impossible that gives cause for despair, but the failure to achieve the possible."