Food Policy in 2014–2015:
Strong Advances and Stubborn Setbacks
Global Food Report 2014-2015, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Let’s try and escape the current gloom and let’s approach that, which in 2014, could have been considered an advance and success in agricultural governance, food security and poverty worldwide. This is what IFPRI, among others, is proposing in its latest report on global agricultural policies (extract here1). Despite agriculture’s vulnerability to domestic and external shocks, some countries including those in South Asia have taken new measures to fight hunger and poverty, while more generally poor and middle-income countries demonstrated strong economic and agricultural growth in 2014.
The development of agriculture is the cornerstone of any policy to combat poverty and food insecurity. According to the World Bank, growth in the agricultural sector is about two and a half times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors.
Agriculture, remember, is the main source of income for over 40% of the world population. However, 70% of the poor and undernourished in the world live in rural areas and are mainly farmers. Consequently the agricultural sector appears today not only as a response to food crises, but also as one of the pillars of a State’s economic development.
More generally, without a coordinated approach between the different countries of the world, taking into account the multiple dimensions of food security, it will be difficult to sustainably eradicate world hunger.
momagri Editorial Board
Poor and middle income countries showed strong economic and agricultural growth in 2014. As of October 2014, annual growth of gross domestic product (GDP) in emerging market and developing countries averaged 4.4 percent—in contrast with just 1.8 percent in the advanced economies— according to the International Monetary Fund.3 To combat hunger and poverty, it will be important for this economic growth to raise the incomes and improve the well-being of the poorest people; we do not yet know whether this happened in 2014.
Food-importing developing countries also received a boon in the form of lower food prices. World food prices fell in 2014 to their lowest level since 2010, according to the Food Price Index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). One contributor to lower food prices was the decline in the price of oil, which is an important component in global food production.
Between June and December 2014, the price of oil fell by nearly half. By contributing to lower food prices, falling oil prices are likely to be, by and large, good for global food security and nutrition.
More important, much progress has been made at the country level. Countries in South Asia took a number of steps to combat poverty and hunger, including various social protection measures. India’s 2013 National Food Security Act, which calls for providing highly subsidized food grains to two-thirds of the country’s population, was fully implemented by 5 of India’s 29 states and partly implemented by 6 other states. The question remains how to manage the program better and target it more closely to the neediest people in order to reduce the overall cost and ensure that it promotes good nutrition. India also adopted a scheme to help the country’s poor open 75 million bank accounts; although the accounts would start with a zero balance, they represent a first step in increasing poor people’s participation in the financial system. Similarly, Pakistan aimed to bring the poor into the financial system by partly guaranteeing credit for smallholder farmers. Because such schemes have had mixed success in other South Asian countries, their effectiveness and long-term financial viability will need to be carefully monitored. Nepal adopted a new 20-year Agricultural Development Strategy designed to reduce poverty through agriculture-led growth. And despite the fact that genetically modified crops still generate much debate in the region, Bangladesh approved the commercial cultivation of genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant under government supervision. In 2014, 20 small eggplant farmers were given Bt seedlings for cultivation; the government plans to increase Bt eggplant cultivation in the next five years. Africa as a region showed solid economic growth and has slowly pushed down rates of poverty and hunger. Foreign direct investment in the region has been increasing in recent years, contributing to economic growth and development, and Africa’s share of global trade and trade in agricultural products has been on the rise. At the African Union Summit in June, African heads of state and government adopted the Malabo Declaration, committing themselves to agriculture-led growth as laid out in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), launched in 2003. Also in the Malabo Declaration, these leaders committed to ending hunger and halving poverty by 2025 (see Chapter 9), tripling intra-African trade in agricultural commodities, and building agriculture’s resilience to climate variability and shocks. Indeed, trade within Africa is already on the upswing, though from an admittedly low baseline, and African markets account for 34 percent of African agricultural exports.
Although conflicts still plague parts of the Middle East and North Africa, some countries, such as Egypt and Tunisia, experienced more stability, attracting domestic and foreign investment. Many countries in the region—including Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, and Yemen—cut fuel subsidies, saving money that could be reinvested in development.
Some of these same countries supported increased production of staple grains (such as wheat) and built up their strategic grain reserves, potentially bolstering their resilience in the face of future price, trade, or production shocks. East Asia grew rapidly in 2014, at 5.7 percent, and countries in the region took actions to strengthen food security and agricultural development. China’s 2014 Number 1 Central Document signaled a shift away from the country’s traditional emphasis on food self-sufficiency and toward heavier reliance on international trade to achieve food security aims, and also strengthened farmers’ property rights. Indonesia reformed its rice safety-net program to reduce inefficiencies and waste, and the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam have also implemented extensive agricultural policy reforms. In September the region’s food and agriculture ministers adopted the Beijing Declaration on APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Food Security, reaffirming the region’s commitment to cooperating on food security and food safety.
Latin America and the Caribbean, the world’s largest net food-exporting region, remained a food production powerhouse in 2014. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay play large roles in global wheat, maize, and soybean markets. Still, although agricultural productivity has grown rapidly in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, productivity growth across the region overall has lagged behind that in the United States. At the same time, several countries in Latin America have excelled in implementing policies to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition. Examples include Brazil’s Zero Hunger and Bolsa Família programs and Mexico’s Oportunidades. These successes have led to opportunities for South–South learning initiatives, such as United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge.
Rich countries also unveiled initiatives and funding commitments in 2014 designed to help cut hunger and undernutrition. For example, the government of Germany, announced plans to spend €1 billion a year on food security and rural development through its new initiative titled One World, No Hunger.
The government of the Netherlands committed to develop initiatives on global food security, specifically eradicating hunger and malnutrition, promoting inclusive and sustainable agricultural growth, and achieving ecologically sustainable food systems.
Similarly, the European Union (EU) has made food security, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture top priorities for development cooperation in the coming years. For instance, it has pledged to help reduce stunting in 7 million children under five years of age by 2025 and to mobilize €3.5 billion between 2014 and 2020 to contribute to this goal As part of a major overhaul to its development cooperation system, the Italian parliament authorized the formation of a development agency and financing facility.11 US funding for global health programs reached unprecedented levels, with US$9.1 billion—an increase of more than $400 million12—allocated for fiscal year 2014. And at the first-ever US–Africa Leaders’ Summit held in Washington, DC, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a $100 million Global Resilience Partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation to help vulnerable people withstand shocks and crises.
Progress was also made in reforming global trade rules, which can have large impacts on agriculture and farmers worldwide. World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations in Bali in December 2013 resulted in a trade deal, but India blocked it out of concern that WTO limits on agricultural subsidies and food grain reserves would hamper its food security program. In November 2014 the United States and India reached a breakthrough to move the deal forward. The United States agreed not to challenge India’s food security program until the dispute was formally resolved in the WTO.
1 The entire report is available from