Food security is in the spotlight this week. As a topic of discussions at the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) session in Rome between October 15 and 20, the issue provided member states with an opportunity to pool their thoughts on today’s global agriculture, and the type of agriculture to be passed on to future generations. In a tribune published in Mediapart we are excerpting below1
, Stéphane Le Foll, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, and Pascal Canfin, Deputy Minister for Development, presented France’s position on the objectives considered as priorities in terms of global agricultural governance and agricultural market regulation, particularly through the implementation of strategic reserves. While it has never been as urgent as now to cope with price volatility and the structural shortcomings of the global agricultural system, there is an equally urgent need prevent crises through agricultural regulation policies. But it all comes down to the means to be implemented to reach these goals. Yes on regulation and action on price volatility, but regulation with a next generation of tools that are adapted to the reality of international markets. Let’s not associate rising prices to price hyper-volatility, since declining prices are the other side of volatility and its consequences are as devastating, and even worse for farmers. Let’s not forget that food production costs have increased significantly. This is the very heart of the problem. Lastly, yes to improving global agricultural governance, but it must be a bilateral governance system… Because, as Stéphane Le Foll and Pascal Canfin are remind us, the world will soon count nine billion people… Yet, at a time when France––and more generally the major agricultural powers––must rule on the concrete procedures to regulate agricultural prices, one must avoid taking any decision that could be irreversible and could conflict with future agricultural issues in the event of price upturns, which will inevitably occur.
Momagri Editorial Board
Speaking at the opening of the meeting of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security in Rome on October 15, Deputy Minister for Development Pascal Canfin and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Stéphane Le Foll presented France’s position on price volatility and structural shortcomings.
The United Nations Committee of World Food security met in Rome between October 15 and 20, at a time when grain prices are nearing the record prices of 2008. Reports on lower than expected harvests in the United States due to a continued drought, along with uncertainties regarding crops in the Red Sea areas, were enough to set off price spikes in already tight markets. Reserves are at their lowest levels. Global demand is posting a consistent growth that is supported by rising household incomes in emerging countries.
As early as September, the French Government announced an action plan against rising global prices of grain and oilseed crops. Such soaring prices are indeed liable to jeopardize the economic position of the French livestock sector, with consequences for the processing industries and for consumers.
Yet, these rising prices also have an impact on Southern nations. The consequences are devastating for the millions of people whose incomes cannot cope with soaring food prices. Confronted to the situation, France is reacting. The country is taking emergency action in the framework of the mechanisms implemented under the French presidency of the G20. The Rapid Reaction Forum maintains an ongoing dialog between major producing countries and consuming nations. Such shared evaluation of the situation is critical to prevent not only panic buying but also the collapse of certain markets. Such sequence of events would only increase price volatility.
In addition to these emergency responses, it is also crucial to develop long-term solutions. Food security involves agricultural development in Southern nations. For too long, it was thought that there was only one alternative for agriculture in the poorer countries––large-scale export crops such as bananas or cocoa beans, and small family livelihood farming of staple food crops. In poorer countries, we must now develop food crops on a larger scale for local and regional markets and to supply the urban population, while obviously preserving the environment. We must also develop the food processing and agribusiness reserve industries, since 30 percent of local crops are now lost in the absence of appropriate facilities. This requires agricultural policies that are adapted to, and decided by, these various countries. In its 2005 Report on Agriculture, the World Bank has already covered this issue. Unfortunately, not much has changed on that front. We must continue to work in sharing this diagnosis, and we must understand with other countries why issues that seem so evident cannot be translated into concrete actions.
This can be achieved through a better dialogue and exchange of experience with poorer countries. It can also be undertaken through a different approach on some issues, such as that of reserves. For too long, the term of food reserves has been linked to past blunders of the common agricultural policy in Europe. But a reserve policy can also be virtuous policy. It is a tool to smooth up crop and price fluctuations, and better reserves also mean preventing waste. Consequently, France asked the FAO to restart discussions on the issue.
We also bear a part of the responsibility in the current structural imbalances. We must review our policies concerning biofuels. France called for a European break in the development of first-generation biofuels, which are directly competing with crops intended for food production.
The volatility is also supported by financial players operating in agricultural futures markets in the major financial centers in the North. This is why, in the current European negotiations, France supports the implementation of a stricter framework for financial markets––greater transparency on operators and their transactions, measures to prevent an operator to gain excessive market position and strict regulations of automated operations…
Lastly, in countries wishing to do so, France is prepared to assist them in the concrete implementation of the FAO voluntary guidelines to thwart land-grabbing operations that are often made by players from wealthier nations.
Together, we will continue to advocate this global approach on agricultural price volatility at the meeting of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome. For too long, agriculture has been the poor relative of development policies. Today, in the North as well as the South, we are confirming the need for an agricultural upsurge based on farmers themselves, in order to meet tomorrow’s challenge––feeding nine billion people in a world with limited resources.