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Focus on issues

OECD ministerial meeting on agriculture:
The Château de la Muette remains deaf to the global agricultural crisis



Momagri Editorial Board



The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) hosted a ministerial meet-ing on agriculture on April 7 and 8, 2016 at The Château de La Muette, the organization’s Paris headquarters. Held every five to six years, the meeting bring together the Ministers of Agriculture from OECD countries and from invited nations, and provides an opportunity to assess the organiza-tions’s work and recommendations in agriculture. This year’s theme covered the “Better Policies to Achieve a Productive, Sustainable and Resilient Global Food System”.

Co-chaired by Tom Wilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, and by Stéphane Le Foll, French Minister of Agriculture, the conference was attended by over 50 representatives from countries and inter-national organizations, such as the WTO, FAO and IFAD. It should be noted that, while some OECD non-member states were present, major agricultural nations such as China, India, Brazil, Thailand and Russia did not have a seat at the conference table, and that South Africa was the sole repre-sentative from the African Continent.

Although several declarations during the meeting should be welcomed, the final declaration does not include the hoped-for adjustments to agricultural policies that truly take into account the chronic instability of agricultural markets.

Loyal to the American doctrine on agricultural issues, Tom Vilsack emphasized the strategic role of agriculture by “recognizing the significance of agriculture in security, not only in food security but in overall security as well.
1 In addition, the Secretary Vilsack regrets that “the role of agriculture is often underestimated, and its ability to serve as part of the solution is also underutilized.”

Stéphane le Foll also came forward in pointing out up that agricultural price volatility and food inse-curity can be catalysts for tensions, like the food riots and the 2010 Arab Spring. In a thinly veiled reference to the migrant crisis, the Minister went even further by announcing “If we do not open up agricultural development prospects in all the Sub-Saharan region, there will be, in the next 15 years, 100 million young people looking for jobs and making sure they have a future.
2.

Such geopolitical considerations involving agriculture are sufficiently infrequent to be noted in this type of venues, when the agricultural sector is most often reduced to its sole trade angle. By doing so, it was expected that the official statement would use these elements, which would have given a noticeable and all the more beneficial shift, since falling prices of agricultural commodities are pointing to a global overproduction crisis. Unfortunately, this was not the case!

In fact, a textual analysis of the final declaration
3 shows that the following words are missing: “cri-sis”, “overproduction”, “regulation”, “instability”, “imbalance”, “stocks”, “(market) failures”, “(price) decline”, “deflation” and “inflation”. While the term “(market) volatility” is mentioned twice, it is to signal that farmers will have to cope with it, and that the only state action on the issue is to increase their “resilience” to crises, and certainly not to be curbing, or even less avoiding, cri-ses. We will note that “resilience” and its adjectives are the buzzwords in the document––they are mentioned nine times!

This textual analysis can also be put into an illustration. Below is the visual representation of the most utilized keywords in the OECD final declaration. The terms printed in largest typefaces are those that are the most employed. Do you see the words crisis, overproduction, instability and imbalance?

évolution du prix du lait

In addition to the final declaration, an additional document, “The Summary by the Co-Chairs”
4, pre-sents the discrepancy of between the ministers’ remarks and the official OECD-issued doctrine. The geo-strategic perspective is really missing, and especially regarding potential migrations and the need to develop African agriculture to create jobs for the “100 million young people”, we find an increadibly ambivalent statement: “We should also make sure that policies contribute to the reduction of poverty, the improvement of working conditions and the development of economic opportunities for agricultural workers, small producers and vulnerable rural persons.” Yet, it is un-clear whether these economic opportunities are within or outside the agricultural sector, a fact that deserves the credit of not contradicting the French Minister while putting back a key element of the OECD doctrine: The solutions to agricultural crises are to be found in the adjustment of produc-tion structures and the rural exodus.

In short, once again diplomatic workings are taking precedence over thought-provoking policy views. In light of the past high price crunch and the pending price crisis––and without a wishful aggiornamento by the OECD––we could have hoped that, in a meeting occurring every five to six years, lessons were learned towards new paths to design a new governance system and overcome the stalemate at the WTO. This is not the case, and the OECD might not be the place where it will happen. Should we perhaps undersand the absence of major agricultural nations and of almost all African countries? It is said that that those who are absent are always at fault, but one must be-lieve it is not always true.


1 « L'agriculture, garante d'un monde plus sûr, en question à l'OCDE », AFP, April 7, 2016
http://www.web-agri.fr/actualite-agricole/politique-syndicalisme/article/l-agriculture-garante-d-un-monde-(...).html

2 Ibidem
3 The complete text of the final declaration is available from:
http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/final-declaration-of-the-oecd-meeting-of-agriculture-ministers-held-in-paris-(...).htm

4 The complete text of the Summary is available from:
http://www.oecd.org/agriculture/ministerial/statements/ag-ministerial-2016-summary.pdf



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Paris, 11 December 2018