The reformed Committee on World Food Security and the
global governance of food security
Jessica Duncan, Wageningen University, the Netherlands1
The global governance of food security has been the subject of increasing attention since the 2007-2008 food crisis and the observation of the devastating effects of hyper-volatility in agricultural raw commodity prices has led to a series of new reforms and initiatives in this domain.
Since 2008, reducing price hyper-volatility and addressing food insecurity have thus become priorities for the international community. The need to reinforce the coherence and transparency of international governance has become even more critical.
However, as explained by the Jessica Duncan the Rural Affairs specialist at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands in her recently published2 doctoral thesis, this is a difficult task, partly because of a growing disconnect between the policies initiated and the actions actually undertaken. Having made this observation, she reminds us of the urgency to implement structural reforms to establish a global governance of food security.
momagri Editorial Board
Implication for food security
The complexity and the way in which the discourse of food security is taken up across global food security governance raises more questions than it answers. Throughout this research the limitations of food security as a discourse and as a policy frame were consistently reinforced.
First, food security employs a technocratic definition and approach: it has been highly negotiated and therefore does not necessarily reflect the best definition of the situation, but rather international consensus arrived at by diplomatic compromise. Food security is apolitical insofar as it fails to accept the political processes that contribute to food insecurity. Food security is constructed as disembodied, non-located, absent from political economic and sociocultural context. At the same time, food insecurity is constructed as embodied (normally a woman (mother)), it is located (usually in Africa), and framed within a specific socio-cultural context at the local or national scale. There is thus a disconnect between the way in which the end goal (food security) and the problem (food insecurity) are understood and framed. Food security as an approach, as a frame, as discourse, and as a policy programme, remains worthy of critique and scrutiny. At issue in this thesis however was not the relevance or usefulness of the term, but rather the ways in which it is being redefined in a post-food price spike policy context.
The amount of focus and attention being paid to food security at this moment illustrates the need for on-going critical academic inquiry.
Food security, as a key policy frame, is an example of what James Ferguson (1994) calls ananti-political device. It turns a symptom of poverty into the ends of policy. Instead, hunger, and by extension poverty, must be situated within specific economic systems of production, modalities of representation and regimes of power (George 1984). Dominant discourses informing food security policy are marked by a reluctance to acknowledge hunger and malnutrition as a political problem linked to relations of power. Given the relationship between food security policy at the global level and broader neoliberal project it is not surprising that international actors chose food security over trade or financial markets as the discourse to frame the fallout of the food price spikes. Food security allowed actors to bypass difficult policy problems that make up the structural causes of hunger and malnutrition. In turn, governments can be seen to engage in seemingly urgent and earnest deliberations about food security with little threat to the status quo. In the global food security policy domain there is room for counter- and non-hegemonic actors to push for change (Holt Giménez and Shattuck 2011), but all policy debates framed through food security will have a hard time escaping the history and trajectory of the term.
Does this mean that the term should be done away with? Despite the clear limitations and problems outlined above, at this moment, as the battle for leadership over the problem and solutions continues, the answer is, hesitatingly, no. This is in part because academic ponderings on discourses of food security remain removed from the fact that food security describes a very real, very troubling problem. Indeed there is a disconnect between policy and practice that demands stronger analysis and reflection. From this perspective, however flawed, food security provides a common language that governments, policy makers, field staff, NGOs, the private sector and social movements understand and, at least partly, agree on. They certainly do not agree on the adequacy of the definition. There is also no agreement on the path to achieving food security. Yet, importantly, there is clarity in what is meant by food security in international circles. This agreement is valuable. To begin to reimagine and reopen negotiations on another term to describe the same problem – a lack of adequate access and availability of appropriate foods to lead a healthy life – could take years and could shift attention away from the pressing issue: almost one sixth of the planet is hungry and industrial food production models are not sustainable. Attempts by the CFS to expand the term to “food and nutrition security” (CFS 2012a) are illustrative of the challenges and tensions involved in reformulating terms in intergovernmental fora. At the same time, pushing to incorporate or embed language that provide a strategic critique of food security (i.e., food sovereignty) into these fora is also dangerous as critical aspects of these approaches are likely to be tempered through passive revolution (Gramsci 1971).
While the term remains useful (at least for now), food security programmes and policies need to be reimagined and an alternative future developed in line with ecological principles that tackle distribution, consumption, injustice and that are effectively integrated at the local, national and regional (and global, if appropriate) level in accordance with local realities. It is acknowledged a catch-22 situation emerges when this statement is considered in the context of embedded neoliberalism. As a result, it is also recognised that change will need to extend far beyond food security to the core of systems of global governance. Until then, food security at the global level will continue to exist as a policy framework that claims to work towards the eradication of a structural problem without addressing the structural issues. As noted above, this approach simultaneously provides a way for governments to feign action without having to address difficult political decisions related to financial systems, justice and natural resources. This is the conundrum of late capitalism and extends across the key challenges of this century. Thinking ahead, a food policy approach (Lang et al. 2009), food sovereignty (Holt-Giménez and Altieri 2013; McMichael 2006; Mousseau and Mittal 2006) and emerging literature on resilience (Alinovi et al. 2010; De Schutter 2008) could prove useful in imaginations of a post-food security policy era.
1 Jessica Duncan writes a blog on food governance issues
2 Her thesis was published by the Routledge Editions, publisher of British academic books, and can be ordered by following this link