G8 Shift Away From Food Aid Towards Agriculture Investment

Today’s biggest news appears to be the shift in G8 food security policy reported by the Financial Times. It seems that the “L’Aquilla Food Security Initiative” at the forthcoming G8 summit will take forward an international policy move away from food aid and towards support for agriculture. It is expected that later this week the G8 (with the US and Japan providing the bulk of the funding) will announce more than $12bn for long-term agricultural development, particularly in Africa.

The background to the story includes the impacts on food security of the 2007 food crisis, the 2008 petrol price hikes and the ongoing international financial crisis.

The world’s first reaction to the 2007 food crisis, which saw record prices for crops such as wheat and rice triggering food riots from Haiti to Senegal, was to increase food aid. The UN’s World Food Programme doubled its budget to more than $5bn. The thinking since then has shifted, with Japan and the US leading the way in talking about helping poor countries, particularly in Africa, to feed themselves.

Mr Nwanze, a Nigerian national, says, “The financial crisis is worsening food security in many developing countries,” he says. “Wholesale food prices had been falling but prices remain very high in developing countries.” He commments on the policy shift by saying,  “Too much of the first [food aid] could flood African domestic agricultural commodities markets, starving local agriculture. Too little and the farmers who are supposed to produce the local food could perish before their first crop.”

Revised approach to fighting hunger. Photo: EPA, Telegraph

I think that Mr Nwanze’s statement sums up the need for food price monitoring and market information systems in Africa. I hope that the revised international approach to fighting hunger will reduce the emphasis on response (often too little too late) and will focus on monitoring food stocks, aleviation of chronic food insufficiency and prevention of shocks.

I think that affordability and therefore access to food is a bigger problem than its availability. When food security is conceptualised as a long-term, local issue, it is significant to monitor the prices of agriculture inputs (food, fertilizers, seeds etc.) in food producing regions and the prices of agriculture outputs at local, as well as national and international commodity markets. When farmers are provided with information about the prices of the commodities produced by them, they can use that information in making their seeding, planting and harvesting decisions. Conversely, the provision of information at markets and commodity exchanges about the stock availability of farming produce and the direction of its flow, can significantly improve the resilience of the food supply chain and avoid bottlenecks.

via FT.com / In depth – Poor nations look for help to feed themselves.

via G8 countries shift from food aid to investing in agriculture – Telegraph.

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3 thoughts on “G8 Shift Away From Food Aid Towards Agriculture Investment”

  1. Hi, this is such a great article! However, the decision to move away from food aid to agriculture is frustrating. The cliche about fishing could be adapted like this: “You cannot teach a starving man to fish!”

    Teaching anyone or investing in starving persons future is difficult to do. All they can focus on is the grumble of their stomach.

    However, I firmly support the view that food aid should not flood the agricultural commodities market. A great initiative by the United Nations World Food Programme, called Purchase for Progress is a solution to that very problem: http://bit.ly/wvmC

    They purchase a great deal of food from local sources, and so not only save on transportation costs for food aid, feed the local community, feed the local economy and encourage growth of the local agriculture.

    This for me is a far more balanced approach. Filling the empty gap in the stomachs of the hungry, while investing in the future!

  2. Hello Rowen,

    Thanks a lot for providing another perspective to the policy issues on food security!
    I can see how the shift in policy might appear frustrating if you are concerned with first response and emergency situations. Clearly, emergencies require first and foremost food aid and the alleviation of hunger.
    Still, my main point is that food affordability rather than food availability is the enduring problem. This problem also transpires against the backdrop of the Purchase for Progress initiative you mention. If food is actually scarce in a given country, there would not be room for local procurement, would there?
    These are the reasons why I think that a responsible food security policy would involve price monitoring and the avoidance of shocks. IFPRI recently suggested the creation of virtual and physical food reserves. (I can dig out the full reference if you are interested.) A solution along these lines could reduce the price volatility.

    Cheers,
    mira

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