Call for strategic US approach to the global food crisis
Summary of report1
US Government vessel offloading in the port of Djibouti 42,000 MT of donated food aid in Ethiopia in 2002. The food will reach Ethiopia after a three day journey.
In May 2008, in response to the growing global food crisis, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) launched a task force to assess the rising humanitarian, security, developmental, and market impacts of rising food costs and shortages. The task force convened two high level meetings with members of the United States (US) government and experts in the fields of food supply, energy, bio-fuels, trade, relief efforts and agriculture. The resulting report reflected a strong majority consensus on ways forward.
The authors of the report assert that the crisis poses three fundamental threats: a moral and humanitarian threat, a developmental threat that is endangering the economic gains of the past decades, and a strategic threat resulting in food-related riots and unrest with heavily urbanised nations most at risk.
The report cites a number of root causes of the crisis:
- Soaring global energy prices contributing to cost increases in agricultural production and transportation.
- Rise in the production of bio-fuels based on food grains.
- Demand for cereal grains has outstripped supply over the past several years.
- Bad weather, linked possibly to global climate change.
- In past decades, a gross under investment in agricultural production and technology in the developing world.
- The present global agricultural production and trading system, built on subsidies and tariffs, creates grave distortions, disadvantaging producers in poor developing countries.
- An antiquated international system of mobilising and deploying food relief slows the response to emergencies and imposes unacceptable costs and inefficiencies. Under the current US system, US-procured commodities (mandated by law, and accounting for over 40 percent of the World Food Programme's (WFP) supplies) can take up to six months to reach intended beneficiaries. Shipping, handling, and other management costs were consuming 65 percent of budgets as of early 2007, with the percentage continuing to rise. US-origin grain often arrives late and dampens rural grain prices.
The CSIS Task Force argued that urgent action is needed on two fronts - emergency relief and related safety net programmes, and longer-term efforts to reduce poverty and hunger. The following recommendations were made:
- Modernise emergency assistance.
- Increase the scale of US commitment and significantly improve the speed, agility, liquidity, and flexibility of the US response.
- Double the US level of annual commitment to emergency food relief from $1.6 billion to $3.2 billion.
- Require that no less than 25 percent and as much as 50 percent of these expanded emergency funds be available for local and regional purchases. The targets for local and regional purchases should be raised over a five-year period, so that ultimately at least 50 percent and as much as 75 percent of emergency funds are available for local and regional purchases.
- Pursue a robust multilateral approach: reconstitute the Food Aid Convention to reflect better current tonnage and nutritional needs and reinvigorate donor commitments. Renew regular international consultations on emergency food relief response and actively test the feasibility of emergency regional food stocks and the capacity for rapid regional purchases.
- Intensify US food security diplomacy: encourage major oil-producing countries to contribute more to food relief. Press for more stable and predicable international financing mechanisms for supporting the WFP and its implementing partners.
- Enlarge, bilaterally and multilaterally, emergency social safety net programmes such as budget support, school feeding, and food for work. Pursue innovative financial and risk management tools such as vouchers and insurance schemes. Expand nutritional assistance programmes to pregnant and lactating women.
- Make rural development and agricultural productivity US foreign policy priorities. For example, elevate agriculture to be a top priority of US foreign assistance strategy. Set an official target to increase significantly productivity in the developing world in the next decade, support the doubling of agricultural programming by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, and better coordinate and integrate US foreign assistance programmes.
- Revise the US approach to bio-fuels. For example, issue an official policy statement that outlines the steps the US will take to expand food crops for consumption purposes and to decouple food and energy issues so that the debate progresses from one of fuel versus food to fuel and food security.
- Focus US trade policy on promoting developing country agriculture. For example, press on an urgent basis for a successful conclusion on the Doha Development Round that promotes investment and trade in developing country agriculture and reduces long-standing subsidy and tariff barriers. Also, take deliberate and bilateral and multilateral diplomatic action to ease export bans and restrictions that have contributed to higher food prices including strengthening World Trade Organisation rules on export restrictions.
- Strengthen US organisational capacities. For example, create a White House-led standing interagency mechanism on global food security and a Food, Agriculture and Nutrition Bureau at the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Bagging donated US aid on dock in Ethiopia.
The report concludes that the current crisis is unlike any food emergency the world has faced in the past. It is caused by a web of interconnected forces involving agriculture, energy, climate change, trade, and new market demands from emerging markets. The authors caution that time is of the essence in formulating a response and that the Bush administration, the presidential campaigns, the congressional leadership and the next administration all have a responsibility to move US leadership forward.
Following the CSIS Task Force report, US Senators introduced a bill (S3529) to the US Senate for a Global Food Security Act of 2008. The five year appropriation is asking for over US$ 7.5 billion for actions to address food insecurity, $2 billion for the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) system for research and $1.5 billion for a permanent Board for agricultural education. There is also a $500 million fund for an Emergency Food Assistance Account which can make local and regional purchases of food where appropriate. The legislation would provide USAID with the flexibility to respond to emergencies more quickly, without supplanting other food programmes.
The legislation still requires approval and financing. It will complement the existing US support for food and nutrition programmes from the Farm Bill (Title 11 food aid), PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and the Foreign Assistance Bill.
1CSIS (2008). A call for a strategic US approach to the global food crisis. Centre for Strategic International Studies, July 2008
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 35, March 2009