Global Policy Forum

The Global Struggle Over Who Will End Hunger

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Eric Holt-Gimenez

May 27, 2010

Dublin was unusually sunny and warm last week when the High Level Task Force on the global food security crisis held a consultation at the Malahide resort just north of the city. Dr. David Nabarro, coordinator of the High Level Task Force was looking to elicit comments from civil society organizations on the Comprehensive Framework for Action to end hunger (CFA). The CFA, hastily written a year ago by a team of experts from 23 bureaucracies within the U.N. system, is a multilateral attempt to create a plan of action for dealing with the growing global food crisis.

Dr. Nabarro, an energetic showman, literally took off his coat and tie and rolled up his sleeves before some 100 representatives from farmer's organizations, think tanks, NGOs, human rights and food security organizations from around the world (more had been invited, but were foiled by the Iceland ash cloud). It was a lively two days. Given the diversity of voices, and considering civil society organizations were called to weigh in long after the main document had already been written, Dr. Nabarro and his dedicated crew must be congratulated in keeping the "Dublin Dialogue" from resulting in just another consultative cacophony. However, as things turned out, it is not easy to make music with civil society, the G-8, and the pursers at the World Bank.

Not that anyone objects to ending hunger. Everyone accepts that the Global South will need up to $40 billion a year to rebuild its national food systems (destroyed, ironically enough, by thirty years of the industrial North's overproduction). The struggle is around just how the South's food systems will be rebuilt, who will pay, and who will actually benefit. Getting this right will largely determine whether or not world hunger--now increasing by 100 million people a year--will ever be ended.

Who participated in the Dublin Dialogue and who didn't speaks reams about the deep divide over how to end hunger. La Vía Campesina, the international peasant organization fighting for the rights of farmers, pastoralists and fishers around the world, refused to attend and sent a scathing letter denouncing the Dialogue as merely "an exercise of style... to get comments on a set of preset replies." The letter quickly got to the point:

"[For the CFA] the solutions to the food insecurity are global market, increase in productivity and investments in agriculture by means of industrial inputs and technology, reduction of tariff barriers allowing for a greater circulation of goods, a quick conclusion to the Doha round, development of private investments to produce agro fuels in developing countries. The goal is to transform peasant agriculture into industrial agriculture as quickly as possible. Yet for many organisations from civil society, those so-called answers are the very causes of the critical food situations encountered by many countries."

Vía Campesina is a signatory--along with hundreds of other farmer organizations and NGOs--of another Open Letter advocating "Policies and actions to eradicate hunger and malnutrition." The document calls for 'food sovereignty--the right of all peoples, societies and states determine their own food systems and have policies that ensure availability of sufficient, good quality, affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate food to be recognised and implemented by communities, peoples, states and international institutions.'

This position is supported by the findings of the International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). After a four-year global assessment, the 400 participating scientists of the IAASTD declared:

"The way the world grows its food will have to change radically to better serve the poor and hungry if the world is to cope with growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse."

Offering up faint praise for GMOs, and the new "Green Revolution" the IAASTD supports agroecological, bottom-up approaches to food production and ending hunger.

Most of the participants in the Dialogue (as well as many of the organizers, and possibly even Dr. Nabarro himself) agreed with the need to curb global markets and prioritize investments in agroecology over GMOs. Most wanted agriculture out of the WTO and believe Southern countries need to protect their farmers from the U.S. and E.U's decades-long policy of dumping surplus grain on their national markets. Everyone is against land-grabbing and the spread of agrofuels. The IAASTD was frequently invoked.

But it became very clear that the Dialogue would not get the High Level Task Force to drop their assumptions. In their view, the global market is the solution rather than the cause of hunger, and prioritize the private sector rather than public institutions. The Task Force has yet to seriously address the rash of land-grabbing and seems unable to come to agreement on how to control the expansion of agrofuels. Despite the Dublin Dialogue, the HLTF is unwilling (or unable) to allow civil society--the thousands of farmers organizations and CSOs actually working on the ground--to play a lead role in the fight against hunger. Everything is up for dialogue, but as it turns out, few things can actually be negotiated.

This is because Mr. Nabarro and the High Level Task Force (a self-admitted team of bureaucrats with no budgetary or decision-making power), for all their good intentions, cannot stray far from the mandates of the World Bank--who was conspicuously absent from the Dialogue. To do so would result in the rejection of the CFA. By whom? Most likely by the GAFSPF--The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.

The GAFSPF is the multilateral trust-fund being set up by the U.S., Canada and Spain under the leadership of the World Bank to span the gap between the $40 billion a year needed to end hunger, the $20 billion promised by the G-8 countries, and the $14 billion that is actually forthcoming on these promises. The GAFSPF Framework Document of December 2009 is based on the Bank's 2007 World Development Report on Agriculture. In direct opposition to the IAASTD (which the Bank funded but now refuses to support) the 2007 Development Report recommends more global trade and more public money for the spread of new agricultural technologies, simply stated: signing the Doha Round and spreading GMOs across the Global South. It also laments that regions like sub Saharan Africa will need to experience significant "land mobility", which a euphemism for forcing small farmers off the land.

Unable to win the Global South's support for these positions at the summits in Rome, Madrid, d'Aquila and Pittsburg, the formation of the GAFSPF reflects a strategic move by the Bank to shift the locus of the war on hunger from Rome and New York to Washington--firmly under the control of the World Bank. In the image of World Bank operations, the GAFSPF will divide support between the public and private sector, with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in charge of long and short term loans, credit guarantees and equity to support private sector activities. In typical World Bank fashion, the results of the GAFSPF will never be directly measured in terms of reducing the number of hungry people or measurable improvements to livelihoods. Rather, success will be measured by the numbers of people participating in GAFSPF-supported programs. The heroic assumption is that doing more of the same--i.e., free markets & technology packages--with more people, will end hunger.

Since the World Bank will be holding the purse strings, it appears the HLTF has no choice but to buckle under to the GAFSPF. However, there is another important player that may well tip the agenda in another direction: The Committee on World Food Security--CFS.

The Committee on World Food Security it is not the HLTF collection of 23 bureaucracies, but a political entity with representation from 192 governments. Recently reformed, the CFS is a global policy forum on food that has a participatory mechanism in which Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are autonomous and self-organizing. The interim Coordinating Committee of the CSO Advisory Group is run by representatives from the International Policy Committee on Food Sovereignty (IPC), Oxfam and Action Aid, who have developed a draft proposal for the CSO Advisory Committee. This Committee will establish the permanent civil society mechanism of the CFS. Policy and addressed issues such as:

- Food security & nutrition

- Land tenure & resource access

- Food price volatility

- Climate change

- Social protections

- The role of the CFS in the global strategic framework to end hunger

The possibilities for unleashing the tremendous social dynamism and development potential of farmers and civil society in the war on hunger are more likely with the CFS process than either the High Level Task Force or the GAFSPF. Without organized pressure from civil society, there is little likelihood of advancing food sovereignty at the UN or anywhere else. Indeed, if the High Level Task Force's Comprehensive Framework for Action is going to have any chance, it may well have to throw its support to the Civil Society Advisory Group at the newly-reformed CFS. Otherwise, the tug-of-war between Rome, New York and Washington D.C. over who will end hunger will likely end up supporting "business as usual"--not a hopeful prospect for the world's 1.4 billion hungry people.

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