La sécurité alimentaire comme bien public global
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Food prices do not increase alone

For too long, agricultural, energy and development policies have lost sight of the need for food security. Yet, as a global public good, food security should be a structural objective of global governance. But reform of the latter is not sufficient and we should be fully aware of the role to be played by national policies, and of the growing importance of private stakeholders.

To understand food security as a global public good and the need, therefore, for international coordination, we must begin our analysis at the food price crisis of 2007-2008. This crisis arose from a series of immediate causes

For an analysis of key factors, cf. the analysis I presented in my official capacity as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, 2nd May 2008, available on:

. Some causes are related to the supply of agricultural raw materials. In some regions, crop yields in 2005 and 2006 were low due to weather phenomena, causing an initial price rise. While this could have stimulated production, increasing energy prices, both for agricultural production and for the transportation of inputs and harvested crops, restricted the ability of farmers to respond to market signals. In addition, growth in agricultural productivity has slowed significantly since the 2000s: productivity per hectare has probably reached a ceiling in many regions of developed countries, and remained stagnant in some developing countries (DCs) because of the difficulties faced by producers in accessing credit and public support, and the weakness of rural infrastructure. The increase in energy prices has also meant an increase in the prices of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, transport and processing of crops, thus creating a gap between food price trends on international markets and farmer incomes: when commodity prices started to rise, the benefits that should in principle have been directed towards producers, were largely absorbed by increased production costs.

Causes stemming from the demand side include rising energy prices, which led to a growing demand for biofuels - resulting in increased prices for maize, then soybean and palm oil - and to an increased pressure on arable land due to the fact that crop production for food had to compete with fodder and bioenergy production

70% of the increase in maize production between 2004 and 2007 was due to ethanol production (Christiaensen, 2009)

. The gap between the growth in demand and the supply capacity of agricultural raw materials gradually widened. Food stocks, which were already in global decline since the late 1990s, have from 2006 shrunk to dangerous levels. Against this already tense background, speculation played a role both in the physical markets, particularly for rice (Slayton, 2009), as well as in the derivatives markets: all this was enough to generate feelings of new shortages, which in spring 2008 resulted in a market panic that created the sharp price rises that we all still recall.

These causes are well known and it is not necessary to dwell further on them. What must be emphasized, however, is the fact that the crisis highlighted both the inconsistencies in global food security governance - or rather the cost of its absence - and the need for a reinforced international coordination to address the issue. Indeed, underlying the immediate causes of the agricultural commodity price increases are more structural developments, three of which are particularly important to consider.

Firstly, for nearly forty years, there has been inadequate investment in subsistence agriculture in developing countries. In Latin America and several countries in South Asia, the 1960s and 1970s were characterised by the launch of a "green revolution", gambling on a more capitalized form of agriculture that involved massive irrigation, mechanization of agricultural production, a reliance on external inputs - chemical fertilizers and pesticides - and the distribution of high-yielding seeds developed in public agricultural research centres (Borlaug, 2000; Holt-Gimenez and Patel, 2009; Shiva, 1991). A high degree of international cooperation has characterized this development because the implementation of public research, for example in Mexico and the Philippines, has been of benefit to many countries throughout the continents concerned. In Sub-Saharan Africa, however, this technological revolution did not occur over the same timeframe: farmers have been largely left to fend for themselves, aside from limited support from some governments through centralized public procurement to promote industrialization and to ensure access to cheap food for their populations. These very different trajectories have one common aspect: rural poverty and inequality have increased because those responsible for agricultural development have generally favoured producers with the most land and capital, and the best transport infrastructure; while small farmers in remote areas or working on more marginal lands have not received due attention. In a context dominated by a fear of shortages along with rapid population growth, there has been a general reliance on the enhancement of agricultural production efficiency, without giving the same degree of consideration to issues of access and distributive justice. The quasi-generalized dismantling of public intervention systems in the agricultural sector during the 1980s and 1990s, largely due to structural adjustment programmes imposed on indebted DCs, has further accentuated this trend: where liberalization is dominant, only the most competitive producers can emerge, confining many others to subsistence agriculture or forcing them to leave the sector to swell the slums of huge cities.

Through the advances of the "green revolution", world agricultural production has increased over the last fifty years. And it has done so everywhere, although in Sub-Saharan Africa production has remained stagnant relative to the population (due to high population growth) and the only production gains there have been achieved by an extension of cultivated areas rather than by increases in yields per hectare. This progress in the availability of agricultural raw materials has, however, been accompanied by an increase in rural poverty because the situation for family smallholders, upon which a majority of rural people depend, has not improved. Such farmers are often facing increased pressure on land and water resources due to competition from highly capitalized agriculture that is more competitive on markets. Therefore, there has been an increase in hunger at the same time as production was being raised. Among other factors, this is a failure of governance, in that public policies were designed in a technocratic manner, based on an incomplete diagnosis of the causes of hunger, and were not aligned with the objective of improving food security. Investment in agriculture has been excessively geared towards the promotion of export crops while giving insufficient attention to the social and environmental impacts of technological advances, and the chosen indicators of success (production increase per capita, growth of competitiveness and increased export revenue) have guided the development trajectory towards aims other than food security (De Schutter, 2011).

Not only had agricultural policies shifted the focus from the objective of food security; the liberalization of agricultural trade and trade policies has also diverted governments from pursuing this goal. This is a second major structural cause of the crisis. The macro-economic prescriptions of the 1980s have prompted governments of many developing countries to lower import duties on foodstuffs. This suited their short-term interest in promoting access to affordable food for urban populations. But small local producers that were unable to compete on international markets or that grew staple food crops not meant for export, have had to compete on their own markets with products that are heavily subsidized by OECD countries: the result was that a large number of small farmers selling their products on local markets came to fail

Moreover, this has led to development cooperation agencies gradually moving away from agriculture in general, as they did not view the sector as one that had any future potential for DCs (World Bank, 2007)

. In 1994, the conclusion of the Marrakesh Agreement that established the World Trade Organization (WTO), only confirmed what had, at that time, already become a reality: the gradual reduction of tariff rates on agricultural products that encourages developing countries to both specialize in the production of agricultural commodities, and to depend to a greater extent on the import of processed food products. The international division of labour codified in the agreement is not necessarily favourable towards the least advanced countries. Above all, it has ambiguous impacts on food security. While some efficiency gains have been achieved, the dependence of these poor countries on imports leaves them vulnerable to price rises on international markets. Poverty in rural areas has increased, and with it, automatically, the number of people lacking access to affordable food.

Finally, the third development to consider is that energy policies were not geared towards the need for food security. In the 1940s, the food systems of OECD countries developed a strong dependence on fossil fuels. Other contributing factors were the mechanization of production, the use of mineral fertilizers and pesticides from the chemical industry, and the lengthening of supply chains - increasing transport and storage costs due to the longer distances involved. The way that the "green revolution" has spread throughout developing countries has extended this dependency in several important areas. More recently, the decision to focus on biofuels, ethanol or biodiesel products from plants (maize, sugar cane, beet and jatropha for example) has accentuated the fusion between the energy and agriculture markets with inevitable consequences: when oil and gas prices rise, the prices of agricultural products follow suit and food prices may therefore be adversely affected

However, the debate on this issue is not closed.

(Figure 1).

In other words, the food price crisis of 2007-2008 highlighted not only the vulnerability of a number of poor countries that are net importers of foodstuffs and vulnerable to price increases, but also the fact that agricultural trade and energy policies were not in alignment, or were even detrimental, to the objective of food security. Even food aid deployed over the last thirty years has sometimes produced perverse effects, destabilizing the already fragile local markets by competing with producers in recipient regions (FAO, 2006). The observation of these inconsistencies has given rise to the idea of a better international coordination of the sectoral policies that impact upon food security at the national level (Christiaensen, 2009).

The reform of global governance for food security

When food prices soared in spring 2008, UN agencies responded by forming the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis (HLTF), under the chairmanship of the Secretary General of the United Nations. Under the auspices of the UN and FAO, the HLTF gathers together representatives of specialized UN agencies (including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and UNICEF), as well as the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO.

The HLTF is primarily intended to enable governments to identify a "range of options" that they are encouraged to explore in order to address the issue of food security, in particular in relation to price increases: these options are set out in a "Comprehensive Framework for Action", highlighting the different routes available for States to take, and the associated consequences. This represented an initial coordination attempt, launched as early as April 2008. However, the HLTF remains a consultation structure amongst international agencies; neither governments nor civil society are represented. While a better alignment of sectoral policies that impact on food security is essential, it seems vital that these stakeholders are integrated into any coordinative structure.

There was a subsequent attempt by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to integrate these stakeholders. Officially, the CFS was simply an FAO committee, established in 1974 following the first World Summit on Food Security, to make proposals to the FAO Council on the basis of a policy review relating to global food security. However, the thirty-fifth CFS annual session was seized as an opportunity to instigate its ambitious reform, which was endorsed by the FAO Council (CFS, 2009). The reforms are intended to make the CFS a forum for dialogue between all stakeholders, aiming to contribute to food security and improved nutrition, and to establish the CFS as the main international and intergovernmental platform for this purpose.

The CFS, it deserves underscoring, is not a forum for donors: its purpose is not to encourage the governments of rich countries to make financial commitments to support agriculture in DCs. It should instead be considered as a place to forge consensus on certain issues of common interest for the entire world, at the junction between the spheres of several international agencies, and concerning both public and private investment. However, there is a question mark regarding the gap between the professed ambitions and the ability to deliver the changes considered necessary.

The blind spot of the reforms: the role of private investment

Indeed, there remains a major obstacle to achieving consistency and to making the much-needed transition towards more sustainable agricultural and food systems: the poorest States lack the budgetary resources to fund the policies they would like to implement.

This results in these poor countries being highly dependent on the donors. However, in recent years, the tendency of donors to impose various requirements on recipients, without any discussion between them, has been increasingly criticized because of the burden it imposes on the administrative capacity of partner governments, and because of the resulting inefficiencies in the flow of aid (Easterly, 2006). On 2 March 2005, the Paris Declaration on development aid effectiveness was adopted under the auspices of the OECD to improve the quality of aid. It was approved by 122 governments, the European Commission and 27 organizations. The commitments contained therein are based on five principles aiming at shifting the direction of aid policies: national ownership, alignment with national-level priorities, harmonization between donors, result-focused management and mutual accountability (OECD, 2007).

But even more aid shall not suffice to bridge the financing gap. The least developed countries also depend on the arrival of private investment for the development of storage or communication infrastructure, or to support the provision of private goods - fertilizers, high-yielding seeds or pesticides - to farmers. These countries therefore face a dilemma: to reject such investment would mean an end to the ability to fund long overdue programmes for agricultural recovery; but to accept is to risk not being able to direct funds towards the most urgent needs, for example to support small farmers located in remote areas or working on the most marginal land - precisely those that need the most help.

It is in these terms that we can consider the debate on large-scale agricultural investment, which since the end of 2008 has attracted much attention (De Schutter, 2011b). These investments take the form of purchases or long-term leases of large tracts of arable land in DCs, both by private operators (agri-food companies and investment funds) and by the governments of countries that are cash-rich but are relatively poor in natural resources (and concerned about ensuring long-term food security for their own populations by developing agricultural production capacity elsewhere). Given that such investments entail the development of export crops on large plantations that are capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive and contribute very little to the local economy, but that utilize land that may be the most fertile and best located, these investments appear unfavourable to local food security. However, these areas of land would probably remain underexploited, and average surface productivity low, if not "developed" through the acceptance of foreign investors.

Contract farming creates a similar dilemma. Here agri-food buyers make long-term agreements with producers to ensure a stable supply of agricultural raw materials. In exchange for a commitment to supply the buyer and to meet their requirements in terms of volumes, delivery times and standards, the producers gain guaranteed market access; they receive some technical assistance; and they are often able to buy the necessary inputs at less than market prices since the buyer is able to purchase such inputs in bulk in order to redistribute them to contracted producers. Such agreements seem to be in the interest of both parties. They exempt governments from having to provide small farmers with the services offered by the buyer, such as inputs and technical assistance. At the same time, if governments do not play an active role in guiding these investments, the most marginalized small farmers are at risk of being excluded. These farmers may be located far from transportation infrastructure or have plots that are too small (not allowing them to invest in land with adequate economies of scale) and are sometimes illiterate or poorly trained: for all these reasons, potential investors may be deterred from supplying these farmers due to the transaction costs being too high to allow long-term agreements to be made (Runsten ''& Key, 1999). Given the situation, should we discourage potential investors that would be unlikely to promote an increase in income for poor farmers? Or should such investors be encouraged, but on the proviso that they conduct their affairs within a framework that makes a contribution towards development strategies agreed at the national level in the host country? Can a relationship of subsidiarity be envisaged between the respective roles of the private investor and the State?

The emergence in 2006 of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), further illustrates this difficulty (Toenniessen et al, 2008; Dano, 2007). Created with the support of the Gates and Rockefeller private foundations (which contributed 100 and 50 million USD respectively at the outset), AGRA aims to reproduce in Africa the technological revolution in agriculture that occurred in Latin America and Southeast Asia in the 1960s, while learning from the negative environmental consequences of the first green revolution (Conway, 1997). To achieve this goal, AGRA focuses on breadbasket regions, in which it aims to support farmers by providing inputs such as high-yielding seed varieties: between 2009 to 2012, 40% of AGRA's support will go to Ghana, Mali, Mozambique and Tanzania, countries that are identified as suitable according to the World Bank's "Doing Business" index, i.e. countries that have created an environment that is favourable for private investment (AGRA, 2009)

In addition, 40% of AGRA's support will go to nine other countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe), and an additional 13% to awareness-raising operations throughout the entire African continent, and 7% will go to operating costs.

. The objective is to create markets that will eventually become viable. In the thirteen countries where it operates today, the Alliance wants to encourage the emergence of "farmer-entrepreneurs" to develop agriculture that is sufficiently capitalized in order to encourage private companies to supply inputs and to invest in regional-level distribution.

The AGRA project sets out to remove the barriers faced by smallholders in the acquisition of inputs (their purchasing power being too low to attract input providers, especially taking into account the distribution costs associated with their geographical dispersal) and those that limit their market access (barriers related to a lack of adequate infrastructure and to insufficient information on prices or the buyer expectations). This should create linkages between farmers - in their capacity as input buyers and suppliers of agricultural products - and the markets: this improved market access is defined as the key to allowing farmers to escape from subsistence agriculture. The main AGRA programmes converge towards this goal, supporting 40 African seed companies and 10,000 distributors (Program on African Seed Systems); encouraging the creation of rural markets, harvest exchanges and storage units (Market Access Program); encouraging better soil maintenance, starting with a mapping of African soils (SoilHealth Program); and encouraging African governments to strengthen their support for agriculture and to subsidize input purchases (Policy and Partnership Program). In addition, AGRA collaborates with several partners. Thus, on 15 April 2009, it announced the creation of an Agricultural Investment Fund for Africa, set up jointly by AGRA and the African Development Bank (ADB) and IFAD, with the support of the French Development Agency, aiming at raising 500 million euros in support of agroindustry and agricultural cooperatives in Africa.

Even a superficial review of these projects and their evaluation would go far beyond the scope of this article. However, it should be noted that one of the challenges awaiting African governments is, once again, that of consistency. AGRA's available budgets, that attract the interest and support of the private sector, are superior to those at the disposal of African governments to revive their agriculture. Under these conditions, how can national ownership of programmes be ensured? Are AGRA's priorities meeting those laid down by national States? If AGRA is able to benefit farmers that have the potential to transform into "entrepreneurs", and that can gradually make the transition to a more capitalized agriculture that attracts private investors, what will happen to smaller farmers for whom this type of development is not viable? Will the pressures on land and water increase, and will competition between farmers eventually impact negatively upon those that are most in need of help - the poorest farmers working in the least favourable agro-ecological areas, that are unable to benefit from the introduction of new technologies?

The role of national strategies

A key issue is therefore that of the inter-sectoral coordination and consistency between investment and development aid on one hand, and the setting of national priorities on the other. In this regard, the declaration adopted by the G20 agriculture ministers during the meeting held under the French Presidency on 22 and 23 June 2011, recognizes that investments in agriculture "should be made in support of country-owned investment plans" (paragraph 19). Similarly, the declaration adopted in Rome during the World Summit on Food Security on 16-18 November 2009, identifies the first "Principles of Rome", which is to "invest in country-owned plans, aimed at channelling resources to well-designed and result-based programmes and partnerships"

World leaders reaffirmed that "the responsibility for food safety rests with countries and any programme aiming at meeting the challenge of food security must be formulated, developed, supported and led by countries and built on a consultation with all key stakeholders" (FAO, 2009).

. The L'Aquila Initiative on Food Security, adopted at the G8 meeting on 8-10 July 2009, also insists on this dimension of aligning investments with national strategies.

This concern for national ownership is also at the heart of the approach taken by agricultural development policies, which stems from the right to food. Following the call made at the 1996 World Food Summit for the clarification of normative requirements on the right to food, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) - the body of experts responsible for monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - dedicated a general comment on the right to food, which clarified its implications for governments (CESCR, 1999). From 2002 to 2004, governments within the FAO negotiated a text containing a set of recommendations on the implementation of the right to food: this text, titled the Voluntary guidelines to support the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security, was adopted unanimously by FAO Council members on 23 November 2004.

Like the CESCR's General Comment No. 12, the guidelines on the right to food called for the adoption of national strategies defining which measures should be taken, by whom, within which timeframe and following which procedures. Such national strategies or action plans are designed to ensure that adequate resources are mobilized. They aim to improve coordination across different ministerial departments to ensure that the multiple causes of hunger (which are interlinked) will be addressed. These strategies require accountability: by assigning roles to each party and by defining responsibilities, they facilitate the work of civil society organisations and independent authorities - such as human rights national institutions or jurisdictions - which will be able to demand from public authorities that they justify their choices in the light of the agreed roadmap. These action plans sometimes allow ombudsmen or equivalent institutions to respond to the passivity of authorities. They also promote collective learning: if indicators are used to measure progress, policies that fail to produce results can be corrected at an early stage. Finally, because these strategies must be designed to be participatory and inclusive, they encourage a democratization in decision-making, and they guarantee that decisions will be made in light of actual needs, as expressed by those concerned.

Governments must ensure that their agricultural policies and their decisions regarding international trade, energy policies, the fight against climate change, food aid and development cooperation, converge towards the aim of improving food security. They must also retake control of agricultural investment by ensuring that priorities are not defined by investors seeking to acquire the best land, or by private foundations convinced that the solution to poverty and a lack of rural development, that afflicts such a large number of smallholders involved in family farming, is a transition to highly capitalized agriculture based on farmers that are connected to markets. The reform of the governance of food security has a key role to play in this respect, to promote this convergence and to ensure this ownership. It is urgent that within DCs, especially those where agriculture has stalled and must now be replaced at the heart of development policies, governments must be willing to transform their modes of governance and develop these national strategies by accepting the control of public opinion and the sharing of power with farmer organisations. Reinvesting in agriculture is not only ensuring that agricultural productivity will increase in areas where it has remained low and virtually unchanged for forty years, it is also winning the fight against rural poverty, and therefore fighting against hunger and malnutrition. Furthermore, through the increase in the standard of living of rural populations whose purchasing power is currently insufficient to constitute a market for local suppliers of goods and services, it promotes the development of all economic sectors in very poor countries, based on agricultural regeneration (Adelman, 1984).

Governance reform within States must go hand in hand with improvements to global governance. The reform of the CFS, if it leads to the adoption of a robust global strategic framework containing a specific reconstruction agenda, is promising in this regard. This framework should inspire the work of various international agencies gathered within the CFS, and it should guide the relationships between donor governments and their Southern partners. Gradually, the global strategic framework must tend towards the improvement of the international environment so that poor countries will see their efforts rewarded. It is this objective that we must not fail to achieve.

Food prices do not increase alone

Food prices have risen steadily since 2000, with an acceleration in this increase from 2008. Prices of agricultural commodities have followed a very similar trend. Both have reflected the increase in prices of other basic resources such as oil, which influences the cost of many chemical inputs as well as the transport of food products.
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