Food Policy in 2013:
Nutrition Grabs the Spotlight as Hunger Persists
SUMMARY The challenge of ensuring future food and nutrition security received widespread attention in 2013. This chapter describes discussions on the direction of the global development agenda as the world approaches the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals and reviews major 2013 food policy events and decisions around the world.
The world has arrived at a critical crossroads in the effort to promote food and nutrition security. The year 2014 will be a crucial period and a last chance for working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which conclude in 2015. But 2014 will also define future efforts to eradicate hunger and undernutrition as the process to cement the post-2015 agenda moves into full swing. This global debate is happening in a rapidly changing geopolitical and environmental landscape that makes it difficult to plan based solely on past experience. In addition to traditional development donors, the center of gravity of food- and nutrition-security decisionmaking is shifting toward new actors on the global and country-level development stage: for example, food and nutrition policies in a handful of developing countries, such as China and India, and actions by the private sector have increasing potential to affect global food and nutrition security.
Volatile food prices have often dominated headlines in recent years, but 2013 was relatively stable, with no spikes in global food prices. According to the food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the average annual price of food in 2013 was at its lowest level in three years. IFPRI’s early warning system for excessive food price variability shows that prices of basic staples, such as maize, rice, and wheat, have exhibited minimal volatility during the past 450–650 days.1 This is no cause for complacency, however, because many fundamental factors behind the 2008 crisis—including strong demand for biofuels, extreme weather events, and panicky trade behaviors—are still present or have the potential to reemerge. Moreover, global food price indicators do not always reflect country-level realities. For example, in China and India, where a large share of the world’s poor and undernourished people live, food prices rose significantly in 2013, especially for high-nutrient foods such as vegetables (Figure 1).
Figure 1: FOOD PRICES IN CHINA, INDIA, AND THE WORLD, 2007–2013
Sources: Real FAO global food price index is from FAO, Food Price Index, www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/. Nominal China food price index and China vegetable price index are from National Bureau of Statistics China. Nominal India food price index and India vegetable price index are from India, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Office of the Economic Adviser, www.eaindustry.nic.in/. Additional data were obtained through Kevin Chen (IFPRI), Yumei Zhang (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences), and Devesh Roy (IFPRI).
Notes: FAO = Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Price indexes are adjusted for inflation. Figures are consumer price indexes for China and wholesale price indexes for India. For China, the industrial producer price index (from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, through Kevin Chen and Yumei Zhang) was used to convert nominal prices to real prices. For India, the manufactured products price index (from the Office of the Economic Adviser to the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and Industry; www.eaindustry.nic.in/) was used to convert nominal prices to real prices.
The world continues to face serious challenges of hunger and undernutrition. The number of chronically hungry people gradually declined from almost 1 billion three decades ago to 842 million in 2013, according to recent estimates by FAO.2 This means that about one in eight people in the world suffers from hunger today. The problem is especially urgent in South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara, which together are home to almost two-thirds of the world’s hungry people. At the same time, more than 2 billion people are affected by hidden hunger—that is, deficiencies in essential micronutrients, such as iron, vitamin A, and zinc.
Hunger and undernutrition3 can be eliminated sustainably by 2025. But to achieve this goal, governments and donors must devote sufficient resources and implement appropriate policies and investments. This aspirational target is an immense, but not insurmountable, challenge. Evidence from countries such as Brazil, China, Thailand, and Vietnam, which have substantially reduced hunger and undernutrition, suggests that it is realistic to strive for this goal by accelerating the pace of progress (see Chapter 2). Given the detrimental consequences of hunger and undernutrition for human development and for economic growth, their elimination needs to be made a top priority.
Within this context, the 2013 Global Food Policy Report aims to provide insight into the major developments in food policy during 2013 and their implications for future food and nutrition security. This chapter is an overview of these developments, with special attention to the debate surrounding the post-2015 agenda as it applies to food and nutrition security. This overview also provides recommendations for the agenda that can effectively address challenges to food and nutrition security.
Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Agenda
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have served as an effective call to action for the international community to come together around a set of common objectives; as such, they have influenced political discourse and helped frame development issues. Several MDG targets have already been met at the global level or are within close reach, including halving poverty, increasing access to improved drinking water, and reducing the incidence of malaria and tuberculosis. However, significant concerns remain about the unevenness of achievements in the MDGs across targets and regions,4 as highlighted during a 2013 special session of the UN General Assembly on progress toward the MDGs.5 Progress has stalled or is lacking with regard to addressing hunger; child mortality; and access to primary education, reproductive healthcare, and sanitation. The goals themselves have also been criticized from several angles. Given the MDGs’ focus on achieving certain development outcomes, an important criticism has been their lack of mechanisms for tracking inputs and ensuring accountability, as well as the lack of a theory of change linking drivers with outcomes.6 At the same time, whereas some critics deemed the MDGs too ambitious, others claimed the goals were not ambitious enough. When all is said and done, even if we achieve all of the intended targets under the MDGs, the world will still be home to millions of people facing poverty, hunger, disease, lack of education, and other challenges, which is why the next set of goals must achieve more in a shorter timeframe.
A Broader Agenda
Building on the foundations established by the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, attention is now shifting toward the development of sustainable development goals (SDGs) as an anchor for the post-2015 development agenda.7 The push for SDGs is grounded in a recognition of the interdependence among social, economic, and environmental outcomes. Current discussions on the post-2015 agenda emphasize the need to expand beyond the MDGs by incorporating climate change, urbanization, conflict, and sustainable consumption and production patterns into the development framework. This approach is particularly relevant for food and nutrition security, given the many synergies between achieving environmental sustainability and food and nutrition security—each is critical to achieve the other. Increased food production must be achieved by increasing yields while using fewer resources, such as land and water, and minimizing or reversing negative environmental impacts.
A vital step is to provide agricultural producers with a favorable policy environment that will make agricultural growth more sustainable.
One approach to increasing sustainable growth in agricultural productivity is known as sustainable agricultural intensification (see Chapter 4). This approach has played a central role in the agricultural debate surrounding the post-2015 development agenda, with significant emphasis placed on the need to make current food production systems more efficient. However, sustainable growth in agricultural productivity often requires transformative and possibly radical interventions along different segments of the food chain, including changes by both producers and consumers.8 A vital step is to provide agricultural producers with a favorable policy environment that will make agricultural growth more sustainable, including the reversal of water and energy subsidies that encourage unsustainable resource use. Equally important is encouraging farmers to apply specific agricultural technologies that increase agricultural productivity and enhance environmental sustainability. Large-scale adoption of these technologies should lead to increased food production, reduced food prices, and improved food security.
The Search for Consensus
Work on the post-2015 agenda is well under way along several interrelated tracks, with a number of high-level meetings, consultations, and reports produced in 2013. Food- and nutrition-security issues have received significant attention at several forums. As part of the broad-based consultation process that was launched around the post-2015 agenda, the High Level Consultation on Hunger, Food Security, and Nutrition9 presented food and nutrition security as a basic human right that can be achieved within a generation. Participants emphasized the need for development efforts that focus on sustainable and resilient food production and consumption patterns, reduced postharvest losses and food waste, and improved agricultural productivity among smallholders, especially women farmers.10 The results of this consultation were channeled into the report “A Million Voices: The World We Want,” which is the United Nations Development Group’s synthesis report of the 11 global thematic consultations and public surveys that have thus far engaged approximately 1.3 million people.
One of the eight sessions of the newly launched Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (made up of 30 member states of the UN General Assembly) also addressed food security, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture issues (as well as desertification, land degradation, drought, water, and sanitation).11 During this meeting, participants highlighted the importance—and difficulty—of designing goals that reflect the multi-dimensionality of food and nutrition, including the linkages among food, land, and water resources. In 2014, the Open Working Group will use these deliberations as inputs into the sustainable development goals it proposes to the 68th session of the UN General Assembly for consideration and action.
In the same vein, two prominent reports released in 2013 contained preliminary visions for the post-2015 agenda: one by the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the other by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global network of research centers, universities, and technical institutions. Both reports emphasize a vision for sustainable development that revolves around four dimensions: economic development, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and good governance.12 The proposed goals—for both developed and developing countries—include targets pertaining to climate change, governance, land and water management, health, and more sustainable and equitable urbanization. The High-Level Panel proposes a stand-alone goal for food security and nutrition security and includes indicators related to stunting, anemia, agricultural productivity, and postharvest losses. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network proposal gives hunger a lower profile by situating it under the poverty goal, and it includes more general targets related to improving food security, promoting good nutrition, and ending child stunting. The report also proposes another goal to improve agricultural systems and raise rural prosperity.
These divergent views on agriculture, food, and nutrition goals in the post-2015 framework show that despite good information for debate, we are still far from consensus on a final decision. The proposal of the High-Level Panel, for example, left about half of its targets blank. Many questions remain regarding what should be included as goals, what kind of targets should be set, and how they can be measured. For example, postharvest food losses are particularly difficult to measure accurately. In addition, during the two-day European Development Days 2013, discussions among European development practitioners and their partners centered on building a vision for the post-2015 agenda. In the high-level closing panel, the participants emphasized the need for an international development agenda that addresses “unfinished business” with a clear link to national and individual interests and that finds the optimal balance of goals that are neither too ambitious nor too modest.
Global Developments in 2013
Politicians are finally taking undernutrition seriously as a major development challenge.
The intensive debate on the future direction of the global development agenda comes at the same time as a great push for policies related to food and nutrition across different global platforms. Politicians are finally taking undernutrition seriously as a major development challenge. One of the most notable initiatives was the June 2013 high-level Nutrition for Growth summit, which brought together representatives from developed and developing countries, the private sector, civil society, and scientific organizations in the lead up to the Group of Eight (G8) Summit in Northern Ireland. The resulting Global Nutrition for Growth Compact made new commitments of US$4.15 billion to tackle global undernutrition and promote nutrition-sensitive investments between now and 2020.
The Nutrition for Growth summit was also a follow-up to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was launched at the 2012 G8 Summit to strengthen the global commitment to food and nutrition security. As a joint initiative of African leaders, the private sector, and the G8 countries, the New Alliance is designed to bring these groups together to mobilize private investments and align aid to recipient countries for agricultural and rural development and food and nutrition security. In 2013, the New Alliance expanded its reach with the membership of Benin, Malawi, Nigeria, and Senegal, which joined existing members Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Participation in the New Alliance reflects stakeholders’ commitment to mobilize private investment in agricultural development and food and nutrition security and to encourage innovation for sustainable development of the agricultural sector.
At the same time, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement has increased its momentum to help developing countries prioritize nutrition-related commitments and integrate these commitments into programs. As of December 2013, the number of member countries stood at 45 (up from 33 in December 2012). During the 68th UN General Assembly in September 2013, representatives from most SUN member countries and networks (including stakeholders from governments, the private sector, and multilateral organizations) came together for the Global Gathering of the SUN Movement. This event provided a platform for stakeholders to share news about progress and challenges. Participants noted increased political will and institutional arrangements for aligning nutrition-related policies and legal frameworks and mobilizing partners, capacity, and resources. Emphasis was also placed on the challenges facing multisectoral efforts to design and implement policies for nutrition. Such events are important tools for sharing best practices and challenges.
Food security in developing countries emerged as a thorny topic in global trade negotiations at the end of 2013.
These meetings and discussions have been supported by the release of numerous background papers and reports. In particular, the release of the most recent Lancet series of papers on maternal and child nutrition helped put the spotlight on the importance of nutrition for broader development outcomes in 2013.13 Building on The Lancet’s 2008 landmark series of papers, the new series outlined the latest research findings on maternal and childhood malnutrition, including reviews of nutrition-sensitive programs, the political economy of malnutrition, and the growing threat posed by the double burden of undernutrition and overweight/obesity in many developing countries.
The development community has made significant commitments to promoting food- and nutrition-security efforts. We now have a better understanding of what needs to be done and what it will cost, and resources are being generated to make it happen. An important step in realizing these commitments is developing governance and accountability systems at the global and national level to hold stakeholders accountable for their commitments and measure the level of implementation. These efforts require sufficient capacity and resources. The implementation of multisectoral efforts to improve nutrition is especially affected by political and governance constraints (see Chapter 7). Overcoming these constraints requires an enabling environment that uses high-quality, well-communicated information and evidence; raises the profile of undernutrition as a development challenge; and strengthens the strategic and operational capacity at all levels of government.
Many stakeholders are now engaged in food-security and nutrition efforts—a positive development that is nonetheless challenging to coordinate. To facilitate international cooperation, new integrated approaches across sectors, disciplines, and actors will be crucial. The private sector, for example, has been actively involved in consultations on the post-2015 agenda. This includes a private-sector outreach program led by Unilever that consists of consultations and roundtable meetings with businesses in developing and developed countries, the results of which were summarized in a report for the High-Level Panel.14 In particular, thematic consultations on food and nutrition emphasized the need for locally relevant targets that reflect efforts to improve market access, empower smallholder farmers, integrate solutions across the food-water-energy nexus, and build long-term resilience into food chains. The private sector is also engaged in ways that go beyond the post-2015 agenda. For example, the company Royal DSM has been working with the World Food Programme to increase the micronutrients in that agency’s food supplies.15 In the aftermath of the destructive Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the World Food Programme received an outpouring of supplies alongside financial, telecommunication, and logistical support from private companies, demonstrating the private sector’s increasing engagement in relief efforts.16 Such collaboration among stakeholders is crucial, especially given the increased likelihood of more intense and frequent extreme weather events,17 and it should be accompanied by clearly defined roles and responsibilities in order to increase accountability and avoid duplication of effort.
Food security in developing countries emerged as a thorny topic in global trade negotiations at the end of 2013. After more than a decade of relatively little progress in the World Trade Organization (WTO) trade talks, participants at the Ninth Ministerial Conference reached a monumental, long-sought agreement that promises to ease trade barriers and costs for all types of trade, including trade in agricultural and food commodities, by simplifying customs procedures and regulations. The agreement also assured developing countries that they will receive support in building capacities to meet these trade facilitation commitments. Estimates suggest that this agreement could boost global trade by US$666 billion to US$1 trillion over the long term.18 Negotiations were almost sidelined when India stood firm on its demand that the purchase (and stockholding) of crops by developing countries to support poor farmers and feed the poor and food insecure should not be considered a trade-distorting subsidy. India argued that its food security would be compromised if such food-security schemes were not permanently exempted from caps on subsidy spending. In the end, WTO members agreed to give developing countries a temporary exemption from subsidy limits, deferring the issue to future negotiations. Failure to reach an agreement would have had significant negative ramifications not only for the future of the Doha round of trade negotiations, but also for the credibility of the WTO as a forum for trade talks.
Regional and National Developments in 2013
Food and nonfood policies at the country and regional level continue to be relevant for both global food security and environmental sustainability. In 2013, countries introduced a range of policies with significant implications for future national and global food supply and demand. Commitments to agricultural development and food security continued at the country and regional level. Although global initiatives to promote food and nutrition security are rife, the greatest potential for promoting food and nutrition probably lies within developing countries and depends on their capacity and willingness to take the required actions effectively and efficiently. National ownership of strategies, policies, and mechanisms of accountability are necessary conditions for eradicating hunger and undernutrition, but they need to be supported by national investment priorities. The experiences of successful developing countries, such as Brazil, China, Thailand, and Vietnam, in reducing hunger suggest that development strategies have the greatest chance of success when they are country led, context specific, and evidence based (see Chapter 2).
2013 Food Policy Timeline: Issues, Actions, and Events
Sources: China revamps food safety control: A. Gaffney, “China's SFDA Becomes CFDA amidst Consolidation of Power and New Leadership,” Regulatory Focus, March 25, 2013, http://www.raps.org/focus-online/news/news-Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” May 30, 2013, http://www.un.org/sg/management/beyond2015.shtml; Summit generates new pledges for nutrition: United Kingdom, “Nutrition for Growth: Out: How Have Countries Fared in Agricultural Development?” press release, November 12, 2013, http://www.ifpri.org/pressrelease/caadp-10-years-out-how-have-countries-fared-agricultural-development; India adopts a National progress on the Millennium Development Goals: United Nations, “President of the General Assembly's Special Event towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” September 25, 2013, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/204327/; Trade talks make a comeback: The Economist, “Unaccustomed Victory,” December 14, 2013, http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21591625-global-trade-http://southeastfarmpress.com/soybeans/brazil-climbing-top-global-soybean-ladder.
India’s Food Security Act
Home to the largest share of the world’s hungry and poor, India recently signed into law the National Food Security Act (also known as the Right to Food Act), which entitles approximately two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people to fixed rations of subsidized food grains. This law, discussed in Chapter 3, could be a game changer for national food security if the resulting large-scale program is effectively designed, targeted, and implemented. But many issues remain. The law is expected to increase India’s already strained food-security budget to about US$21 billion, which equals an estimated 1.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2013–2014. Although the law focuses on food subsidies, it leaves the door open for the government to introduce other types of transfers, such as direct cash transfers and vouchers, for which the outcomes will vary among different modalities of transfers, market conditions, and the ability of institutions to deliver services. The new law also raises several questions: How can India sustainably develop the program to guarantee access to cheap nutritious food to the poor without overwhelming its already strained national funding and food-procurement channels? How will it overcome the diversion and mistargeting that afflicted India’s earlier subsidized food programs? How will this ambitious food scheme affect—and potentially distort—national grain markets and, during times of drought or flood, international grain markets? What effect will it have on maternal and child nutrition and the livelihood opportunities of smallholder farmers in India?
Challenges in Food Safety and Proposed New Reform in China
Food-safety issues have grown in importance in the food-security debate. In China, concerns about food safety were again in the headlines in 2013, with reports that some of China’s rice supplies contained excessive levels of cadmium, a carcinogenic heavy metal that could induce multiple organ damage. In response, the government centralized its food-safety system by elevating the power of the General Food and Drug Administration in 2013 to set standards and monitor production, distribution, and consumption.19 This ministry-level institution replaces a system of overlapping and scattered food-safety agencies and regulators, thereby streamlining regulation processes for food and drug safety. This is an important step because a shift in demand among Chinese consumers from domestic- to foreign-produced food supplies as a result of food-safety concerns could have significant impacts on international markets by, for example, raising global food prices.
In the face of industrialization and urbanization, China is in need of a new approach to agricultural development. An important step in this direction occurred at the third plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, which is a major gathering of China’s top government officials to set new policy directions every five years. Among the government’s proposals were sweeping policies and investments designed to reverse China’s slowing economic growth by increasing consumption and integrating rural and urban areas. China’s government leaders seek to use urbanization as an engine of growth for the Chinese economy by introducing more flexible land-use rights and increasing migrants’ access to social services in cities.20 This urbanization-focused strategy and its associated investments could lead to higher agricultural productivity through land consolidation, but they could also have an impact on national and global food demand and supply, both by raising demand for high-value foods and by threatening food supplies through population and environmental pressures on natural resources.
Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme in Africa
In Africa, 2013 marked the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the Maputo Declaration, through which African heads of state and government pledged to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. Since its inauguration, CAADP has successfully guided country and regional actions designed to stimulate economic growth and reduce hunger and poverty through increased investment in agriculture. Africa as a whole, however, has not met the CAADP targets of raising annual agricultural growth by at least 6 percent and committing at least 10 percent of national budgets to agricultural development. Investments in agricultural research and development (R&D) can be an especially effective tool to develop and adapt new technologies that enhance the quantity and quality of agricultural outputs, leading to greater food security. According to evidence presented in Chapter 5, increased public spending on agricultural R&D in Africa south of the Sahara was driven by a relatively limited set of countries, especially Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. Other often small and donor-dependent countries are stuck in a vicious cycle of under-investment and serious capacity constraints in agricultural R&D. These national governments need to step up efforts to devote sufficient and stable financial resources to agricultural R&D, thereby helping to generate high-value research outputs that could be used to fuel future growth.
Increased Investment and Policy Reforms in Central Asia and Russia
The countries of Central Asia and Russia placed a strong emphasis on food security in 2013. Most notably, Kazakhstan and Russia, which are major producers and exporters of wheat, adopted multiyear state programs to expand agriculture’s share of the economy. These programs, which entail heavy subsidization of agriculture, aim to improve the long-term efficiency of agriculture by promoting the adoption of efficient technologies and inputs, increasing investments in market and production infrastructure, and improving land. Although heavy subsidies for agriculture are generally not a sustainable or efficient way to bring about long-term agricultural growth, fiscal constraints are less serious in resource-rich Kazakhstan and Russia than they might be in other countries. A number of countries made large advances in regional and international trade cooperation, which will help the region attain more efficient trade structures and, as a result, increased incomes and improved nutritional outcomes.
Food Price Inflation in Emerging Countries
Although global food prices continued to fall in late 2013 and are some of the lowest in three years, they are still not much lower than the all-time highs in 2011.21 Furthermore, spikes in food prices did occur in India and China. For five straight months in 2013, India experienced double-digit food inflation, with year-on-year food price inflation jumping from about 10 percent in June to more than 18 percent in October; inflation for vegetables, especially onions, was even higher, with prices increasing by 78 percent over the past year.22 In China, food prices rose in late 2013, and the 6 percent increase in food prices in October was the highest since April 2012.23 Food inflation continued to outpace general inflation throughout the Asia-Pacific region, albeit on a smaller scale than in China and India. Food and general inflation issues will require careful monitoring in 2014.
Debate over Policies on Genetically Modified Organisms
Genetically modified (GM) foods have continued to be a source of scrutiny and heated debate, and in 2013 countries continued to adopt different approaches to GM foods and the related issue of biosafety. For example, Mexico introduced an indefinite ban on genetically engineered corn, whereas Bangladesh approved the commercial cultivation of GM eggplant that is resistant to insect damage.24 In the Philippines, field trials of GM vitamin A–enriched rice (often dubbed golden rice) were vandalized.25
At the same time, there has been a definitive push toward science-based policymaking in the field. The European Union’s (EU’s) chief scientist, alongside the national science academies of all EU member states plus Norway and Switzerland, gave support to a report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council that urges the EU to rethink its widespread rejection of GM technologies.26 The report argues that there is no scientific evidence that GM technologies are any riskier than their conventional breeding counterparts.27 On the contrary, the report asserts that European policymakers are doing their economies and global food security a disservice by limiting agricultural innovations that can improve agricultural productivity and efficiency, environmental quality, and human health. Along the same lines, the United Kingdom’s environment secretary stated that opposition to GM crops has been dominated by emotions rather than scientific evidence, resulting in policies in many countries that hinder the potential of GM foods to improve the health and food security of millions of people.28
Rapidly Increasing Role of Latin America in Food Exports
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) continued to be major exporters of food. This region remains the world’s main net exporter of agricultural products and is responsible for a large share of global exports of sugar, oilseed meal cakes, coffee, corn, poultry, and bovine meat. Because LAC supplies 18–20 percent of calories imported by Africa and Asia, production changes in the region can have implications for global food availability and prices. In 2012–2013, Brazil surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest exporter of soybeans, which are mostly genetically engineered and produced for export (in particular to China and Europe), with Argentina a distant third and Paraguay taking fourth place. During the same period, poor weather in the United States pushed Brazil and Argentina to become the two largest exporters of coarse grains. Brazil continues to be the second largest beef and veal producer (after the United States).
Lack of Progress in Reforming Industrial-Country Farm Policies
Negotiations around the renewal of the US farm bill continued to be at a stalemate well into 2013 as a result of bipartisan division in the US Congress. The bill is a significant contributor to the global food and nutrition landscape not only because it offers farmers price and income support that can distort world markets, but also because it governs US food aid. The current practice of transporting US-grown food supplies to developing countries using US ships has been the source of much debate because it is a more expensive, less efficient, and slower system of food aid delivery. In 2013, President Barack Obama pushed for reforms to untie food aid from domestic procurement and delivery requirements, but the US House of Representatives rejected an amendment to the farm bill that would have promoted the use of more locally grown food supplies in developing countries.
The EU was also in the midst of substantial reforms to agricultural and biofuel policies, the impacts of which will be felt throughout the developing and developed world. Extensive debate and negotiations on the future of the EU’s biofuel policies took place amid claims that biofuels from food crops push up global grain prices and are a greater source of emissions than fossil fuels.29 Efforts to fast-track a proposal to limit the use of food crop–based biofuels have failed, making it unlikely that negotiations on the draft biofuels law will start before 2015. This delay has created uncertainty regarding the future of EU biofuel policies, jeopardizing the long-term development of alternative renewable energy technologies, such as advanced biofuels derived from algae and biomass.
Another significant development is that after two years of negotiations, EU policymakers reached an agreement on reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The agreed-upon reforms emphasize shifting direct payments toward more environmentally focused practices and increased support for young and small farmers. Critics argue, however, that the final reform package is watered down and riddled with exemptions.30 Although support to European farmers is decoupled from production, such support mechanisms have the potential to distort patterns of global agricultural production by giving European farmers a competitive advantage compared with farmers in other parts of the world. The CAP reforms made some progress in removing these distortions by limiting the use of export subsidies to times of market disturbance. However, calls to introduce detailed and systematic monitoring of how the EU’s agricultural policies, especially income support mechanisms, affect farmers and food production systems in developing countries were rejected.31
Looking to the Future
On the path to ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025, environmental sustainability is a must, but it is also crucial to remember the people whom the goals are intended to help. The post-2015 development agenda should not pursue the achievement of environmental sustainability goals at the expense of food and nutrition security and the well-being of poor and hungry people. To the contrary, discussions in the coming year should focus on developing sustainable people-focused goals with clear targets and timelines for ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025. There is still much ground to cover before we reach a coherent and holistic post-2015 framework that adequately incorporates the goal of eliminating hunger and undernutrition. The post-2015 agenda needs to be grounded in a multisectoral approach that (1) focuses on clear goals and targets, (2) uses comprehensive data and indicators that can be monitored and measured accurately, (3) supports partnerships among all stakeholders, and (4) promotes accountability. At the same time, this approach should include scaled-up social protection to ensure that everyone—especially the most vulnerable population groups, such as women and children—has access to high-quality diets, improved nutrition, and better human capital outcomes.
Traditional investments in increasing food production are important but not enough. Efforts should focus on a comprehensive, long-term approach that promotes increased agricultural productivity for all farmers, effectively links viable smallholder farmers’ production to markets (and includes steps to reduce food waste), and ensures that their products are safe and nutritious. For example, information and communication technologies, such as mobile phones, can offer poor and food-insecure populations a wealth of tools and information to improve their resilience and livelihood opportunities and become more food secure (see Chapter 6). Smallholder farmers, who are often poor and undernourished, can use these technologies to acquire real-time market information—on prices, demand, quality standards, and weather—that they can then use to make better-informed production and marketing decisions and to participate more actively in agricultural value chains. Accelerating the adoption of these technologies requires strategies and policies that encourage both people’s access to these tools and the provision of useful information.
In addition, good data and metrics are needed to monitor the progress and impact of agriculture, food, and nutrition programs and policies and to formulate and target future development strategies more effectively. Food- and nutrition-security goals, and the data to support them, must cover all important dimensions of hunger and undernutrition. This includes not just access to adequate calories but also access to diverse and balanced diets that help prevent childhood stunting and micronutrient deficiencies and that reduce the risks of obesity and chronic disease. Efforts should also be stepped up to improve monitoring of short-term and seasonal food-security shocks, including more frequent data collection on wasting in hotspots such as South Asia, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel. Developing countries can learn, for example, from Bangladesh’s experience with the Food Security and Nutrition Surveillance Project.32 The food- and nutrition-security goals should also be designed to allow for monitoring progress and to include mutual accountability systems at the global and national level. And when the SDGs are fully developed, high-quality, timely, and consistent data will be essential to monitor progress on all of the goals and to develop relevant policies and strategies.
Discussions in the coming year should focus on developing sustainable people-focused goals with clear targets and timelines for ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025.
Moving forward with the post-2015 agenda to eliminate hunger and undernutrition sustainably by 2025 requires a more inclusive partnership at the global, regional, and country level. This global partnership includes civil society and the private sector, as well as the commitments of national governments to reduce hunger and undernutrition through the adoption of appropriate measures and allocation of adequate budgets. An important avenue for partnerships is mutually beneficial South-South cooperation. Countries such as Brazil, China, and Vietnam have made significant strides in reducing hunger and undernutrition, and they can share both successful and failed technological, policy, and institutional innovations. By drawing on the experiences of these countries, other developing countries have the opportunity to design and implement a successful toolkit of context-specific strategies as they chart their own pathways for eliminating hunger and undernutrition. Brazil and China have both placed an emphasis on South-South knowledge sharing.
The deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals is less than two years away. As we continue to work toward meeting them, we need to set our sights on a new target: ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025. This target can be achieved, but it will require adequate resources, a clear accountability system, and a transparent framework for partnership. It will also demand action at the national and local level; thus, it will be important to improve countries’ capacity to advance sustainable food and nutrition security. With these conditions solidly in place and all relevant stakeholders working together, we can achieve a world of sustainable food and nutrition security.
Shenggen Fan is director general, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC.
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2 - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013 (Rome: 2013). [Back]
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