The three-day meeting, which concluded yesterday in Cison di Valmarino, Italy, was attended by the agriculture ministers from the G8 countries, as well as their G5 counterparts, Argentina, Australia and Egypt, the European Commission, and UN agencies.
Although the prices of commodities have fallen since the dizzying heights of late 2007/early 2008 in many places, largely due to the recession, in some parts of the world they are still well above previous lows – with disastrous effects for the world’s poorest people.
Moreover, the outlook is less than stable. “Structural factors may affect prices over the medium term, and increased volatility and demand raise important questions about food security for the future”.
In their final declaration, the ministers placed farmers at the centre of the agricultural sector; the production of safe, nutritious food in response to consumer demand must not be allowed to be negatively affected by trade distortions.
The delegates said one way to help improve the situation would be monitoring and analysis of factors that affect volatility in the commodity markets, including speculation.
Protectionism and stockholding
The delegates looked towards a coordinated international strategy to improve efficiency of agri-food chains. They rejected protectionism, to which some countries turned in 2008, banning exports so as to retain stocks to feed their own populations.
Such export bans serve to distort international markets, and can prevent essential foods reaching neighbouring countries and trading partners, thus having a knock-on effect on global food security.
Indeed Mariann Fischer-Boel, the European Agriculture Minister, said following the meeting that there were “strong messages to try and cut the head off ‘ugly’ protectionism”. She said such measures could be counter-productive and could reinforce food security issues by removing incentives for farmers to produce.
Rather, the ministers looked towards “local, regional and international integrated agricultural markets”.
They also saw a need for international institutions to consider whether a system of stockholding could be developed, either as a tool to limit price volatility or for use when humanitarian disaster strikes.
Research and partnerships
The declaration is strongly weighted towards sustainable agriculture, and calls for more investment in agricultural science, research, technology, education, extension services and innovation.
Such technology, ideas and processes should be shared between countries; and G8 countries should continue building capacity in sanitary and phytosanitary measures in developing countries, so as to facilitate access to international markets.
More of a role for private interests in sustainable agriculture, rural development and environmental protection is also envisaged. Although it is now quite the norm for companies to have a sustainability strategy, especially in the life sciences sector, the ministers looked to greater cooperation with international organisations.
The full final declaration from the meeting is available at www.g8ministersmeeting.mipaaf.com/en.
The next stage towards taking action is for development ministers to make concrete proposals for dealing with the food crisis. It will then be for the heads of states to agree the proposals at their meeting in July.