G20 ministers agree action plan to curb food price volatility

After the last, somewhat gloomy LRD Economics post on problems in the global food system, this post looks at whether we are addressing those issues.

The full action plan as a result of the first G20 agriculture summit, which can be accessed here.  However the main points are summarised and quoted here:

  • Background: France pushed for the ministers to deal with volatility in food prices. Britain’s priority was increased productivity in developing countries.
  • Speculation: French president Sarkozy pushed for speculation to be dealt with, but G20 ministers pushed the issue back to finance ministers. The plan also looks forward to recommendations by a commission on securities on regulation and supervision to “address market abuses and manipulation”.
  • Biofuels: “The plan says ministers recognise the need to further analyse all factors that influence the relationship between biofuels production and food availability…Activists from ActionAid and Oxfam say this is very weak.”
  • Agricultural Market Information System: this “will provide accurate and timely information on crop supply, demand and food stocks in an effort to curb volatility. Amis will be based at the FAO with a secretariat that will include the World Bank and other international bodies.”
  • Food Productivity:  “‘special attention to smallholders, especially women, in particular in developing countries, and to young farmers’ to improve productivity. No mention of figures, prompting criticism from campaigners that this is just rhetoric.”
  • Trade: “The ministers agreed to remove food export restrictions or extraordinary taxes for food purchased for humanitarian purposes, and agreed not to impose them in the future…call for a successful conclusion to the Doha trade round that is supposed to benefit developing countries.”
  • Food Reserves: “pilot programme for small, targeted, regional emergency humanitarian food reserves” to cover 48 of the world’s poorest countries.

This article by food business author Felicity Lawrence – G20 ministers dodge big questions on food – critiques the agreement, citing a “predictable retreat to national interests” with some powerful examples from rich countries.  The Agricultural Market Information System, Lawrence says, will have to be run without additional funding by the FAO.  The issue of export bans by some countries, to ease excess food demand at home at the expense of more global anxiety, was not dealt with. 

Moreover, claims Lawrence, climate change was left off the table entirely – a factor that sources in previous posts at LRD Economics have cited as major sources of price volatility as well as the slowdown in agricultural productivity growth.  Climate change “gets just one short paragraph, two sentences long, saying the G20 supports the UN convention on climate change…from Copenhagen in 2009” and “the challenge of meeting growing demand for food just when global warming impacts on agricultural productivity is reduced to little more than business as usual.”

Any progress made at this summit, the first meeting of G20 agriculture ministers, is welcome.  However Pacific Island countries are vulnerable observers of the global process of coordination to deal with such problems, and will ultimately suffer from lack of global leadership to mitigate climate change and deal with high and volatile prices.  There is thus a great deal of work to do on adaptation to climate change in the region.

The character of the impact of climate change in the Pacific, as opposed to other regions, will be revisited in another post.


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