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June 05, 2008

An Impressive First Step: Now Time for Action

IATP's Carin Smaller is blogging from Rome this week at the UN Food and Agriculture High Level Conference on Food Security.

A draft declaration by world leaders on how to resolve the food crisis is circulating. The final declaration will be released tomorrow, on June 5, at the close of the UN's High-Level Conference on Food Security. The draft declaration is impressive. It calls for immediate action to assist countries affected by the food crisis, immediate support to small-scale producers, and the development of food stocks and other risk management mechanisms. The declaration also calls for medium- and long-term measures, including for governments to fully embrace a people-centred policy framework for agriculture, to increase the resilience of food systems to meet the challenges of climate change, and to conduct further studies to ensure that production and use of biofuels is sustainable and takes into account the need to achieve global food security. Obviously, this is no small feat.

Unfortunately, the draft declaration still calls for a rapid and successful conclusion of the WTO Doha Round and for the international community to continue its efforts to liberalize international trade. But I won't go into that again.

In parallel, and possibly even more impressive, are the draft recommendations of the newly established UN Taskforce on the Food Crisis. Once again, the emphasis is on boosting smallholder farmers' food production, increasing social safety nets and strengthening risk management.

So it looks like we will be leaving Rome with some fine-sounding proposals. But what next? There is still a danger that very little will change when it comes time to implementing the recommendations. The proposals on the table will require a radical break from the past and a completely different approach to building food and agriculture systems and supporting rural communities and the urban poor. There are institutions with more credibility to take on the challenge, like the FAO, IFAD, and IAASTD. And others, like the World Bank and the IMF, who are partially responsible for the mess we are in today and who should stay out for now. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen. Both institutions have carefully positioned themselves to play a key role in resolving the crisis and to being a channel for funds.

The next step for world leaders is to go home and talk to the affected communities: smallholder farmers, farm workers, fishers, and the urban poor. If they can listen to these communities, they might have a chance of turning their promises into meaningful solutions.

Carin Smaller


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