I am back in the office after an exciting meeting on food reserves that IATP co-organized in Brussels, Belgium along with Collectif Stratégies Alimentaires and Oxfam Solidarity. A food reserve, simply described, is when food is set aside in times of plenty to be used in times of scarcity. This meeting was a follow-up to another discussion on reserves in Washington, D.C. that IATP organized in late 2009, as well as a global sign-on letter urging governments to review the potential of food security reserves to address hunger and agriculture market instability.
In Brussels, we continued the dialogue with farmers, academics, development agencies, government officials and UN agency representatives. Some basic points that I appreciated from the discussion:
- Even though food reserves alone will not solve the global hunger problem, no long-lasting food security can be achieved without including reserves as part of the policy package.
- While much investment is going toward increasing food production, this could very well lead to oversupply in the long run, creating more volatile markets; in this context, better managing our global food supply is worth pursuing.
- While local and regional reserves programs are already underway in many regions, such as West Africa and Southeast Asia, a globally coordinated system for holding some grain stocks at the international level could also provide some insurance that prices won’t go too high or fall too low and that emergency food will be available in times of depleted stocks.
- There was strong interest-but not an agreement-among the participants to support the UN Committee on Food Security as the most appropriate body to provide global coordination.
- More focus is needed on defining what role the government versus the private sector should play.
- International trade rules as they exist today do not hinder countries from being able to set up reserve programs.
- Virtual reserves (as opposed to physical stocks) may help against speculative bubbles, but will not address other causes of price instability relating to food scarcity.
While there is much to sort out, it is clear that the international community is moving on this issue. France and Brazil have already set up working groups to discuss joint measures for food reserves as a means to curb volatility. Brazil, Russia, India and China have also announced an initiative to review reserves more closely.
Managing risk and volatility will be one of the thematic areas of the next UN Committee on Food Security session in October 2010. IATP, along with others, is working to ensure that farmers’ voices are central to these multilateral debates and that governments remain true to their obligations to ensure the Right to Food.