A call for coherency in the European Parliament

Inclusive Politics26 Feb 2013Stineke Oenema

Way back, early 2010, Europe developed a useful, comprehensive policy framework as a response to the food prices crisis. This excellent framework builds on three main principles: a central role for small-scale food producers, agro-ecological production, and the right to food. And it carefully addresses the four pillars: availability of food, access to food, utilization of food (nutritional aspects) and stability.

The policy was endorsed by the European Council, which asked for an implementation plan that would ensure that members states adhered to the policy, as well as the accountability and transparency of EU programming and action by the member states. However, almost three years later, this implementation plan has still not been realized.

Late 2009, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) was reformed, allowing civil society and direct representatives of people suffering from hunger a solid say in policies that affect them. The Rome principles were endorsed, with the right to food again being acknowledged as the central principle. Also the central role of small-scale food producers was emphasized.

In the two to three years that followed, several documents and plans were developed and endorsed, with concrete input from social movements and representatives of people suffering from hunger. The EU played a supportive role in the CFS processes, which makes sense considering its own food security policy. But what about the European member states? Why should it take that long to prepare an implementation plan? Is it that complicated to be coherent with policies? Is it about the need to be transparent and accountable about who is doing what in Europe and with what impact? We may find out in May; apparently, after almost three years after the approval of the policy, things seem to be moving.

At the same time, in the rest of the world, things are moving quickly. We have the G8, G20, the New Alliance for Agriculture, etc. Since the food prices crisis interest in food and agricultural issues has been revived after decades of neglect, accompanied by an increase in agricultural investments by all kinds of donors. National investments in-country are highest. But both public investments and investments by companies are dwarfed by what farmers invest themselves. Therefore any strategy aimed at increasing the quantity and effectiveness of agricultural investments must place farmers at the centre. Now donors, civil society and governments are debating in the context of the CFS about guidelines to steer and govern agricultural investment in order to increase the social returns on investments and to create a conducive environment for farmers to invest in their own farms.

These groups of economic giants are also developing policies, investment plans and reactions on how to deal with high prices, fluctuating prices and projections of scarcities. For example the Global Agricultural and Food Security Program (GAFSP), hosted by the World Bank. The investments channelled through the public window do seem to take into account local input of farmers’ associations and other civil society groups. However the private sector window, specifically created to support private sector development to increase the effectiveness of agricultural investment and growth, does not seem to work according to the principle of the central role of small-scale producers. So how coherent is this with those policies that place small-scale producers at the centre? And are we sure that large investments channelled through private companies or foreign donors do not hamper the investment climate for small-scale farmers themselves, or even force them to leave their land? To what extent do food insecure countries, let alone food insecure people, have a say in G8 and G20 debates and can they steer those plans and investment that do impact their livelihoods? These questions are also important for further research, to understand the policy processes on food security from the micro to the macro level.

In a recent speech in the European Parliament I emphasized the coherency issue, within the European Union between member states and the European initiatives, but also in relation to other processes in the G8 and G20 where the voices of small-scale food producers are virtually absent, but where at the same time considerable sums of money are being channelled. We have to ensure that the processes of the CFS are democratic and inclusive and that investment in sustainable agriculture does not violate the right to food, in Europe or in the rest of the world.