G-20 Set to Share Farm Data, Ag Research

21 September 2011

Efforts toward establishing a new agricultural market information system and improved attention on agricultural research for development kept officials from the Group of 20 financial powers busy last week. Keeping to the schedule outlined by Agriculture Ministers in a June 2011 Action Plan, the group is moving quickly to address various areas of global agricultural policy in advance of the November gathering of G-20 heads of state.

Experts have argued the lack of co-ordinated data on food has been a critical issue in the food price increases of recent years, along with lack of productivity growth in developing countries. The G-20 represents 60 percent of world agricultural exports and 70 percent of production.

Agricultural Market Information System in the works

In Rome, senior officials, many of them advisors to G20 Agriculture Ministers, agreed to a Terms of Reference for creating an Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS). Made up of a secretariat, a technical expert group and a rapid response forum, the System will monitor prices, trade, production forecasts, and stocks for rice, wheat, soybeans, and maize.

AMIS will begin by gathering data from G-20 members and Spain. "Participation is likely to expand over time in terms of the food and countries," Carmel Cahill of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) told an audience at the WTO Public Forum yesterday, 20 September.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Bank, OECD, and World Food Programme have already committed staff to the project, according to sources. The effort will "build on existing resources, knowledge, and personnel," Cahill added at the Forum. Other agencies are likely to commit financially or in kind.

Governments will be expected to share data in a "best effort" manner and will receive support through capacity development to harmonise information. Experts from G-20 capitals, part of the Technical Group, will ensure the flow of data to AMIS.

A source close to the discussions in Rome told Bridges that some countries may balk at sharing sensitive information, such as on food stocks. They cautioned that others may prove hesitant toward supporting the monitoring of policy developments, such as export restrictions. Argentina, India, and Russia are G-20 members that have applied export restricting measures on food in recent years.

The G-20's June Action plan called for private sector involvement in AMIS (see Bridges Weekly, 29 June 2011). A Rome-based expert told Bridges that private sector data collection and analysis may conflict with the system, since many firms rely on a disparity in available information to take on or hedge against risk. He noted that goods with high variability in prices and or output, such as wheat, may warrant such treatment.

Cahill told the Public Forum that AMIS data would be as "open and transparent as possible," adding that web-based availability would ensure that countries not in the G-20 would still have access. Monthly bulletins on data and policy as well as an annual report are expected by the middle of next year.

The AMIS-led Rapid Response Forum would allow officials close to Ministers to prevent uncoordinated policy decisions that may aggravate the growing food security problem, added Cahill.

Speaking to Bridges, some civil society representatives in Rome criticised the G-20 meetings on AMIS for their secrecy. The Terms of Reference of the group and other documents were not made available to Bridges on request.

Agricultural research for development

G-20 technical experts also agreed to share information, form partnerships within the Group's agricultural research systems and coordinate efforts through a "G20 Commitment to Agricultural Research for Development."

Mark Holderness, a host of the Montpelier event as Executive Secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, told Bridges that experts would be looking at closing the research gap in agriculture by better co-ordinating resources. Public-private collaboration, he noted, would allow for the development of products, such as cheaper vaccines, that farmers would otherwise be unable to pay for or may not provide a viable market on their own.

Rushing between Rome, Montpelier, and Paris, officials from G-20 capitals and technical experts from international organisations are preparing for more work ahead of World Bank and IMF meetings next week.

ICTSD reporting; "G20 focus on small farmers could improve world food security - experts," ALERTNET, 14 September 2011.

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