G-20 Urged to Accept Updated Anti-Hunger Proposal

15 June 2011

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), along with other international organisations working on food policy, is proposing to the G-20 group of leading economies a system of physical and virtual reserves to tackle extreme cases of hunger. The idea is expected by several experts to be a tangible outcome of meetings this year between the economic superpowers.

A source familiar with early drafts of the proposal described consensus among experts that the current text was "better than the original," which has been under discussion since early May.

The WFP's other collaborators in the recently updated and released report were the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), among others.

In language that is distinct from the rest of the collaborative report, the WFP suggests that G-20 governments support "forward positioning," i.e. the purchase of food ahead of crises. They also urge the G-20 to back the creation of a regional reserves system that would provide, under emergency conditions, temporary support to the 70 nations in Africa, Asia, Central America, Eastern Europe, and Oceania that the FAO has classified as Low-Income Food Deficit Countries.

The WFP took pains to emphasise that the Pre-Positioning for Predictable Access and Resilience (PREPARE) system would not be a buffer stock system intended to influence price movements. Rather, the agency argues, it would use market principles and sound management to ensure that the system recovers money spent on operating costs.

Compliance with WTO rules, particularly Annex 2 of the Agreement on Agriculture, is central for the legitimacy of the reserve system, which will ostensibly be orchestrated by the WFP.

According to experts that spoke to Bridges, the World Food Programme has historically been hampered by funding earmarks, preventing it from acting swiftly to curb the worst cases of hunger.

To work around this, the proposed PREPARE system would physically manage 30 days of grains for those most at risk of hunger, while using a system of virtual reserves to make up the difference for an additional 30 days. The actual purchasing mechanism, the price offered to recipients of the reserve, and various other details has yet to be worked out.

While free of political conflict, proposal carries risks

A collaborator of the inter-agency report admitted that although some of the figures, such as the 30 days of food supply, were not based on any available research, it was "now or never" for the WFP. He added that the proposal was "low hanging fruit" and didn't suffer from the political conflict inherent in the report's recommendations regarding other available trade policy measures, such as biofuels or export restrictions.

Responding to questions on whether such an emergency system would allow countries to evade their domestic responsibilities on food security, Stuart Clark of the Canadian Food Grains Bank told Bridges that such a system should not be seen as "a substitute for a sensible food security policy." Other experts on stocks and reserves admitted that the system does risk carrying a "moral hazard," if funding is plentiful.

According to the report, the WFP would like to test pilot programmes as early as December of this year, provided they gain the G-20's support.

Commenting on the proposal, Christopher Gilbert of the University of Trento in Italy noted that "the worry is not what might actually be proposed, but that the proposal may be used for more extensive intervention." He suggested that the proposal's possible weakness would be how it prevents aid from going to unintended recipients and whether it appropriately defines targets to provide relief.

The proposal may be an important opportunity for the G-20 to prove its mettle. Gilbert added that if the group doesn't come up with something now, then it "won't matter."

ICTSD reporting.

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