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Whatever happened to the World Food Summit?

Time (GMT +01) 00:00 23:59


Simon Maxwell, ODI.


Barbara Huddleston, Food & Agriculture Organisation.

Edward Clay, Senior Research Associate, ODI.

  1. The meeting was introduced by Simon Maxwell. The World Food Summit had taken place in 1996, and had agreed an overall target (reducing the number of under-nourished people by half by 2015), as well as seven broad sets of commitments, to do respectively with: the enabling environment; poverty reduction; sustainable agriculture and rural development; trade; emergency preparedness and response; public and private investment; and monitoring. The high-level meeting planned for November 2001 (WFS - Five Years Later (fyl)) would review progress. The overall vision laid down in 1996 was a good one at the time. The key questions were whether the action points laid down had been adequate, whether the vision was still the right one, and what the fyl event should do.
  2. Barbara Huddleston briefly reviewed the commitments of the WFS, and also the preparations for fyl being made through FAO’s Committee on World Food Security, which had met in Rome in 28th May- 1st June. It was clear that the agenda was broad. However, fyl would probably focus on issues within FAO’s mandate, specifically measures to enhance the productivity of small farms. She reminded the meeting that the WFS target had been incorporated into the existing international development targets, at the Millennium General assembly of the UN, in 2000, and that the overall progress toward meeting the WFS target, which had been relatively slow till now, would need to be addressed in this broader context.
  3. She then turned to the question of how to make better use of monitoring efforts to guide action toward reaching the WFS target. Monitoring achievement of targets was useful, but more detailed analysis was also needed of the measures required to meet the target (i.e. monitoring means as well as ends). A country by country approach was probably best for this, combining qualitative and quantitative data. A country ‘score card’ approach might help, reviewing progress under each of the seven WFS commitments. The method was illustrated with a case study of Guatemala.
  4. As a final point, Barbara Huddleston emphasised that reaching the WFS target would require new levels of commitment to genuine transformation, recognising that political will was not enough unless it was backed by a genuine acceptance of the need for sometimes major changes in attitudes and behaviours. She thought this was probably the most important requirements for success, and needed to be brought to the fore.
  5. Edward Clay then spoke on the institutional dimensions of food security, which had not featured in the WFS, but which needed to be addressed. At least 12 international agencies had some role in food security, and the sector was beset with overlapping mandates and responsibilities. This led to lack of coherence, and made change difficult. The issue should not be dodged, however: change was hard but necessary and needed long-term commitment.
  6. To illustrate his point, Edward Clay examined the case of food aid, involving a network of overlapping frameworks, rules, agreements, and institutions. Too often, policy was driven by events, for example the availability of surplus food, rather than by underlying needs. There were three options for change: (a) repackaging, or ‘Model T Food Aid’, continuing to provide the same products in more or less the same way, and avoiding real change; (b) adapting existing arrangements, for example providing more flexibility in food aid, and more integration with other instruments, but again avoiding tackling the mismatch of institutions and arrangements; and (c) a ‘reconstruction’ option, addressing wider problems of poverty and food insecurity. The key elements of this would be: replacing commitments to quantitative levels of food aid with qualitative commitments to food security; agreeing an international Code of Conduct to reflect qualitative commitments; revising the Marrakech Decision on support to food imports for poor countries; streamlining institutions; and reconstituting WFP as the UN’s humanitarian logistics agency. An ODI Briefing Paper addresses this issue.
  7. Edward Clay recognised that there would be obstacles to change, including the pressure of interests related to northern subsidy and surplus generation, bureaucratic resistance, and the current lack of popular participation in these debates.
  8. The discussion touched on a number of topics:
    1. It was obviously right that UN agencies should specialise, and therefore desirable that fyl should select from the unmanageably wide list of issues contained in the WFS Declaration and Plan of Action. A focus on small farm productivity was not really contested. However, it was also clear that the pressure on agencies like FAO was always to do more, and not to drop things.
    2. One solution to this problem would be to shift the focus of debate and action from the international level to the national level. The score card approach suggested by Barbara Huddleston might be one way to concentrate dialogue on policies, programmes and processes at country level – though it was important in so doing not to lose sight of the need to prioritise interventions. PRSPs obviously should provide a good framework for selecting priorities, although this was not necessarily the case in a number of the formulation exercises that had been carried out to date.
    3. As far as the UN was concerned, there had been a great deal of pressure for greater collaborative working, and this too could help to focus programmes. The shared UN Development Assistance Framework provided a vehicle for this.
    4. The country level focus and UNDAF were both interesting also in terms of the discussion about institutional change. Maybe it was fruitless to pursue change internationally. Could the same results be achieved more easily at country level?
    5. On substantive issues, the main point made was not to neglect the need for sustainable livelihoods in conflict-affected areas.


This event discussed the forthcoming World food Summit and what may change from the last one.