Past, present and future: IFPRI’s 2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report

CAeEPQKUQAA9iSc.png largeIn the fourth instalment of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s annual report on food policy, launched on 18th March 2015, authors report on the major developments that have happened at a global, regional and national level in 2014 but also, and for the first time, discuss the challenges to tackling food insecurity we face in the near future.

Looking to the past, the report highlights achievements as well as setbacks. For example, achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015, of 64 countries meeting the MDG of halving the number of hungry people since 1990, of global undernourishment having fallen from 19% to 11% in the past 2 decades, the commitments made at the Second International Conference on Nutrition in Rome to end malnutrition, the African Union committing to end hunger by 2025 and membership in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement continuing to grow.

But 2014 also experienced shocks and disasters such as the largest ever outbreak of Ebola, continuing civil war and conflict in the middle east, extreme weather conditions such as drought in Central America and typhoons and flooding in the Philippines, and continuing distortion of the agricultural markets with the US passing the Farm Bill and the EU implementing the latest Common Agricultural Policy. And ongoing is a lack of food security and adequate nutrition for hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

While disease, conflict and climatic upheaval are expected to intensify over the coming years, this year could be a window of opportunity to mitigate and build resilience to future shocks, and to step up in the fight against hunger and poverty as the Sustainable Development Goals are shaped and come into force and as a new climate agreement is (hopefully) adopted.

IFPRI’s report highlights some key food policy aspects of hunger and malnutrition such as the importance of sanitation, social protection and food safety, which need to be considered in future policy making. The report also discusses the role of middle income countries in combating hunger and the future of small family farmers.

Middle income countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Mexico are growing fast economically but they are also home to almost half of the world’s hungry (363 million people). These countries must be part of any strategy to combat hunger and malnutrition and they also have the resources to make a huge difference as we’ve seen in Brazil. Although the challenges faced in these countries are diverse and nation-specific, the report identifies several shared factors affecting food and nutrition security such as rising inequality, shifting diets, rapid urbanisation and the absence of nutrition-focused policies. The report points to the examples of South Korea and Chile in reducing hunger and malnutrition while promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. As the report states, economic growth is not sufficient alone to tackle hunger and thus suggests that MICs use nutrition-specific and –sensitive interventions and value chain approaches to reshape the food system; reduce inequalities, for example, through providing education to the underprivileged and supporting women in accessing productive resources; improve rural infrastructure, expand effective social safety nets and improve south-south knowledge sharing.

2014 being the UN International Year of Family Farming, the report looks to the role of small family farmers in meeting a country’s agriculture needs as well as how such farmers can become more profitable or when they might need to leave farming for a more economically justifiable pursuit. Agriculture is mainly a family affair with family farms producing some 80% of the world’s food. As such family farmers play a significant role in global food security and nutrition in both providing the food we eat but also because many small-scale farmers are themselves food insecure.

Small family farms face many difficulties in producing enough food for themselves and others – declining farm size and land conflict, climate change, food price volatility and access to markets to name a few. IFPRI’s report discusses how in the face of such challenges, those farmers who have the potential to develop profitable farms can be helped to become more productive while those farmers without this potential can be assisted in exiting agriculture for other work opportunities. “Public policy should support small family farms in either moving up to commercially oriented and profitable farming systems or moving out of agriculture to seek nonfarm employment opportunities.” IFPRI, in helping those farmers with profit potential, suggest the following courses of action: promoting land rights and efficient land markets; Enhancing risk-management, mitigation and adaptation strategies such as index-based insurance; Supporting efficient and inclusive food value chains; Closing gender gaps and developing young farmers; and Scaling up productive cross-sector social safety nets, for example Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), Other Food Security Programme (OFSP) and Household Assets Building Programme (HABP). IFPRI recommend this course of action to break the cycle of low productivity, poverty and food insecurity that is common in small-scale farms in developing countries but the moving up or out strategy seems to leave little room for individual choice and assumes everyone must follow a market-driven, essentially capitalist approach. Many would disagree with this and IFPRI’s certainty in their conclusions is surprising, particularly their structured chart for who should move up and who should move out.

That said the report, as always, summarises past events and future challenges in the context of food and nutrition security well. It gives detailed recommendations around a range of issues and pushes the debate forwards. Whether all their recommendations should be wholly adopted or agreed with is up for discussion.

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