Food security and agriculture information at our fingertips

ID-100125038This week we’ve been thinking about information. Specifically the type of information on agriculture and rural development that is available, how useful it is and to who. A lot of data and statistics went into the writing of One Billion Hungry and some was hard to find, out of date or non-existent. Indeed statistics, such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) estimate of the number of chronically hungry people in the world, are often challenged because there are so few rigorous and comparable data sets available on food security and agriculture.

Yet policymakers often base investments in international development around evidence and farmers too must have access to clear and credible information in order to be competitive in the market. Ensuring information is timely, relevant and reliable, therefore is an important challenge. A recent paper by researchers at Tulane University investigated the impact of Food and Nutrition Security Information (FNSI) and its shortcomings concluding that while more conventional forms of data must be expanded in coverage, greater types and sources of data that come with increased connectivity must also be utilised.

Greater access to information can also help solve global challenges. As discussed in Chapter 1, we face the threat of repeated food price spikes, of which we have seen three since 2007. In 2011, the G20, in response to increased food price volatility, established the Agricultural Market Information System, with the idea that if information on the production, trade, use and storage of four globally important crops, wheat, rice, maize and soybean, is more transparent then policy action in response to market uncertainty can be coordinated and potentially dangerous and inaccurate speculation can be avoided. The coordination of policies and development of common strategies is undertaken by the Rapid Response Forum, whose second meeting is to take place on 20th February 2013. [Read more…]

Food prices volatility: watch this space

iatp.logoA recent article by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) outlines the food price situation and the actions that need to be taken to reduce price volatility. In 2012, as prices began to creep higher and a third food price spike since 2007 looked likely, governments should have been poised to act to curb food price volatility once and for all. As the IATP authors believe, governments did not take this opportunity and failed to address the root causes of food price volatility.

This recent article is an update to the authors’ 2012 report, Resolving the Food Crisis, and calls for action to be taken around a series of themes:

  • Donor funding for agricultural development
  • Reducing biofuels expansion
  • Curbing financial speculation on agricultural commodities
  • Building food reserves
  • Halting land grabs
  • Addressing climate change

These issues are neither original nor specific to solving the problem of food price spikes. Instead they are frequently raised by NGOs and other stakeholders across the world and, as the authors point out, these problems are not going away. Not enough is being done to address them. There are huge opportunities for progress in 2013 but whether governments will seize them is another matter, as history attests. Action to address food price volatility from the G20 has revolved to date primarily around the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) and, while G20 leaders plan to meet in Russia this year, no meeting of agricultural ministers is planned. Decisions over the future vision of the World Trade Organisation Doha Development Round could be an opportunity to ensure trade rules ‘protect and promote food security,’ but given the previous disarray of the Doha Round this may be too much to hope for. New farm legislation in the US and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in the EU show little sign of being transformative. [Read more…]