What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of a human rights approach to development?, From Poverty to Power, Oxfam

Africa’s farmers face ‘failed seasons’ risks, BBC

On the Horns of the GMO Dilemma, MIT Technology Review

McDonalds Can Make History — and Rescue Its Brand — With Sustainable Food, Huffington Post

Farm subsidies among OECD nations continue to fall, AgriPulse

Global Warming Is Just One of Many Environmental Threats That Demand Our Attention, Amartya Sen, New Republic

Africa an El Dorado for South Africa’s Agribusiness Giants, Sustainable Pulse

Water ‘thermostat’ could help engineer drought-resistant crops, Science Daily

Cancer deaths double in Argentina’s GMO agribusiness areas, The Ecologist

Changing global diets is vital to reducing climate change, University of Cambridge

Africa: Ambitious Effort to Confront Africa’s Soil Health Crisis, All Africa [Read more…]

Update on WTO Doha Round

bali_logoChapter four of One Billion Hungry describes the Uruguay and, later, Doha rounds of international trade negotiations. At the time of publishing little headway had been made in reducing tariffs, trade barriers and protectionist measures in the agricultural sector (tariffs for agricultural products are an average 62% compared to 4% for industrial goods) and since the Doha round began in 2001, there has been a stubborn stalemate between developed and developing countries. Reducing the number of proposals to agree in 2011, including measures on intellectual property and trade in services, (and spurring the moniker “Doha Lite”), the World Trade Organisation were seeking agreement between the 159 member countries at a recent meeting in Bali, the success of which looked likely to determine the continuance of Doha altogether, and the value of the WTO itself as this would be the first ever deal agreed under the WTO since its inception 1995.

On the 3rd to the 7th December ministers of trade met in Bali and despite several disagreements and standoffs, which threatened to derail the process, an agreement was met. So what was agreed exactly?

Central to the agreement is “trade facilitation”, which commits members to implement binding rules that reduce the amount of customs paperwork needed and set maximum time limits for goods crossing borders, a proposal that is estimated to add over $1 trillion to the global economy. For regions where goods crossing borders are subject to lengthy delays and difficulties, resulting in high transaction costs, an agreement such as this could lower the cost of imports. Reducing these transaction costs associated with trade by just 1% could boost the global economy by $40 billion, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. And the bulk of this increase in economic wealth is expected to benefit developing countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and the Central African Republic, which, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, have the worst scores for the ease with which goods can be traded across their borders.

A further agreement was around increases in farm subsidies, which are currently limited under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. India insisted it should be allowed to subsidise grain as part of its effort to tackle food insecurity, paying farmers higher than market prices for grains for its government domestic stores. As an interim measure, WTO members agreed not to bring disputes against countries breaching the farm subsidies limits as part of food security measures while a longer term solution is found but there remains concern that this gives India the power to distort global trade and undercut producers in other countries. Despite the negative impacts of subsidies, an alternative is yet to be found, and without this compromise India would have backed out of the agreement altogether, although they did agree not to ”distort trade or adversely affect the food security of other [WTO] members”. Development agencies are concerned that the agreement only last four years and only relates to currently held public food stock holding programmes. [Read more…]

OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013-2022

logooecd_enThe 19th OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013-2022 was recently released, which is an annual report on projections for 15 agricultural products over a ten year period. It covers OECD countries as well as India, China, Brazil and Russia as well as Argentina, South Africa and other developing countries. The report specifically analyses the impact of economic developments and government policies on world commodity market trends.

In this latest report the main headlines are:

  • Productivity growth is projected at 1.5% for the next decade, a reduction on the 2.1% productivity growth seen for the period 2003-2012.
  • We can expect food prices to remain higher than historical averages given increasing demand and stagnating productivity.  Price volatility and trade disruption are expected to continue to be a risk as food stocks, important as buffers against shocks to the food production system, remain low. As the report states, “a wide-spread drought such as the one experienced in 2012, on top of low food stocks, could raise world prices by 15-40%.”
  • Agriculture has become more market driven as opposed to policy driven. This can offer developing countries greater investment opportunities, economic benefits, and potential for production expansion if markets are fair and equitable. Agriculture for Impact and the Overseas Development Institute recently launched a report, Leaping and Learning: Linking smallholders to markets in Africa, which investigates how markets can work for smallholder farmers in Africa. [Read more…]

IFPRI’s 2011 Global Food Policy Report and the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2012-2021

The first in a new annual series, the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2011 Global Food Policy Report  looks at food policy over the previous year focusing on major developments, challenges and opportunities, and future actions. In 2011, food policy was on the international agenda with the G20 meeting to discuss food price volatility for the first time. Agriculture remained high priority on this agenda with emerging economies, global institutions, developed and developing country governments and international foundations maintaining their pledges to focus on agriculture and in some cases developing new plans for progress, such as the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture, Feed the Future and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program. The famine in the Horn of Africa, biofuel policy changes, the agriculture, health and nutrition nexus, land policy and climate change were key topics for policymakers and were evident in the media.

This report discusses these themes at length and most importantly asks ‘what can we do better?’ thus contributing not only to research agendas and information sharing but hopefully shaping preventative actions and transformational policy change. [Read more…]