G8 on the Right Track

3878838138_c08d786bb9The first ever meeting of G8 agriculture ministers in Italy last weekend recognised the real difficulties facing the world in feeding itself. But the G8 ministers admitted they are “very far from reaching” the UN target of halving the number of people experiencing chronic hunger by 2015. The UN told the G8 that the number of chronically hungry people is continuing to rise (bringing the number of malnourished people well above the one billion mark).

There is a need for a radical shift in thinking which places the farmer at the centre of a new approach. New investments, incentives and innovations are needed to achieve greater sustainability while delivering increased agricultural production. This needs to be backed-up by a stable policy framework and investment strategy which assists farmers – and particularly smallholder farmers – to sustain both themselves and the world’s growing population. The kind of change proposed in Farming First’s call to action which puts farmers at the heart of the solution.

As the G8 declaration has rightly recognised, “agriculture and food security are at the heart of the international agenda”. Commenting before the meeting, United States Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, said:

This is not just about food security, this is about national security, it is about environmental security…

I can figure out there are only three things that could happen if people do not have food: people could riot, that they have done; people migrate to places where there is food, which creates additional challenges; or people die.

Much of what was said in the G8 ministers’ final declaration echoes the call made by the coalition supporting Farming First. The Farming First plan is based on six principles: safeguarding natural resources; sharing knowledge; building local access; protecting harvests; enabling access to markets; and prioritising research imperatives.

The final declaration called for “enhanced support including investments in agricultural science, research, technology, education and innovation” as well as supporting “efforts against wastage along the food chain in developing countries” and identifiying “the necessity to provide smallholder farming access to land, credit, technical assistance, education and crop insurance, as well as allowing family farmers to have access to local and international markets was underlined.”

Host minister, Italy’s Luca Zaia, told the post-meeting press conference:

Food security requires targeted policies to guarantee effective management and sustainable utilization of natural resources involving local communities in accordance with their identities… We commit ourselves to increasingly share technology, processes and ideas with other countries.

China’s vice minister of agriculture, Niu Dun, told the G8 meeting that the international community:

should build up capacity in monitoring and conducting early-warning on global food security. Developing countries should intensify cooperation in food security, making it a critical platform for common response to food insecurity and financial crisis.

Further more detailed discussions will take place at the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in May and the full G8 summit in Italy in July. Hopefully, these meetings will culminate in what the world requires: real, financed commitments.