Food Security Declaration
weak on substance
Please find below a report of the outcomes of the FAO High Level Conference
on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy,
which was held in Rome
on 3-5 June 2008.
It was published in the South-North
Development Monitor (SUNS) #6492 on Tuesday, 10 June 2008, and is reproduced
here with permission.
With best wishes,
Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
Weak Declaration after lost
fight on substance at Food Summit
Rome, 7 Jun (Neth Dano) --
The Food Security Summit held at the Food and Agriculture Organisation
ended with a Declaration after several days of wrangling over some issues,
that led to a bland document that said little or left out the critical
issues debated at the plenary and roundtables of the meeting.
The Declaration was the most
disappointing part of the High-Level Conference on World Food Security:
The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, held in Rome
on 3-5 June, which was aimed at galvanizing global action to tackle
the food price crisis as well as to discuss agriculture and climate
change and the effects of biofuels.
The FAO Conference attracted
more than 3,000 participants, including 43 heads of government and state,
many more Ministers of Agriculture, and hundreds of officials, NGOs
At the plenary and roundtables,
the biggest issue debated, often hotly, was the factors causing the
food price increases, with political leaders and UN agency chiefs (particularly,
the FAO director-general) advancing often conflicting views on the role
of biofuels, financial speculation, and unfair trade practices, especially
the developed countries' huge agricultural subsidies.
One victim of this focus
was the original major theme of the meeting - the link between agriculture
and climate change. This was the subject of a roundtable, but was eclipsed
in the plenary and the fight over the Declaration.
The four-page Declaration
on World Food Security was adopted at 9:30 pm on 5 June, more than a
day past the set schedule and after heated verbal skirmishes in the
Committee of the Whole (COW) on procedural and substantive issues that
went on to almost midnight on 4 June and in several sessions on the
Observers and critics commented
that the Declaration failed to meet the world's expectations for the
international community to urgently respond to the global food crisis.
The compromise language and the intention to avoid the most controversial
issues substantially toned down the urgency of the responses that the
Declaration was supposed to convey to the world public.
For example, the human right
to food was almost absent from the text, and only an intervention by
at the COW enabled this concept to enter the Declaration, but only weakly
and in the Preamble. This most basic principle on which food security
should be based had been more directly treated in the Rome Declaration
on World Food Security in 1996 and the World Food Summit: Five Years
Later in 2002.
The current Declaration,
however, only mentioned in its Preamble: "recall the Voluntary
Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate
Food in the Context of National Food Security." The Declaration
also notably evaded dealing with the most controversial aspects on the
role and effects of biofuels, which had dominated much of the statements
of the heads of state and the discussions in the roundtables and sidelines
of the Summit.
Several heads of state and
the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon proposed the adoption of international
standards or criteria for the sustainable production of biofuels. Others,
notably Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, objected to the
unfair criticisms on biofuels.
In the only paragraph on
biofuels in the Declaration, the challenges and opportunities of biofuels
were recognized as a medium and long-term measure to address food security,
energy and sustainable development needs. It weakly called for in-depth
studies, the need to exchange experiences on biofuels technologies,
norms and regulations, and the need for an international dialogue on
biofuels among the different actors to attain food security and sustainable
The Declaration also did
not include reference to unfair trade rules and imbalances in global
trade relations nor the speculation in the commodities market, which
had been raised by many speakers at the Summit. Nor did it refer
to sustainable agriculture or organic farming as an important way forward
to reducing the Greenhouse Gas emissions arising from conventional chemical-based
agriculture as well as a way to promote small-scale farm incomes, which
had been discussed at a roundtable. It also did not propose any important
action to respond to the urgent food price situation or the climate
change challenge or the need to reform the highly subsidized agriculture
of developed countries.
At the meetings to negotiate
the Declaration, the US and EU proposed to adopt a Chair's
text without amendment. This was objected to by the GRULAC (the Latin
American and Caribbean) group that
raised procedural and substantive issues.
raised the "magic" played by the US in dropping
reference to respect of multilateralism and international laws on not
using food as an instrument for political and economic pressures. Venezuela was
adamant in wanting to make clear reference to UNFCCC as the basis for
climate change commitments. Argentina
articulated well the need to address "all measures" that could
result to food price volatility instead of just "restrictive measures"
(which had been put there especially by developed countries critical
of export restrictions on food).
These countries, supported
by GRULAC, registered their strong reservations on the Declaration,
but eventually did not block consensus at 9:40pm on 5 June. All three
said that the Declaration will reinforce the current injustice in the
food system, the domination of the superpowers and the injustice to
developing countries. Argentina
said that the Declaration is based on wrong diagnosis of the problem,
thus the solutions will not really address the root causes of the problem.
The US and the EU
appeared to be among the most satisfied with the result. In the debate,
they were most notably quiet, taking the floor to stress that they moved
for the adoption of the draft text without any amendment, except for
factual and technical corrections. In its closing speech, the US even expressed its satisfaction
that the Declaration promotes "further liberalization" and
promises higher investment of agriculture research (by which observers
thought it was referring to biotechnology research). Ecuador concluded that most developing
countries are not at all happy with the Declaration but opted to stay
quiet in the "spirit of consensus".
Despite the dissatisfaction
expressed by countries on the resulting Declaration, the delegates acknowledged
that the Summit
provided an opportunity for the global food crisis and the factors behind
it to be highlighted and given a high profile, especially with the attendance
of over a thousand journalists.
The conference helped the
UN's Rome-based food agencies - the FAO, IFAD and the World Food Programme
- to generate financial pledges for their projects. FAO Director-General
Jacques Diouf, in the final Plenary, announced some $5 billion worth
of pledges which included the $1.2 billion of the World Bank, $1 billion
by the African Development Bank, and $1.5 billion of food aid announced
by the US. The Chair,
who is from Congo,
at the final session, said he "hopes that these pledges will result
in financial mechanisms that are affordable and accessible to developing
The draft text of the Declaration
on which negotiators worked on at the Summit
had been produced by the Co-chairs of the Informal Open-ended Contact
Group from Jordan
and the US. They had authored
the draft in reference to their earlier six-page report with draft textual
language (including some issues within brackets) which arose from weeks
of lengthy negotiations by the Rome-based diplomats.
The Chair of the Committee
of the Whole (COW) of the Summit, who is from the Democratic Republic
of Congo, presented the draft text at the meeting of the committee of
the whole (COW) in the second evening of the Summit and appealed to
the Delegates to adopt the document "on block", without amendments.
He explained that the urgency of the food crisis situation requires
urgent action from the international community and the meeting cannot
afford to delay the adoption of the Declaration by opening the discussion
to long debates and numerous amendments that would take up days and
The Asia Group, Africa Group,
the Near East, North America, and the
EU agreed to adopt the draft text without amendments. The small island
developing states (SIDS) wanted only an additional paragraph on the
Mauritius Strategy for the sustainable development of the SIDS, and
this was later adopted. Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela, supported by
the Group of Latin America and Caribbean (GRULAC), raised some
issues which were the same ones that had been within brackets in the
earlier Co-Chairs' report.
raised a number of concerns on the process of discussions on several
occasions during the COW session, pointing out the "lack of information
on what's going on" and the lack of clarity on how to proceed.
It proposed to delete the adjective "restrictive" to describe
"measures that could increase the volatility of international prices"
that need to be minimized, which is one of the Immediate and Short-term
measures identified in the Declaration to address the global food crisis.
[The "restrictive measures" were referring to restrictions
on exports of food products.]
reasoned that such measures are not limited to restrictive ones since
over-liberalized measures and financial speculation can also result
in price volatility. It demanded for an explanation on the part of regional
groupings and countries that are supposed to be against the deletion
of the word "restrictive" on the reasons behind their position,
but received no response from any delegation.
The Chair argued that opening
up a debate on a substantive issue in the COW would further delay the
adoption of the Declaration. Argentina then proposed that the word
"restrictive" be at least bracketed since there had been no
country opposed the proposal to delete it.
questioned the deletion of the sentence "We reaffirm the importance
of international cooperation and solidarity, as well as the necessity
of refraining from unilateral measures not in accordance with international
law and the Charter of the United Nations and that endanger food security",
which had appeared in brackets in the working draft. It said this sentence
is a mere reiteration of what is already contained in the Rome Declaration
on World Food Security adopted by FAO member-states in 1996 which was
later reaffirmed in the declaration on World Food Summit: Five Years
Later. It blamed the US
co-chair of the contact group for making the sentence "disappear
in thin air, like magic", and lambasted the US
for the decades-long food blockade on Cuba that it said had put at risk
the right to food of the people.
Venezuela insisted in making
reference to the commitments of countries under the UN Framework Convention
on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the lone paragraph on climate change and
food security, reasoning that it will help reinforce the commitment
of the international community, particularly the developed countries,
to address the challenges of climate change that have contributed to
the current food crisis.
At the meeting of the COW
in the evening of 4 June, GRULAC, led by Mexico, requested
for a 30-minute suspension to allow the group to consult with capitals
and the heads of their delegations, and consolidate their positions
on the draft text. The Chair initially refused the request, explaining
that there is no time since it was already late. Bolivia
and Venezuela appealed
to the Chair to allow the suspension, which the Chair again refused,
prompting some delegates from Latin America
to lose their temper and raise their voices from the floor.
The Chair then allowed for
a 20-minute suspension of the session. When the session resumed, GRULAC
again presented its concerns on the issues raised by Argentina,
Cuba and Venezuela, and proposed that the discussions
on these be referred back to the open-ended informal contact group.
This was vigorously opposed by Japan
The Chair decided to suspend the session to the next morning.
In the final session of the
explained its reservation, stating that the Declaration had used "wrong
diagnosis of the problems as basis for actions". The text had failed
to take into account the root causes of the global food crisis, namely,
the imbalances in the world trade regime, unfair trade caused by the
trade-distorting subsidies and trade barriers in developed countries,
the conditionalities imposed by the international financial institutions,
and the speculation in the financial and commodities markets that result
in the food price volatility in the global market. It said that these
factors which contribute to increasing the trade deficit and poverty
in developing countries are the reasons why investments in agriculture
have been going down over the past few decades.
In explaining its reservation,
Cuba said the text
represents a lack of political will of the developed countries to sustainable
development, singling out the US as the only country that is blocking
any reference to the right to food. It said that the document does not
provide an objective analysis of the basic causes of hunger, such as
the trade-distorting agricultural subsidies and monopoly of production
in developed countries, the consequences of financial speculation on
the food crisis, the use of grains as biofuels, and the impacts of the
production and consumption patterns of developed countries.
It questioned why other countries
refused to include a reference to the principle of common but differentiated
responsibilities and the UNFCCC in the draft Declaration, and went to
attack the "criminal blockade" imposed by the US
on Cuba which is
a clear violation of the principle of not using food as an instrument
of political and economic pressures.
in its statement, regretted that the "opportunity is lost"
to move forward. The food situation is rooted to structural problems
linked to the unsustainable production and consumption in developed
countries that is the major cause of climate change that affects developing
countries most. It lamented that the draft text shows a "lack of
genuine humanitarian spirit" and "lack of real commitment"
to address the root causes of the problem. It noted that the text represents
a "move backward" especially on the part of countries that
are blocking any reference to the UNFCCC in the draft Declaration, and
criticized "unilateral domination by one country" in the discussions.
Before the COW adopted the
draft text of the Declaration which was later passed on to the High-Level
Segment Plenary for adoption, Argentina,
Cuba and Venezuela requested
that their reservations on the text be registered in the proceedings
and their explanatory statements be included as annexes to the official
All three stated that, despite
their reservations on the draft text of the Declaration, they are not
blocking the consensus in adopting it. Nicaragua
and Ecuador threw their support behind the statements
made by Argentina,
Cuba and Venezuela. Ecuador stated
that there are actually many countries that have reservations on the
draft text who opted to remain silent in the spirit of consensus, and
their silence should not be taken as full agreement. Germany enjoined other countries to respect the
position of the three countries and to ensure that their explanatory
statements be included as annexes to the final report on the Summit. +
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