Small farmers key to solving food crisis

The UN-Spanish Government High Level Meeting on “Food Security for All”, held last in Madrid on 26-27 January, ended without approving concrete measures but pledged to bolster efforts to increase financial resources and ODA, particularly in relation to nutrition, food, agriculture and hunger-related programmes and policies (Item 1).

While this is welcome, given that agriculture as a sector has been neglected for many years by both national governments and international agencies, it would be crucial that more assistance, voice and participation is accorded to small farmers, whose production will be very important to enable them to pull out of poverty and contribute to feeding the rest of the world (Items 2 and 3). These were among the calls of farmers and civil society organizations attending the meeting, which highlighted that without serious questioning of the real structural causes behind the food crisis, any discussion about more or less aid money targets symptoms rather than addressing the real issues.

A new multimedia publication by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) provides the evidence that local organisations are essential to sustain food systems, the environment and livelihoods (

Ahead of the Summit, the ETC Group also released a Communique on governance of global food and agriculture (Item 4), criticizing the G8’s proposed Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security and providing alternative proposals. The full report at:   

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister,
10400 Penang,

Item 1

Food summit - concern yes, concrete steps no

Madrid, 27 Jan (IPS/Tito Drago) -- A "High Level Meeting on Food Security for All" convened by the United Nations and the Spanish government ended Tuesday without approving concrete measures but with a commitment to redoubling efforts to bolster official development aid (ODA).

Representatives of national governments, civil society, trade unions, the private sector, academia, multilateral organisations and donor agencies from around 100 countries took part in the two-day meeting, in which the closing speeches were given by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The problem of hunger suffered by one billion people around the world - nearly all of them in the developing South - was discussed in-depth throughout the meeting, and the progress achieved since the June 2008 high-level conference in Rome was reviewed, in order to establish mechanisms for better coordination.

Although concrete resolutions were not adopted, the conference issued strong statements on the need to act with respect to questions like funding. The final declaration urges governments and international institutions to make good on their previous pledges of aid.

The participants also expressed "the urgent need to strive even harder to achieve international commitments of increasing substantially financial resources and ODA, particularly in relation to nutrition, food, agriculture and hunger-related programmes and policies."

One positive aspect, according to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), was the conference's call to "eliminat(e) all forms of competition-distorting subsidies, in order to stimulate and conduct agricultural trade in a fair way."

Referring to the global food crisis, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) chief Jacques Diouf, who is vice-chairman of the Secretary-General's High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, said "This crisis is not only still with us, but could still worsen."

To confront the crisis, he said that in his congratulatory message to US President Barack Obama, he "proposed the convening, at the level of Heads of State and Government, of a World Summit on Food Security in 2009 to forge a broad consensus on the final and rapid eradication of hunger in the world."

He also said that "Proposals have focused on establishing a High-Level Panel of Experts on food and agriculture, charged with conducting scientific analyses and a Global Partnership to enhance dialogue with all partners and thus facilitate coordination and implementation of the action plans."

"I am convinced, and this has often been said and repeated, that there is no need to create new bodies. The need is to improve, reinforce, coordinate, in other words to reform what exists so as to render our action more effective," he added.

With respect to compliance with earlier commitments, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told IPS that Spain would like all governments in the industrialised North to live up to their pledge to earmark 0.7% of GDP to ODA, by 2012.

Spain has already committed itself to that goal, and Zapatero announced Tuesday that his administration would increase ODA by one billion euros.

Another 15 countries have joined Spain in that commitment, promising 5.5 billion euros over the next five years, as well as the 1.3 billion euros pledged by the European Union several weeks ago.

"The countries of the North have resources and means, we know what the solutions are, and we can and must apply them," said Moratinos, who has broad experience in development aid in Spain and the European Union.

At one of the panels in the Madrid meeting, the representative of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), which groups 65 million workers globally, said one solution to increasing ODA is clear: by reducing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) budget by a mere 10%, $100 billion would be raised.

Speaking of funding, representatives of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres and Action against Hunger complained that transnational corporations seek to use the theme of the fight against hunger to their own benefit.

Lidia Senra with Via Campesina Europa agreed, saying that "there is a strong interest in using the money to help address the problem of hunger in such a way that companies can sell their own seeds and fertilisers."

International meetings on hunger are important, she added, but "food sovereignty must be respected, and each country must be allowed to decide on its own agricultural policies, protecting the production of each country and region and fighting speculation."

Lennart Bage, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), told IPS that one problem is that although prices have plunged, the food crisis continues.

But, he said, if small and medium farmers, who number around 450 million worldwide, are assisted, their production will be very important to enable them to pull out of poverty and contribute to feeding the rest of the world.

Four NGOs - Caritas, Engineers Without Borders, La Suma de Todos and Prosalud - launched the campaign "The Right to Food: Urgent".

In a public statement, they argued that the conditions are in place to overcome hunger, and that the fight must be based on respect for human rights, in a context in which states assume their obligations and develop political frameworks on agriculture aimed at guaranteeing the right to food.

The groups also added that agriculture based on the right to food must be at the centre of the public agenda, that civil society as a whole should participate, and that no single formula can be offered, because although the crisis has common underlying causes, it takes on different characteristics in each country.

Furthermore, they said, governments must make it clear that the private sector shares the responsibility to fight hunger by means of the creation of a code of conduct for companies that work with agricultural inputs, which is based on the principle of the right to food.

The campaign congratulated Zapatero for the economic agreements achieved, and expressed hope that his government will assume an effective global leadership role in the effort to come up with new ways of fighting hunger.

In the final declaration approved at the High Level Meeting, participants "reaffirmed the conclusions of the World Food Summit in 1996... to achieve food security for all through an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing by half the number of undernourished people by no later than 2015, as well as their commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)."

The first of the MDGs, which were adopted by the international community in 2000, is to halve the number of hungry people in the world by 2015, from 1990 levels.

They also expressed deep concern over "the unacceptable global food security situation that affects over 960 million undernourished people" and "the negative impact on food access and availability fluctuations exacerbated by the current financial crisis on the livelihoods of the poorest, most vulnerable in the world." +

Item 2

Surprise ending in Madrid! No consensus on a G8 driven partnership... for now




Final declaration of farmers and civil society organisations at High Level Meeting on Food Security, 27 January 2009

As representatives of peasant farmers and other small scale food producers, together with organisations that support them(*), we want to express the following:

1. We gathered in Madrid with low expectations. We were extremely unhappy with the process and the contents of this conference. Although WE are the ones who produce most of the world's food, we had not been offered a serious space to give our opinion on what should be done, either in the preparatory process or in the conference programme itself.

2. As a consequence, the meeting was not focussed on the crucial question of how to solve the dramatic food crisis that we are facing, but rather on a discussion by donors about how to spend their money. Without serious questioning the real structural causes behind the food crisis, any discussion about more or less aid money targets symptoms rather than addressing the real issues.

3. This explains the simplistic `more of the same' recipes to solve the crisis presented in Madrid: more fertilizer, more hybrid seeds and more agrochemicals for small farmers. This approach has already been a total failure in the past, and has been the source of elimination and suffering of millions of small producers, environmental destruction and climate change.

4. It is also clear that none of the actors here were prepared to deal with the crucial and conflictual issue of how local food producers are being denied access to land and territories, which constitutes the single most important threat to local food production. Many of the communally held land territories are now under threat from privatization and land grabbing by transnational corporations to plant agrofuels or other commodities for the international markets. We need fundamental agrarian and aquatic reforms to keep land in the hands of local communities to be able to produce food.

5. But several factors combined to squash the organizers' hope of ending the conference with the triumphal proclamation of an ethereal Global Partnership for Agricultural and Food Security crafted by the G8 with agribusiness corporations panting to take up residence. One factor was the fact that many developing country governments rejected a proposal on which no one had bothered to consult them. Another was the strong stand taken by FAO to keep global governance of food and agriculture centred in the Rome-based UN agencies. And our participation - both within the conference and in actions outside - helped to remind delegates that there can be no successful approach to the food crisis that does not build on the alternatives that millions of small food producers are developing day by day.

6. The solution to the food crisis exists, and is being fought for in many communities. It is called food sovereignty. An approach oriented towards peasant-based agriculture and artisanal fisheries, prioritizing local markets and sustainable production methods and based on the right to food and the right of peoples to define their own agricultural policies. To be able to achieve this, we need to:

* Reinstate the right of governments to intervene and regulate in the food and agricultural sector. The right to food, as already accepted by the UN, should be the central cornerstone on the basis of which the solutions to the food crisis are to be constructed.

* Dominate the disastrous volatility of food prices in domestic markets.

* National governments should take full control over the import and export of food in order to stabilize local markets.

* Reject Green Revolution models. Industrialized agriculture and fisheries are no solution.

* Set up policies to actively support peasant-based food production and artisanal fishing, local markets and the implementation of agrarian and aquatic reform.

* Stop corporate land grabbing for industrial agrofuels and commodity production.

7. We need one single space in the UN system that acts in total independence of the international financial and trade institutions, with a clear mandate from governments, decisive participation by peasant, fisher-folk and other small scale food producers, and a transparent and democratic process of decision making. This has to be the unique space where food and agriculture issues are discussed, where policies and rules are set.

8. We see the proposed Global Partnership as just another move to give the big corporations and their foundations a formal place at the table, despite all the rhetoric about the 'inclusiveness' of this initiative. Furthermore it legitimates the participation of WTO, World Bank and IMF and other neoliberalism-promoting institutions in the solution of the very problems they have caused. This undermines any possibility for civil society or governments from the Global South to play any significant role. We do not need this Global Partnership or any other structure outside the UN system.

The battle was won in Madrid, but we have no illusions that the promoters of the Global Partnership have given up the fight, and we will continue to engage them.

(*) These include Via Campesina, COAG, and many NGOs. The organizations present at the Madrid meeting presented a detailed statement with our assessment and proposals "Accelerating into disaster - When banks manage the food crisis". It can be downloaded from the website of the IPC, which has facilitated our participation in this conference: (The statement is also available in English, French and Spanish on

Item 3

Local organisations key to solving food crisis

The global food crisis will deepen unless small-scale organisations are given a leading role in deciding how and where foods are produced and distributed, according to the author of a new multimedia publication by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

The warning comes as government representatives and others meet this week (26-27 January) in Madrid for the UN’s High Level Meeting on Food Security for All.

“The Madrid conference on food security is largely dominated by agribusiness and international financial and trade institutions,” says Dr Michel Pimbert, director of IIED's Sustainable Agriculture, Biodiversity and Livelihoods Programme and author of the publication.

“Small scale food producers are hardly given any space to show how they — and their local organisations — produce over 80 percent of the world's food, conserve biodiversity and the environment.”

Pimbert’s publication combines text and photos with video and audio clips to argue that local organisations are essential to sustain food systems, the environment and livelihoods.

“There can be no solution to the current food crisis if high level participants in Madrid continue with 'top down' and 'business as usual' policies and actively ignore the role of local organisations in sustaining food systems, livelihoods and the environment,” says Pimbert.

“These local groups are best-placed to develop the policies and institutions needed to govern local food systems and access to food,” he adds.

The publication is the latest in a series of online chapters of a larger publication called: ‘Towards Food Sovereignty. Reclaiming autonomous food systems’. The new chapter includes descriptions of:

* Collectives of marginalised women farmers in the drylands of India who manage an alternative public distribution system based on biodiversity- rich farming and local control over food in order to support the most vulnerable and excluded people.

* Eco-villages in Scotland in which local organisations manage integrated food, energy, water and waste management systems — to reduce environmental impacts and enhance human well being and freedom from a system founded on wasteful consumption and production.

* An example from cities in the USA in which poor urban dwellers – mainly Latino and African-American communities – are confronting food poverty and malnutrition by organising and re-connecting with the land to access fresh, health giving vegetables, fruit and other farm produce. 

It includes audio recordings of key figures from MST – the landless movement in Brazil that organises to occupy and farm land left idle by huge foreign and national land owners.

More generally, the book highlights the role of local organisations in managing the land, in regulating access to food and resources, in dealing with climate and environmental change, and in the politics of decision making.

To download the publication, visit:


More information about the High Level Meeting on Food Security for All

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. For more details, see:

Item 4

Global Governance of Food and Agriculture: Time for a New Roman Forum? (ETC Group; 23 January, 2009)

ETC Group

23 January, 2009

Today, ETC Group released a new Communiqué on global governance of food and agriculture, ahead of the High-Level Meeting on “Food Security for All,” chaired by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and Spanish Prime Minister, Rodriguez Zapatero, being held at Madrid, Spain, 26-27 January, 2009.  

A summary of the Communiqué, by ETC Group, appears below, and its full report is also available for free download at:   

Issue: The main (and much-needed) goal of the Madrid High-Level Meeting is to reorganize the intergovernmental management of food and agriculture. At the last food crisis in 1974, OECD states savaged the UN’s unified system and carved it into four warring factions. In the midst of today's food crisis, the four remain underfunded, weakly governed and dismayingly competitive. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the biggest “loner” in the crowd, the World Food Program (WFP), are all either suffering from harsh external reviews or major program reorganization. Complicating the problem, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s High-Level Taskforce on the food crisis sees Madrid as an opportunity to segue into the secretariat for the G-8's proposed Global Partnership for Food and Agriculture. This top-down Partnership would substantially weaken G-77 policy influence in UN food fora by constructing an amorphous “compact” dominated by major governments, agribusiness, mega foundations, and multilateral food and financial institutions with just enough CSOs to mute protests against the presence of Monsanto and Gates. Also at the Madrid High-Level Meeting, at the invitation of the Spanish Premier, Jeffrey Sachs, will be pedalling his proposal for a new vertical fund to draw down corporate and foundation money.

Fora: The Madrid High-Level Meeting could be a surprisingly important step along the High-Level road to a new governance system. Until now, governments' response to the food crisis hasn’t lacked fora, but it has instead lacked governance. The High-Level Forum (HLF) in Rome, Italy, of June 2008, moved onto the HLF on Aid-Effectiveness in Ghana in September 2008, then to the HL food portion of the General Assembly, and back to FAO's High-Level Ministerial Conference in November 2008. Any keen food-watchers who don’t have chronic nosebleeds by now will still have to soldier on to another High-Level session at FAO in November 2009 – accompanied, possibly, by a World Food Summit, involving Barack Obama and/or a still larger gathering in Madrid, Spain, in 2010. As the HLFs thunder on, the CGIAR is massively restructuring its 15 independent institutes into a single legal entity, which will most likely be headquartered in Rome, Italy. Meanwhile, IFAD is looking for a new President after a heartening 60% increase in its funding, while the WFP seems more enamoured with the World Bank than with its sister agencies in Rome, Italy.

Policy: The G-8's Global Partnership is bad governance and smacks of the desperate creation of the utterly-useless World Food Council in the 1974 food crisis. The WFC was finally euthanized in the early 90s. Instead of hastily cobbling together something new, The Madrid High-Level Meeting should thus be looking at the four main agencies (FAO, CGIAR, IFAD, WFP), and get them working together. Trying to reorganize these four institutions one by one is like trying to teach an elephant to dance one foot at a time. Before inventing a new organization, the Madrid High-Level Meeting must also make three decisions: (1) agree to an immediate meta-evaluation of the four organizations; (2) agree to coordinate the regular meetings of the four governing bodies to jointly review the meta-evaluation; and (3) agree to restructure the regular biennial FAO Regional Conferences to allow governments, the four agencies and other concerned parties – most especially, organizations of small farmers, fishers, livestock-keepers and indigenous peoples – to make proposals for the overhaul of the UN’s “failed estates.” To stimulate debate, the six charts in this brief report propose merging the CGIAR with FAO into a new Food and Agriculture Conference, and bring IFAD and WFP along with the merged FAO/CGIAR together, in a New Roman Forum for Food, Agriculture and Rural Development. We hope our draft proposal is sufficiently detailed and adequately incomplete to stir the ire of every interested group and launch a reorganization of our crippled infrastructure.