“The Global Food Policy Report is the first publication that represents the major, major food policy developments in the past year and the outlook for 2012,” said Director of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Shenggen Fan in a video to promote the launch of the institute’s most comprehensive policy publication yet. The report is focused on regional developments, new research, debates, and legislation regarding food security both within individual states and at the international level.
“For 2012, food prices will remain very high and volatile, and some of the long-term trends like climate change, population growth, and demographic shifts towards more urbanized and higher income [populations] will continue to put pressure on global food security,” predicted Fan.
But the report notes that much of the fluctuation in global food prices is due to a lack of knowledge, not necessarily scarcity. The authors point to issues of preparedness and regulation as exacerbating factors and suggest that more detailed information, like that provided in the report, can help provide better solutions to policymakers.
Fan said that, by design, the report is “nontechnical, so the nontechnical person such as politicians, policymakers, practitioners, or anybody else who is interested in food security can use it as a comprehensive handbook.”
Making Connections Between Disciplines
The report draws on the expertise of dozens of authors who discuss topics ranging from biofuels to climate change. Rajul Pandya-Lorch, head of IFPRI’s 2020 Vision Initiative, spoke about the utility of collaboration among different disciplines in an interview with IFPRI: “I think for me 2011 was the time when we began to realize that we cannot think of agriculture simply for agriculture; we need to think of agriculture as a way in which we can impact on other development outcomes, especially nutrition and health,” she said.
Kathy Spahn, president and CEO of Helen Keller International, a speaker at the launch event, agreed. “The development community is beginning to realize that achieving food security is about more than just growing more food. It is also about growing more nutritious foods and making sure these foods are available and accessible to the families in need,” she wrote for Helen Keller International.
Fan emphasized that although agriculture has become more prominently featured in discussions of development, it is important to continue to link it to other outcomes. “We must find new ways to exploit the links between agriculture and other sectors, including health, nutrition, water, and energy,” he wrote in the overview of the report.
Past Developments and Future Outlook
Several key developments are highlighted that shaped food security in 2011. Food prices were particularly volatile – rising for the first half of the year then dropping – which caused a renewed global emphasis on food from policymakers.
New players ranging from emerging economies to the private sector “are increasingly reshaping the structure and nature of the global food landscape,” write the authors. The G-20 is “claiming a growing role” to help manage economic issues, and states like China, Brazil, and India are becoming more vocal regarding global food policy. Partnerships between governments and private companies have also become more common.
These and other developments described in the report will have an impact into 2012 and beyond. The report points out that “food emergencies” caused by natural disasters like the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa will likely occur in 2012 as well, but also emphasizes that these cannot overshadow more long-term drivers of food insecurity, like land degradation.
The report describes four “high-priority areas of action” for this year. First, the G-20 should try to reduce price volatility (although some have argued volatility is less a problem than consistently high prices). Second, policymakers should work to improve agricultural production specifically through strategies like soil nutrient management which provide high yields but are more sustainable than high use of fertilizers. States should also ensure that the infrastructure necessary to make these strategies successful is in place. The next target is based on the Rio+20 conference, namely that participants should “integrate economic, social, and environmental sustainability efforts” to improve outcomes like nutrition and health. There were in fact several seminars on cross-discipline partnerships at the conference, and the importance of integration was mentioned in the outcome text that emerged.
Finally, the report calls for further collaboration across disciplines, in emulation of the internal IFPRI effort for the report which included a wide variety of expertise. The authors emphasized that though progress has been made, the challenge of achieving global food security will remain a concern for the near future, and cooperation across communities will be critical.
“The idea and the impact of the report is to make people aware of the problems that we are facing and the concerns…clearly the problem is not resolved and it’s something that we need to take very seriously,” said contributor Maximo Torero in an interview with IFPRI. “There’s a lot of work to be done to try to do this.”
Sources: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CNN, Hellen Keller International, International Food Policy Research Institute, UN Conference on Sustainable Development.