The week before last I blogged on the Anglican Alliance’s efforts to mobilise pressure ahead of last week’s G20 Agriculture Minister’s meeting. As part of that effort the Bishop of Exeter wrote to Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs.
So what happened?
Agriculture is a hot potato (sorry…) in most countries’ domestic politics. Think rioting French farmers, USagribiz lobbies or the long death-by-agriculture of the WTO Doha round. So perhaps the most notable thing about the G20 agriculture ministers’ meeting that ended yesterday was that it took place at all – it was the first ever meeting of its kind. It shows just how globally important the topic of food prices and production have become.
Cling to that, because the actual result was dismal – the classic vacuous summit fudge of empty rhetoric, calls for more transparency (who could oppose that?) and kicking the can down the road through buck-passing (asking the finance ministers to look at speculation) and ‘needs more research’, with a few baby steps in coordination. No regulation, no obligation, no new money.
If you think this is just another NGO self-seeking publicity groan then you’re wrong – just check out the verdict provided by Oliver de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
The roots of the problem remain unaddressed in this action plan: food markets that are highly dependent on energy markets, irresponsible mandates to increase the production and use of biofuels, and speculation that cannot be reduced to some investors manipulating prices.
And while more transparency about stocks should help reduce the attractiveness of speculation, it remains doubtful whether the private sector will have enough incentives to participate in the information-sharing system that is being set up.
In fact, even some of the tools that seek to address the symptoms are deficient: financial instruments to allow producers to hedge against price volatility shall not in fact be available to most smallholders, and as they are currently conceived, the emergency food reserves to address humanitarian crises are unable, by themselves, to ensure stable incomes to producers or to shield poor households from price shocks.
The G20 action plan is a step in the right direction. But the current situation called for an ambitious jump forward.
All in all then a rather disappointing meeting which saw governments retreat into defensive national positions. It will be interesting to see how Caroline Spelman sells the success of the meeting when she replies to the Bishop of Exeter’s letter.