Handing out cash or vouchers for food, or buying food aid in or near the country in need of emergency food assistance, has become official policy, the European Union (EU) announced on 31 March, breaking the link between donors supporting their own farmers and foreign food aid.
"By this step it has institutionalized the use of response tools such as cash transfers and vouchers," said Chris Leather, Food and Agriculture Policy Adviser to Oxfam International.
The statement also called on EU members to adopt similar national policies. "That is where the challenge could lie - it would be interesting to see how all the members respond," said Leather.
The announcement was part of two new policy frameworks adopted by the European Commission (EC) to help developing countries address food security in emergency and long-term situations.
A new humanitarian assistance framework contains the policy on response tools to enhance food security, and also spells out EU efforts to tackle acute food insecurity and malnutrition in crises.
The development agenda
The framework on food security takes a longer view and spells out the need to support agriculture in poor countries to help them reach the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving hunger and poverty by 2015, one of eight such goals.
In 2010 over a billion people in the world are food insecure, said an EU press release providing the background to the new policy documents, and many poor countries seem unlikely to reach the MDG.
|Making real progress towards sustainable reduction of hunger in countries in protracted crisis is the big challenge for the coming several years|
"EU action needs to give priority to those food-insecure countries most off-track in reaching MDG1 [to halve hunger and poverty], in particular in Africa, but also South Asia and elsewhere (e.g. Bangladesh, Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Timor Leste)," said the framework on food security.
Leading food aid expert Daniel Maxwell, an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in the US, commented that "it would be good if other donors would take similar steps".
"While there is always some gray area that is not so clearly defined as either 'humanitarian' or 'developmental', it is still good to see that the EC's commitment to humanitarian food security emergencies is still governed by humanitarian principles, particularly at a time when other donors seem increasingly willing to subordinate humanitarian assistance to political or security objectives."
The new EU policy aims to strengthen the four pillars of food security in developmental as well as emergency settings, said a press release: (i) increasing availability of food, (ii) improving access to food, (iii) improving quality and ensuring people eat nutritious food, (iv) boosting the effectiveness of crisis prevention and management.
It called for a special focus on small-scale farmers and women, which should be commended, Leather said. It would also want to help the African Union accelerate the implementation of the African Land Policy Guidelines, completed in 2009, to secure people's rights to land.
"[What] the EU framework does not address are the concerns around the purchase of land [in Africa] by foreigners," said Leather. A recent report by ActionAid, a development agency, claimed that EU companies have acquired, or are negotiating for, at least five million hectares of land in developing countries.
In another significant move the EU called for support in reforming the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) "to become the pivotal global institution on food security".
The CFS is a technical committee of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and serves as a forum in the UN system for the review and follow-up of policies on world food security, food production, nutrition, and physical and economic access to food.
All this will need resources, "but we don't know how - the documents lack that detail," said Leather. "That is where the challenge will lie - the policies will come before the finance committee [of the EC] in May."
Maxwell raised another issue: "Increasingly, the concern of food security agencies and activists is the growing list of countries in protracted crisis, ... which are also not attracting development funding for the MDG goals because the likelihood of success, or even progress, remains in doubt," he noted.
"Making real progress towards sustainable reduction of hunger in countries in protracted crisis is the big challenge for the coming several years."