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Talks and more talks about food

Eight months after Cyclone Nargis, this year's monsoon paddy harvest is less than hoped AS Naing/IRIN
The two-day UN meeting in Madrid, Spain, to review global plans to deal with the food price crisis began amid claims of overlapping programmes and competition for resources between the UN agencies, and talk of setting up a global partnership to improve agriculture and food security.

Ahead of the meeting, UK-based aid agency Oxfam and the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), which works with civil society organisations, had raised concerns over UN agencies' call for funds in an allegedly uncoordinated manner and with "noticeable overlaps".

One of the overlaps, Oxfam said, was the World Bank's Global Food Response Programme, set up to respond to high food prices and which finances the UN World Food Programme's (WFP) food aid and agricultural inputs; and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) Initiative on Soaring Food Prices, centred on providing farming inputs. Both had independently requested donor support.

Fred Mousseau, a policy advisor to Oxfam, said after the meeting, "There was a lot of emphasis on a UN-centred approach to tackling the crisis and a unified UN, which was reassuring."

David Nabarro, coordinator of the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Task Force (HLTF) on Global Food Security, commented: "The most serious challenge is not duplication, but a shortage of resources." The HLTF members are heads of UN specialised agencies, funds and programmes, Bretton Woods institutions and relevant parts of the UN Secretariat, who have "improved policy and programme coordination, particularly at national level".

''The immediate priority was to ensure that the resources which are available for countries are used as efficiently as possible, and are easily available for countries facing food security challenges''
Nabarro noted that in most countries a framework for action on food security had been agreed to by government and donors, and "while improvements can be made, [it] has for the most part worked well".

The immediate priority, he said, was "to ensure that the resources which are available for countries are used as efficiently as possible, and are easily available for countries facing food security challenges. There is a vital priority for countries which have immediate needs for the next planting season, such as Kenya."

Global partnership

Two proposals were up for discussion as participants debated the best architecture for providing long-term solutions to the food price crisis: the HLTF proposed a global partnership that would include UN agencies, governments, NGOs and the private sector; the FAO suggested that the UN committee on World Food Security be expanded. Opinion remained divided and no decision was taken.

Agreement was reached on "the importance of an inclusive and broad process of consultation on options leading to the establishment of a Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition," said a communiqué on the meeting's website.

"There was a lot of scepticism about the idea, as there [sometimes] is about the creation of new structures," said Pat Mooney, the ETC Group's executive director, noting that during the food crisis in the 1970s, the World Food Council had been set up in 1974 and had never really functioned until it was suspended in 1993.

Stephen Jarrett, Principal advisor to the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, said the global partnership would not be a "structure, but more of a broad-based alliance of UN agencies, NGOs, governments and the private sector."

Nabarro commented, "There is no decision on the outcome - only some ideas from different countries and constituencies, and an agreement on the need to have participatory consultation as soon as possible."

He said the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, had been asked by the African Union, the European Union and the G8 group of highly industrialised countries to facilitate consultations about options for partnerships that would generate effective responses to the food security crisis.

"In addition, FAO's members are being consulted about a plan for an intergovernmental process on the agricultural and food security elements of a global partnership."

Money makes the food go round

Oxfam and the medical aid NGO, Médecins Sans Frontières, welcomed a commitment by Spain, the host country, to earmark 0.7 percent of its gross domestic product to overseas development assistance (ODA) by 2012.

Donor response at present was poor, "but it was not a pledging conference", said Oxfam's Mousseau. "Affected countries in Africa and Asia also need to increase their investment in agriculture."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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