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Food Security in the UN Spotlight

Before the rapid rise in food prices witnessed over the past several years, approximately 854 million people worldwide were undernourished. The combination of the hike in food prices and the economic crisis have left an estimated 1.02 billion people undernourished worldwide in 2009 [1] - or one out of every six people. This month, a series of UN events has called attention to food security, focusing on the need for international collaboration, and a “twin-track” response that offers immediate relief and long-term sustainable solutions.


UN Panel Discussion

On 9 October, 2009, members of the UN 2nd Committee (on economic and financial issues) and distinguished UN and civil society panelists met at UN headquarters in New York for a panel discussion on “New Cooperation for Global Food Security.” Panelists discussed new international cooperation and partnerships, and the connections between food security, financial institutions, agricultural development and climate change. The Chair, H.E. Mr. Park In-kook, opened by stating that food insecurity, the financial crisis and climate change were three interrelated challenges that necessitated a comprehensive approach, including investment and collaboration between agricultural development and food security measures.

Ms. Pandya-Lorch, Chief of Staff and Head of the 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture and the Environment Initiative, International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) was the first panelist to speak, echoing Mr. Park In-Kook’s calls for increased investment and awareness of interrelated issues, including the financial crisis’ impact on food insecurity, climate change’s adverse effects on agricultural development, and food insecurity’s precipitation of land-grabbing. Ms. Pandya-Lorch commended the emergence of new partnerships and increased quality and access to food, before noting that the number of hungry people in the developing world is rising.

The High Level Task Force

Mr. Nabarro, Coordinator of the High-level Task Force (HLTF) of the Secretary- General on the Global Food Security Crisis then addressed the committee (via video conference from Geneva), focusing on the successes of food security efforts, including the emergence of new cooperative efforts. One of the primary examples of this burgeoning cooperation is the High Level Task Force that Mr. Nabarro coordinates, and whose principal role he describes as “monitor[ing] how partnerships and cooperation opportunities develop” so that we can “move toward better realization of MDG goals on poverty and hunger.” The HLTF was established by the Secretary-General in April of last year to address the Global Food Security Crisis. It is composed of the heads of the UN specialized agencies, funds and programmes working on the issue as well as the Bretton Woods institutions and relevant parts of the UN Secretariat.

The Comprehensive Framework for Action

At the June 2008 High-Level conference in Rome, with the support of 22 different UN agencies, the HLTF created a plan of action, called The Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA). Aimed at governments, international and regional agencies and organizations, and civil society, it stated that “unless action is taken now, we will see a reversal in the critical gains made in recent years toward reducing poverty and hunger as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) This requires an urgent comprehensive, coherent, and coordinated response.” The CFA presented two interrelated courses of action, one focused on the action needed to mitigate food insecurity in the short term, and the other on building resilience and long-term global food security.

UN Panel Discussion: Conclusions

In his address, Mr. Nabarro detailed some successes in the campaign against food insecurity, asserting that “what has happened internationally since the June conference [in Rome] is exciting.” He cited efforts by the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank, Spain, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as new commitments by countries such as Australia, the US, Japan, and many EU countries. Finally, he pointed to the Food Security Initiative that arose from this year’s G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy. Signed by 26 countries and 14 multilateral organizations, the Initiative called for $20 billion investment over 3 years, directed at sustainable agricultural development.

Mr. Medrano, Director of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) New York Liaison Office and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, spoke next. He emphasized the importance of food security for achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs), noting that the hunger targets are the worst performing of all the MDGs: “global food security has worsened as a result of high food prices and the global economic and financial crisis…the impact of hunger is large and long-term, affecting not only the achievement of MDG 1 (to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger), but all other MDGs as well.” He concluded by speaking about WFP’s partnerships, including work with nearly 3,000 NGOs in the field, and stressing the importance of South-South cooperation and National Food Assistance Programs as part of an urgent and comprehensive response based on partnerships.

Mr. Escudero, Director of the Global Policy Change and Food Systems Advocacy, Heifer International, concluded the panel by providing three concrete examples of successful partnerships, in the areas of livestock, sustainable agriculture, and rural-urban linkages. He argued that growing intergovernmental support, initiative on the part of local authorities, and civil society development accounted in large part for their success.

Food Security in the Spotlight: Past Present and Future

This panel discussion follows on the heels of the L’Aquila Initiative, and is only the first in a series of October events focussed on food security, including a High-Level Expert Forum (12-13 October), a Committee on World Food Security meeting (14-17 October), the launch of a new FAO report on “The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2009: Economic Crises, Impacts and Lessons Learned” and finally World Food Day on 16 October. This year’s World Food Day theme was “How to Ensure Food Security in Times of Crisis.” The Secretary-General issued a statement for the occasion in which he emphasized the need for an immediate response, and longer-term investment, while also calling attention to the World Summit on Food Security to take place in Rome this November:

“Throughout the developing world, food prices remain stubbornly high. We must respond to the needs of the hungry, first by ensuring adequate political and financial support for emergency food assistance…Second, we must invest in food production and distribution…

Nations are mobilizing for action… Next month’s World Summit on Food Security in Rome is a further opportunity to focus on country-led and regional strategies, country-level partnerships and increased levels of assistance.”

The World Summit on Food Security will take place from November16-18 in Rome, Italy.

You can find more information on the Summit here

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