Olivier De Schutter discusses what the G20 should do to prepare the world for food crises.
What should the G20 do to prepare us to confront food crises, now and in the future? World Bank President Robert Zoellick recently listed nine measures that the G20 should adopt under its current French presidency. These range from improving information about grain stocks and developing better weather-forecasting methods to strengthening social safety nets for the poor and helping small farmers benefit from tenders from humanitarian purchasers such as the World Food Program.
Although welcome, these measures tackle only the symptoms of the global food system's weaknesses, leaving the root causes of crises untouched. They may mitigate the consequences of peak prices, but they are inadequate to avoiding the recurrence of shocks, which can be accomplished if the G20 acts on eight priorities.
First, the G20 should support countries' ability to feed themselves. Since the early 1990s, many poor countries' food bills have soared five- or six-fold, owing not only to population growth, but also to their focus on export-led agriculture. A lack of investment in agriculture that feeds local communities makes these countries vulnerable to international price shocks, as well as to exchange-rate volatility.