The G7 in Schloss Elmau: Sending the right signal on food security and nutrition

There are less than 40 days to go until the next G7 summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany, where a small group of industrialized nations will meet to discuss areas of common interest in economic and foreign policy.

This year, as in 2009 and 2012, food security and nutrition is a significant agenda item for the meeting.

Through this move, industrialized countries appears to be sending a clear signal that they will significantly contribute to the achievement of the goal to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.  

But what does this mean in practice? And how can the group learn from previous mistakes?

Learning from the past

A commitment from the G7 to make tangible and measurable progress towards zero hunger by 2030 is very much welcome.

The Sustainable Development Goals, which will be negotiated during September at the United Nations in New York, will also highlight such a goal. The role of richer, industrial countries such as those in the G7 remains vital to financing the implementation of the SDGs and in setting the broad policy direction that will determine many of the outcomes.

However, as with many of these initiatives, the devil will be in the detail.

Member states should learn lessons from previous initiatives on food security at the G7. For example, the New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition, which was established under the auspices of the US presidency at Camp David during 2012 has been heavily criticized by civil society groups, including Oxfam, as top-down and non-participatory.

Through the framework, new policies on land, tax and seeds, coupled with donor aid commitments, appear likely to benefit larger businesses or investors, rather than those that it purports to help - such as small-scale producers, women and the rural poor.

Three principles to ensure the success of the G7 food security initiative

Learning lessons from the past is vital if the G7 is to set a positive direction on food security and nutrition.

The three principles below should be used by G7 policymakers as essential guidance or benchmarks to ensure the success of the initiative.

1. Human rights frameworks remain essential: the proposed food security approach of the G7 needs to be strongly aligned with participatory human rights guidelines such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Progressive Realization of the Right to Food, and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Land Tenure (often known as the VGGTs). These guidelines include important principles to ensure that the initiative will lead to positive impact – including in targeting of vulnerable groups and ensuring that investments will do no harm.

2. Re-emphasize and prioritize public financing: Public spending on agriculture is badly needed in many developing countries, especially to support vulnerable and marginalized groups such as small scale producers, women and pastoralists. Sub-Saharan African countries still only spend around six per cent of national budgets on agriculture despite its importance to rural development and poverty eradication. The private sector can play a supportive role on food security if it invests in ways that strengthen sustainable small-scale production. However, private sector investment has a poor record at reaching the poorest and can cause harm when unregulated.

3. Alignment with the Committee on World Food Security (CFS): the reform and revitalization of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) during 2009 remains one of the most useful policy outcomes following the previous food crisis. Following reform, the CFS constitutes the foremost inclusive intergovernmental platform on food security and nutrition. Alignment of the G7 initiative with CFS decisions will ensure that the proposal remains guided by policies that can realize the right to food, and a country-owned vision for smallholder agriculture. The Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition (endorsed by the CFS in 2012) remains a useful reference point in this regard.  

What about climate change and the environment?

Finally, previous G7 initiatives have largely failed to address the linkages between hunger, climate change, soil degradation and other pressing environmental issues.The challenge to reduce hunger and malnutrition is paramount in the face of more frequent and heavier weather extremes; the alarming trend of soil degradation; the loss of biodiversity and increasing scarcity and salinity of water in many areas. The situation in the Sahel and in India on the one hand, and Sao Paulo and California on the other, show how important it is to take the issue of water scarcity seriously.

Ecological approaches to agriculture, such as agroforestry; practices to increase soil organic matter; water shed management; and a ‘landscape approach’ are proven as a method to manage water resources and increase resilience to climate change. Without addressing the issue of water, any G7 initiative will be blind to some of the biggest challenges of coming decades in agricultural production.  

As a useful first step to bridge food security and environmental aims, the G7 could learn useful lessons from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which held its first symposium on agro-ecology this year. Graziano da Silva, the FAO Director General, said at the time, that ‘a window was opened in the Cathedral of the Green Revolution’. This willingness to embrace the agro-ecology approach points to new ways of thinking that can overcome the productionist and yield-focused mindset that dominates much of the policy thinking on agriculture and food security.

To ensure the success of any proposed G7 initiative, its sponsors should both look to the failures of the past and to innovative approaches for the future. The need for human rights, inclusion and participation remain vital. It is time that G7 policymakers look beyond tired, conventional approaches based on business as usual. If policymakers are visionary, a world free from hunger based on a new social and ecological orientation could be in reach.

This entry posted by Marita Wiggerthale (@mawigger), Policy Adviser on Food Security, Oxfam Germany, on 30 April 2015.

Photo: Vegetables grown in Touba Ngembe are displayed for sale in the village market of Ndiaganiao, Senegal. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/Oxfam, 20 April 2010

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