4 takeaways from the 2014 Committee on Food Security

A view of the opening of the 41st sessions of the Committee on World Food Security on Oct. 13 at the Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome, Italy. What were the hot topics during the event? Photo by: Giulio Napolitano / FAO

High-level representatives from governments, United Nations food agencies, aid groups, the private sector and civil society gathered last week at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters in Rome to agree on a common strategy to fight global hunger.

As expected, the intergovernmental and multistakeholder Committee on World Food Security endorsed in its 41st session a set of principles on responsible investments in agriculture. It also discussed innovations in the sector, as well as lessons learned on how to address malnutrition and tackle food wastage.

“Food security is everyone's business,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in his address to the CFS.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Program, meanwhile noted how “an unprecedented number of shocks, stresses and ever more complex crises” are now threatening to set back “years of progress in hunger reduction” efforts.

During a week marked by intense rumors over the creation of a new U.N. body to combat malnutrition and civil society concerns about who should lead the global strategy to ensure food security for all, Devex was on the ground in Rome talking to the sector’s experts and luminaries. Here are our four main takeaways from the 41st CFS:

1. Responsible agriculture investments.

Following two years of consultations, the CFS plenary endorsed 10 voluntary and therefore nonbinding principles that should guide investments in agriculture worldwide.

According to FAO, “an average net investment of $83 billion a year will be necessary to raise agricultural production by 60 percent and feed the global population of more than 9 billion expected by 2050.” The principles seek to promote investments, while enhancing livelihoods, and guard against and mitigate risks to food security and nutrition.

The guidelines state how investments can contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic development as well as the eradication of poverty through gender equality, youth and women empowerment, respect of land tenure, access to and conservation of natural resources, increased resilience, respect for cultural heritage and traditional knowledge, support to innovation, and healthy agriculture and accountability. The principles are expected to impact on the work of different stakeholders, for instance in project design and implementation, as well as in defining roles and responsibilities for governments, the private sector, international organizations, donors, foundations, financial institutions, funds, academia, and other actors.

The big question remains, however: since they are voluntary, will the principles actually be followed and carried out?

“FAO stands ready to assist governments and all stakeholders into transforming the principles into reality,” da Silva said, but some governments underscored they would never support making them binding.

And while most stakeholders welcomed the guidelines, some civil society organizations have doubts.

“The document is far from our expectations” for farmers, fishermen, pastoralists, the landless, the urban poor and other groups, noted Javier Sanchez, a Spanish farmer and CSO representative. “Civil society is concerned the document could be used to legitimize irresponsible investments.”

Clara Jamart, a food security advocacy officer at Oxfam France, commented in a blog post that the principles are “weak, vague and arbitrary” and distanced herself from them.

2. Nutrition.

Although the CFS had no specific document to endorse, nutrition was definitely a hot topic during formal and informal consultations, discussion panels and side events in Rome.

The buzz about the possible establishment of a new body to manage U.N. efforts in tackling malnutrition points to the fact that new solutions are being explored.  

Will the tentatively named “U.N. Nutrition” become a reality? Will it be just a program or a full agency? Will it a new mechanism of coordination, or simply a review? All those questions and many others about how the new body will complement CFS efforts have yet to be answered, but what clearly emerged from the meetings in Rome is that only a month before the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition led by FAO and the World Health Organization, what to do with global governance of nutrition is still a challenge for the international development community.

CSOs and some governments support a stronger role for the CFS on global nutrition efforts, in the follow-up to ICN2 and within the post-2015 negotiations. Stineke Oenema, a nutritionist with the International Cocoa Organization, explained that civil society demands an accountability mechanism, and the CFS is the entity in the best position to come up with one. A representative from the European Union, meanwhile, agreed the platform is the only one that can provide a “transparent framework for a broad range of stakeholders.”

3. Food security in protracted crises.

2015 will be a year of tough negotiations among CFS member states and the platform’s different stakeholders, after the plenary decided to extend the deadline to complete the agenda of action for addressing food insecurity in protracted crises.

The need for this instrument was in fact raised four years ago, and a consultative process kicked off in 2013; the final agenda should be finished by the next CFS.

The agenda for action, which will also be voluntary and nonbinding, aims to provide guidance for governments, donors, NGOs and other development actors on how to operate in the context of complex food security crises.

A first draft of the document mentions 10 crucial principles, from strengthening multistakeholder platforms to designing and implementing resilience-focused policies and actions, as well as integrating interventions for food security and nutrition into peace-building and knowledge-sharing efforts.

4. Food losses and waste.

Food losses and waste became a major talking point last week in Rome. A high-level panel of experts presented a report at the plenary, which included recommendations for actions ranging from advancing an agenda on food loss and waste to developing a global framework or convening a meeting for sharing best practices, and pushing for more integrated approaches.

“Public-private partnerships are essential to tackle food loss and waste,” the EU representative said, while CSOs urged the CFS to work with member states and aid groups on a common agenda to address this challenge ahead of next year’s food security meeting in Rome.

“We observed continued difficulties in how ideas get put forward in various parts of the CFS. There was a notable absence of governments from the south, as many delegates were engaged in other discussions. Important ideas and voices from important actors were not carried forward,” civil society groups said in a joint statement.

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About the author

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    Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.