The 40th Session of the Committee on World Food Security at the Plenary Hall, FAO headquarters. CFS has endorsed recommendations on investing in small-holder agriculture, whose implementation is eagerly anticipated. Photo by: FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico

Last week, almost 750 representatives from 130 government delegations, 100 civil society organizations and 50 private sector firms gathered in Rome for the 40th session of the Committee on World Food Security, the high-profile multistakeholder platform on food security and nutrition.

After days — and some late nights — of intense negotiations and debate, the CFS approved two crucial documents: one giving recommendations on investing in small-holder agriculture and one on biofuels.

However, these weren’t the only hot topics on this week’s agenda. Here’s a look back at what happened at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters.

Investments and principles

The major outcome of the CFS has been the endorsement of the recommendations on investing in small-holder agriculture, which set out where and how public investments should be channeled. According to observers, this could lead to an increase in the resources available. What remains to be seen is how they will be implemented at country level.

According to the recommendations, the CFS could promote platforms for sharing best practices and better engaging small-holder farmers; ask international financial institutions to fund pilot programs; and support the development of guidelines on public-private partnerships and contract farming.

At the meeting, France announced that Agence Française de Développement will double its investments in Africa within the next two years, with €800 million (nearly $1.1 billion) per year prioritized for family farming.

However, the recommendations were only one part of the issue, with other debates emerging around the principles for responsible investment, the types of investments and the future role to be played by small-holder farmers, large corporations and development partners.

Indeed, these principles are expected to be next year’s hottest issue, with the CFS expected to endorse the principles at its next annual gathering.

So what are the next steps? The working draft — or “zero draft” — issued in spring is set to be discussed in the coming months through regional consultations. Then in May, the CFS will start negotiations, with the main sticking point remaining the lack of funding for consultations at local level.

The next round of debates promise to be intense and divergences of opinion have already come to light. Civil society considers that the zero draft is designed from the “perspective of large-scale investors,” while small-scale producers are still considered as “add-ons.” It is therefore expected to push for the prioritization of small-scale agriculture and coherence with land tenure guidelines.

The European Union and World Bank have both cautioned that the principles must be practical, while private sector representatives were concerned about high implementation costs.

Post-2015 agenda

From the podium of the plenary room, Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Program, urged the U.N. General Assembly to enshrine a standalone goal on food security and nutrition in the post-2015 framework.

On Friday, the CFS committee formally decided to explore how to contribute to the post-2015 agenda and request that UNGA entrust it with the definition of a food security and nutrition goal. This question will be at the core of the CFS’ activity next year, according to Gerda Verburg, Dutch ambassador to the U.N. in Rome who was elected Friday as CFS chair for a two-year term.

The role of the CFS and the Rome-based agencies — until now not very successful, according to some observers — was also brought into the spotlight. Will links with headquarters level be strengthened in advance of the definition of the goals? And will the CFS receive a specific mandate for the definition of a food security goal?

Another major issue concerns productivity and nutritional targets.

“Targets must be specific and negotiated at country level,” said David Nabarro, U.N. special representative for food security and nutrition.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which organized a CFS side-event, called for the U.N. to convene an informal stakeholder meeting to define those targets, stressing the importance of rural data collection.

A new course for CFS?

Urging a leading role for the CFS on food and nutrition in the post-2015 framework has been only one aspect of the international community’s push for a stronger CFS.

According to Verburg, the crucial point is how the CFS improves the implementation of its decisions at the country level. The CFS is likely to undergo significant changes in the management of its workflow that will aim, according to Verburg, to make it more efficient. This includes better linking global with local levels, providing concrete advice to stakeholders on how to implement its decisions.

A first step toward a more effective CFS has been the endorsement of new monitoring rules. Even if the CFS’s resolutions are not binding, countries now have the obligation of reporting back to the committee.

Climate change

“Climate-smart” and “agroecology” were among the buzzwords during the CFS week.

The Netherlands will launch a climate-smart agriculture alliance in South Africa later this year. During the week, Dutch representatives took part in a closed-door meeting with the FAO and other countries to define concrete actions and ascertain levels of interest. Devex learned what the alliance will aim at.

According to Oxfam’s Marita Wiggerthale, a panelist at the Gates Foundation’s side event, a clear shift toward agroecology is needed. Agroecology was the subject of much debate in the negotiations on small-holder agriculture negotiations, with the concept included in the outcome document, as requested by civil society.


Biofuels have split this week’s CFS, with negotiations on the recommendations often highly charged. Although the final document states that biofuels “should not compromise food security,” civil society representatives nonetheless refused to endorse it.

According to the Civil Society Mechanism — the platform where civil society organizes its positions in advance of the CFS — the recommendations on biofuels do not reflect the outcomes of the CFS’s high level panel of experts report, which indicates a correlation between biofuel demand and food prices. However, the HLPE report itself received some criticism, with the U.S. finding the recommendations unbalanced and paying insufficient attention to the sector’s multifaceted nature.

Despite civil society concerns, its lack of voting rights meant that the recommendations were approved. 

Private sector

According to some observers, the increasing presence of private sector organizations at the CFS is in line with a trend toward a stronger engagement with the Rome-based agencies. In a meeting with representatives of the private sector, José Graziano da Silva, the FAO’s director general, asked businesses to contribute to a new multidonor trust fund, specifically established to allow private actors to support the organization’s work.

The trust fund, Devex learned, is part of the FAO’s new partnership strategy approved by the council earlier this year.

Expo 2015

Rome-based agencies will coordinate the U.N. participation at the Expo Milano 2015. The next edition of the worldwide exposition, which is expected to attract some 20 million visitors over six months, will be focused on food and sustainable development. According to the organizers, the expo will offer the United Nations a unique opportunity to deliver key messages, create platforms, build partnerships and discuss new strategies to fight food insecurity.

In November, Expo 2015 will launch a competition for the selection of the 15 best practices in food security and sustainable development that will be showcased during the event.

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About the author

  • 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.