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A global partnership to end hunger

Hunger and malnutrition threaten the health and development of over a billion people. (IRIN)
Hunger and malnutrition threaten the health and development of over a billion people.

At the turn of the millennium, the global community set itself an ambitious target: to halve the number of hungry people in the world by 2015. It is not going to happen. According to the UK Department for International Development (DFID), extreme poverty and vulnerability are getting worse, initially because of the food crisis of 2008, aggravated by high energy prices, and now because of the global financial crisis. As a result, with food prices remaining high but incomes falling, the number of people who cannot access food is increasing - by 100 million in the last year. What's more, food prices are likely to remain high for some time, exacerbated by low agricultural productivity, the draw-down of grain reserves and the allocation of land for biofuel production. If the first Millennium Development Goal is not to be a frustrating failure, corrective action must be swift and decisive.

The recent food security conference in Madrid (26-27 January 2009) offers some hope that such action will occur. The most significant outcome of the conference, co-hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Spanish Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero, was the creation of a process to establish the Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security (GPAFS). Recognising that an international response is needed to address the long term trends in supply and demand of food and agricultural inputs, the partnership will draw from many sectors: developing countries, importing and exporting countries, the private sector, NGOs, civil society and international institutions. Its mandate will be to provide a comprehensive and coordinated response to hunger in today's world.

Building on existing structures

Rather than creating new institutions, new plans and new targets, the global partnership aims to build on existing structures. A central purpose, therefore, will be supporting the implementation of the Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA), drawn up by the UN High Level Task Force on Global Food Security. This will be implemented through work at global and national levels. Globally, an expert panel will identify key constraints and opportunities affecting food security, and suggest responses. Likely areas for this work include the management of market volatility, the role of grain reserves, and the impact of trade restrictions, biofuels and climate change.

The food crisis has increased the political momentum to address hunger and malnutrition. (World Bank)
The food crisis has increased the political momentum to address hunger and malnutrition.
World Bank

At national level, GPAFS will work through existing processes and institutions, such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). In Africa, CAADP will promote, for example, consistent agricultural trade policies at a regional level. Other areas where partners will be expected to act include: the coordination of donor support; integration of agriculture and food security into national priorities, plans and budgets; and improving links between government, industry and civil society. The work will be coordinated by a secretariat, housed at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome. Initially this secretariat will be formed by the UN High Level Task Force (HLFT), which will convene annual meetings for the next three years to review progress and agree action. But much work will also be done by sub-partnerships, consisting of particular interest groups, such as farmers' organisations, research institutions, donors and governments.

In a joint statement, a number of international NGOs including Action Against Hunger, Save the Children, CARE and Concern Worldwide have made recommendations that they see as critical if the global partnership is to be effective. Top of the list is that nutrition must be explicitly included in its objectives: simply ensuring access to adequate food does not guarantee adequate nutrition. Basing the work of the GPAFS on 'a right to food', they say, would ensure that key elements in achieving that right, such as gender and access to land, are included in its work. Other recommendations include the need to organise adequate financing, both for the partnership and implementation of the CFA more generally, and the importance of transparency and accountability. These are particularly needed to ensure that strategies are needs-driven rather than donor-driven, and are aligned to strategies developed by individual countries. Civil society, including farmers' organisations, must be involved in the development, implementation and monitoring of GPAFS at global, regional and national levels.

Big questions - new opportunities

Agriculture must be prioritised in national and regional development and investment plans. (World Bank)
Agriculture must be prioritised in national and regional development and investment plans.
World Bank

The partnership proposal was set out, in Madrid, by UK International Development Minister Ivan Lewis. Speaking to the conference delegates, who represented 126 countries, including 62 ministers, he noted that "big new questions are being asked about the role of governments, businesses and international organisations. At the same time the Obama administration in America presents new opportunities to work together - opportunities it is crucial we take advantage of." Speaking to the conference by a video message, Hillary Clinton raised hopes that food security will be high on the agenda for the new administration in the US. According to a post-conference statement by the joint hosts, 'at least 15 countries' have reportedly offered to commit funds, technical assistance and political support to the partnership.

Next steps for the GPAFS, prior to an official launch later this year, will be establishing a group of stakeholders to actually establish what has been proposed. The HLTF in Rome has begun work and other secretariats are being set up in Geneva, New York and Washington. Controversies are inevitable, with the Food and Agriculture Organization keen to lead the partnership, rather than concede power to the HLTF. Further detailed discussions will also be needed to agree on financial arrangements.

In a speech to Concern Worldwide's Fighting Hunger conference in 2008, former UN Director General, Kofi Annan, remarked that in creating the world in seven days, God had a key advantage: He worked alone. Whether a partnership of human institutions can create a new world order within seven years remains to be seen.

Date published: March 2009


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