This post was originally featured on the Triple Crisis blog.
G-20 development ministers meet on Friday in Washington, D.C. One of the items on their agenda is a proposal developed in June for the G-20 agriculture ministers to allow the World Food Program to develop a pilot proposal for an emergency food reserve. The decision was possibly the most important outcome in an otherwise thin summit communiqué: however circumscribed, we know that food price volatility correlates with low stocks, and that providing stocks is a proven way to curb excessive volatility. We also know that in emergencies, in most of the poorest countries, it takes an average of 90 days to bring food into food-deficit areas. 90 days is too long. The costs of working in emergency conditions are also too high, in both resources and human life. There are cheaper, better ways to ensure food is available when it’s needed: a reserve in the food-vulnerable regions is one of them.
The pilot is to be part of the G-20 Action Plan on Food Price Volatility. Preparation of the proposal included extensive consultation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which accepted an invitation to host the pilot project.
Between the last days of June and just last week, an astonishingly short period of time, the WFP coordinated a process among a number of intergovernmental and national agencies; coordinated the drafting of a report, which is both a feasibility study and pilot project proposal; found a willing partner region (ECOWAS); worked with an ad hoc group of interested G-20 governments who provided oversight; and managed some outreach to NGOs with experience in humanitarian emergencies and stocks policies. It is an impressive achievement. Bravo.
Healthy food that supports local farmers. What could be better for our next generation of eaters?
This post originally appeared September 4, 2011 on The Huffington Post.
In many cultures, it's common before a holiday meal to give a prayer of thanks for the food and the people that prepared it. At these times, we may think of our family members in the kitchen, or possibly the hard-working farmers we met at the farmers market.
Farm to School in Minnesota has been continually growing, and now it's been recognized by the state for its importance to students and local farmers.
Last Thursday, Governor Dayton declared September Farm to School Month in Minnesota. The proclamation request was initiated by IATP as part of its ongoing Farm to School efforts.
Read the press release for more on Governor Dayton's proclamation.
At the request of our colleagues working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy formed a delegation today that delivered a letter to the manager of the Trader Joe’s store in St. Paul, MN. The letter, which was signed by several leading agriculture and labor organizations in the Twin Cities, requested that Trader Joe’s sign onto the CIW Fair Food Agreement and use their purchasing power to help put an end to the forced labor, poverty wages and other human rights abuses faced by farmworkers harvesting tomatoes for the U.S. retail food industry.
The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 lbs. of tomatoes picked, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday – nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago. Grinding poverty leaves farmworkers vulnerable to the most exploitative employers, often resulting in egregious labor rights abuses, and in the most extreme cases, documented cases of slavery.
Today several Florida tomato growers – including East Coast, the state's third largest producer – are implementing the CIW's Fair Food agreements with retail food industry leaders Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, Bon Appétit Management Co, Aramark and Sodexo. The agreements require those retailers to demand more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers, to pay a premium price for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to buy only from growers who meet those higher standards.
Tomorrow the first ever summit of G-20 Agriculture Ministers will take place in Paris. The French government is to be commended for the initiative. Concerned by the evident disarray in government responses to the food price crisis of 2007-08, the French government moved quickly and deliberately to consider how best to respond. One of their investments, one that might be overlooked in the drama of a G-20 summit, has been in research to understand what kinds of tools governments have used to respond to price spikes and volatility, and how effective those tools have been, particularly in developing countries, and particularly with an eye on reducing poverty and vulnerability to hunger. The results of that investment is informing the debate at many levels, and is a welcome addition to a literature that is otherwise rather too orthodox.
The G-20 agriculture ministers will meet on June 22–23 in France to discuss how to address the major challenges facing agriculture. A report issued this week by a U.N. agency on the growing influence of financial speculators on commodity markets, including agriculture prices, should be required reading.
"The 'financialization' of commodity markets has changed trading behaviour and significantly affects the prices of such basic goods as staple foods," reported the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on Monday. The UNCTAD report documented the new forces of financialization in commodity markets beginning in 2004—and its role in steadily rising prices, accompanied by increasing volatility.
The study's findings, backed by interviews with physical traders and financial investors, determined that the rise of the commodity derivatives market had encouraged herding behavior to the point where financial investment, rather than market fundaments like supply and demand, increasingly influences prices. The report's findings concluded that acting against the majority of investors, even if justified by market fundamentals, may result in large losses. "It may therefore be rational for market participants to ignore their own information and follow the trend."
Among the varied insightful voices at the TEDxTC event Monday night in St. Paul, I had the distinct privilege of listening to the talks of two giants working on the intersection of food and justice: Winona LaDuke, activist and author from the White Earth Reservation, and LaDonna Redmond, originally hailing from Chicago but recently joining our IATP team here in Minneapolis. Each activist cut the issue of food justice in a personally, culturally and geographically relevant way, and each story resonated close to what our relationship with food could be.
Staff from congressional offices, development agencies and family farm organizations jammed into a crowded briefing room on Capitol Hill on Thursday to hear more about new approaches to food security that help farmers feed their communities while working with nature. The briefing was sponsored by IATP and the Interfaith Working Group on Global Hunger and Food Security, and hosted by Rep. Jim McGovern.
Olivier de Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food (see right with Cheryl Morden), led off the event with a bold assertion: we’re not actually facing a hunger crisis, but really three interlocking crises: a poverty crisis, an environmental crisis and a nutrition crisis. In many cases, the volume of food available isn’t really the issue. Poor people can’t afford the food that is available, and they can’t influence agricultural prices and policies. Unsustainable farming practices that rely on agrochemicals derived from petroleum products mean that farmers can’t afford the inputs, and that the land becomes degraded. And, many countries are facing a new nutrition crisis, with obesity rates in some communities increasing at the same time as hunger persists in others.
Last week, a background paper for the G-20 Summit of Agricultural Ministers on price volatility from eight international organizations appeared . The paper, dated May 2, was presented last week to the sherpas who are preparing for the summit, to be held in Paris on June 23.
The analysis treats the failures of international markets seriously. It provides a clear and useful explanation for why price volatility, so useful at low levels in the movement of goods, becomes a serious problem when price swings are too large. Yet the paper is fundamentally dissatisfying.
The start and end points of the recommendations (more so than the analysis) is how to ensure open market liberalization works. And even at that, ends up compromised by the politics of free trade, in which poorer countries can be held to a much higher standard than the richer countries that fund the international agencies providing the advice. So on the one hand, developing countries should further increase their dependence on international markets, while relying on finance (including loans) from the international system—finance that has a poor track record to date, both for timeliness and adequacy. On the other hand, the G-20 countries themselves can continue to disrupt those same international markets, asked only to moderate their public subsidies and mandates for biofuels.